Selling Your Town: Next Up, Simi Valley

At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. | Photo: mcflygoes88mph/Flickr/Creative Commons License

I have a friend who lives in a small town where the beaches are like sugar and the sunsets are like fire. He likes his town for its sugary beaches and its fiery sunsets and its fine fishing and down home lifestyle, but mostly he likes it because few people know about it.

Not all my friends are so lucky. Just the other day, another friend in another beach town wrote, "Ok July 4th is over. I need the tourists to go home now. I'd like to grocery shop, get outta my driveway and be able to park at the beach. And no, I don't want to sit under the shade of someone's umbrella who I don't even know! Thank you. Good bye."

I bring these juxtaposed friends and towns up because last month the Simi Valley City Council approved a proposal by hoteliers to form the Simi Valley Tourism Marketing District. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but given this age when many clear things turn out to be unclear, let me briefly explain. Beginning July 1, the city of Simi Valley began collecting a two percent assessment on hotel room stays of less than 30 days. The city keeps one percent. The rest of the funds will be used by the Simi Valley Tourism Alliance, a private non-profit. Using this money the Simi Valley Tourism Alliance will attempt to trumpet Simi Valley's charms to the world -- the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, Strathearn Historical Park & Museum, Skatelab Indoor Skatepark & Museum, the Santa Susana Depot & Museum, and Bottle Village.

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These are not insubstantial charms. Bottle Village is a fascinating place with an equally fascinating history, a small home and assemblage of shrines, mosaic walkways and assorted other oddities built by one Grandma Tressa Prisbrey (from 1956 until 1981) almost entirely out of glass bottles. As I said (twice now), it is a fascinating place and a testament to human ingenuity. Hmmm. Perhaps the Simi Valley Tourism Alliance should send a check to me.

In touting their town's charms, the Simi Valley Tourism Alliance probably won't mention that Simi Valley is an oven in August (Now I won't get the check, but I have retained my integrity). As a long-time travel writer, I have read scores of press releases lauding scores of locales. Most neglect to mention any potential drawbacks associated with their locale. The people of North Korea are warm, friendly and stable, with one possible exception. Sometimes promotion is more than neglect. Some promotional materials are created by Big Fat Liars. Promotion is gray. A former Simi Council member once purportedly called Bottle Village "a collection of trash."

I have nothing against promotion. As I write this I am (hopefully subtly) promoting myself. Promotion has been part of mankind's existence since man set aside seed and club and began to survive with his wits. P.T. Barnum barnstormed Paris with a five-year-old midget child he named Tom Thumb, lying about Tom's age (Barnum claimed the child was eleven) and outfitting him in a scene-stealing uniform something like that of Napoleon. The year was 1845. Paris did not need to promote itself but P.T. Barnum did, and he did so with a (wildly successful) vengeance. Today, Miley Cyrus twerks. Promotion is as promotion does.

Our own Ventura County already has other tourism marketing districts in place. Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills teamed up to form the Conejo Valley Tourism Improvement District. Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo joined forces in something called Ventura County West. I have received press releases from them. Given I live here, I will not say if they contained any gray. Along with sending press releases to anonymous journalists, Ventura County West has used some of its hotel stay monies to erect billboards in the Los Angeles area. To me, putting up signage in Los Angeles is a bit like planting a poppy in Flanders, but I am not one to cast stones. If I knew more about marketing, I wouldn't be eating so much pasta.

The Simi Valley Tourism Alliance is already on the move, making plans to spend an anticipated budget of about $230,000. Should their efforts draw more visitors, those visitors will book more hotel rooms, earning the Tourism Alliance more money. An ever upward spiraling circle.

But promotion is gray.

I once wrote a book that involved visiting some of our country's tucked away places. I will not tell you the name of the book, because that would smack of promotion. But I will tell you I visited these out of the way places because they were out of the way; charming gems hidden from the tourist throngs, places with sugary sands and fiery sunsets, the sort of place where my friend could walk down the main street and know almost every face.

But in many of the places I visited, times were changing.

In one lovely seaside town, I visited the local Chamber of Commerce. It consisted of two desks and two people. Both of them appeared startled to see me.

"We're working real hard to put ourselves on the map," one of them said, pumping my hand cheerily.

In that same town, a local fisherman was less cheery.

"Money talks and bullshit walks on down the road," he said. "There's seven new banks a quarter-mile from where I live. Why so many banks? Because they're fixin' to have a shitload of people move in here."

Ten years after I visited with Chamber and fisherman their town is not the same.

When it comes to promotion, sometimes you may get more than you wish for.

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