La Habra residents can attend the State of the City event this spring for free following a decision to bring the event planning in-house.

The City Council voted unanimously in February to bring the event under city control and to approve a $7,500 budget for the annual affair with a caveat for staff to gather sponsors to offset the cost.

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Some members of the public spoke against having the city take over the event from the La Habra Area Chamber of Commerce, calling it a waste of taxpayer money during the discussion on the topic. Other residents interviewed after the meeting said city events should not have entry fees.

Council members said the move would make the event more inclusionary to segments of the community who could not afford the previous entry fee. The chamber hosted the event for over 20 years, charging a fee for both entrance and food as a package.

During the public hearing on the issue, Doug Guimond, an executive board member of the chamber, spoke out against the use of taxpayer money on an event that was funded by donations, sponsors and attendees.

“Is that the smartest use of our taxpayer money? To spend $7,500 on an event that’s already being taken care of?” Guimond said. 

At an earlier meeting, Mayor James Gomez said the event was originally started by the city and was later handed to the chamber to manage. There were concerns about the event going overtime and not giving the mayor enough time for the keynote speech so that is why the city was taking it over, he added.

Councilmember Jose Medrano said making the event free sends a message to the Latino community that it is their event too.

“There is a segment of our community that wants us to be more inclusionary, and I will speak for one segment, the Latino segment,” Medrano said. “They should not have to pay a fee to hear the mayor speak.”

Alma Keeler, a La Habra senior citizen, said the city taking over the event will be helpful for seniors because it gives them more activities to do and helps them socialize with the community. Keeler said she didn’t understand why the chamber had control of the event in the first place because she thought it was a city event all along. 

“For me, I think the city should do it themselves. Why do they need the chamber?” Keeler said during a recent interview.

La Habra resident Tammie Campos said any event offered to residents without fee is a good thing but would like to see the city advertise its events more so residents know about them. Campos also said the chamber can find other ways to raise funds that don’t involve city events.

Before the council decision, the chamber held the event for at least 20 years, according to Marie Laveaga, president and CEO of the La Habra Area Chamber of Commerce. Leveaga said in an interview that the event was a chamber event so the organization was not fundraising off of a city event, but the chamber does everything in partnership with the city so she does understand why some residents would be confused. 

Moving forward, Laveaga said she will focus on having a strong business community to generate tax revenue for the city.

The city will now look for sponsors to offset the cost. Leveaga said she would give the members of the chamber of commerce the information about the sponsorship and they will decide if they wish to sponsor the state of the city event.

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