Meet Matt Bronson, City Manager of Grover Beach

Living in Pismo Beach, where we connect you with some of our favorite people who live and work on the Central Coast. Those community and business leaders who make living on the Coast such a unique and diverse experience.

Episode #18

Matt Bronson, City Manager of Grover Beach

Matt Bronson, City Manager of Grover Beach, joins Ashlea Foster Boyer, Shannon Bowdey & Jordan Hamm on Living In Pismo Beach.

Jordan Hamm:

I painted my nails green because it’s fall in three weeks.

Ashlea Boyer:

It is fall in three weeks. I can’t believe that.

Jordan Hamm:

I know. I’m ready.

Shannon Bowdey:

There was a lender who posted today that all you people down in the coastal areas that are posting about fall and everything, it’s still like a hundred degrees here in Bakersfield.

Ashlea Boyer:

Sorry, not sorry. Well also out in your neck of the woods in the south, Shannon, they’re being pummeled with rain and 100 degree heat. That’s got to be super fun.

Shannon Bowdey:

Terrible. Yeah, for sure.

Ashlea Boyer:

Well, fall is my favorite season so I’ll take it. I’ve already started thinking about getting my decorations out, but I will hold off until at least after Labor Day.

Jordan Hamm:

I already have. I have pumpkins.

Ashlea Boyer:

Look at you.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh my gosh.

Jordan Hamm:

We grew them and had to pick them so they’re already there.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh, good for you.

Shannon Bowdey:

Good, awesome.

Ashlea Boyer:

Shannon, you’re going to be able to pick that corn that you took a picture of yesterday pretty quick. It’s getting there.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah.

Jordan Hamm:

Are you saying, “Finally?”

Shannon Bowdey:

Yes, I know. Very excited. We only grew one pumpkin this year though. We planted plenty but only grew one pumpkin. So I don’t know what happened.

Ashlea Boyer:

Pumpkins have never worked for me. I need tips on pumpkins. I never could get them to go.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah. I don’t know what happened this year.

Ashlea Boyer:

But we’re going to have a crop of bell peppers here and everybody’s getting bell peppers.

Jordan Hamm:

I love bell peppers. I’ll take some.

Ashlea Boyer:

All right. Well, I’m excited for today’s guest. We always love to hear about how our communities are coming together and their future plans, and so we’re excited to have Matt Bronson, city manager for the City of Grover Beach. He was appointed by the Grover Beach City Council in May of 2016. He oversees the day to day operations for the city organization with a total budget of $30 million and a workforce of approximately 70 employees. Bronson has 20 years of local government experience working for cities and counties in both California and North Carolina.

Shannon Bowdey:

Prior to Grover Beach, Bronson served as assistant city manager for the City of San Mateo where he provided support to the city council and city manager on special projects and oversaw the city’s economic development, sustainability, communications, volunteer, and downtown parking and maintenance programs. He previously served in the county’s administration office in Marin County and worked as the city manager’s office and budget and evaluation office in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Jordan Hamm:

Bronson has an undergraduate degree in environmental policy from the University of California Davis and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a member of the International City County Management Association, and on a local level, Bronson is a member of the Grover Beach Five Cities Rotary Club and serves on the board of directors for the San Luis Obispo County YMCA and the Arroyo Grande Valley of Little Leagues. Let’s welcome Matt Bronson.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yes, welcome.

Shannon Bowdey:

Matt’s on the beach.

Jordan Hamm:

Hey Matt. He looks like he’s part of the team.

Matt Bronson:

We’re all at the beach.

Jordan Hamm:

Yes.

Ashlea Boyer:

Your screen looks a little bit more accurate though with some fog in the background.

Matt Bronson:

It’s a classic Grover Beach picture.

Ashlea Boyer:

It is.

Shannon Bowdey:

For sure.

Ashlea Boyer:

How are you doing?

Matt Bronson:

I’m great. How are you?

Ashlea Boyer:

Doing well. Just, you know, pivoting, shifting, keeping up with the punches.

Matt Bronson:

It is the watch word of the time, pivot. How do you pivot from one thing to the other?

Ashlea Boyer:

On a day to day basis.

Matt Bronson:

Exactly.

Ashlea Boyer:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. We were already chatting about how has COVID impacted Grover Beach and how have you had to adapt?

Matt Bronson:

Sure. Well thank you for the opportunity to be here this afternoon. COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all of us as a society. I was telling a friend of mine that global pandemic, related economic impacts, and social unrest together were not things that they taught us in city management school or in any of our classes in preparing. But this is the time we’re in, this is the era we’re in, and how we respond really dictates who we are as people, and how we can work beyond this to create an even stronger community going forward.

So we realized that this has significant, profound impact on all of us, from a health standpoint, economic standpoint, emotional and psychological for all of us. And it’s been tough for our community in navigating through these difficult times, and I really want to commend our community spirit in Grover Beach for being very resolute and resilient in how we’ve worked beyond this.

I think as a city government, we’ve taken a number of steps to help support our community in this difficult time. Early on, we waived utility fee late payments to try to help those who needed some extra cushion in being able to navigate some of the financial challenges with COVID-19. We’ve done a lot with businesses to help businesses pivot to using outdoor spaces and being able to stay open and serve customers while they abide by state guidelines to be safe.

Most recently, we’ve also taken steps to improve how we support childcare, because childcare is such a critical need across our community. It always has been, but now more than ever childcare is necessary to have working parents be able to go back into our workplace knowing that their children are in a safe environment for everybody.

So our city has taken steps to help be part of the solution with childcare initiatives, by providing one time city funding to helping support the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA in their efforts in providing safe quality childcare, in helping to have additional licensed childcare facilities in Grover Beach to be able to provide more capacity for those who need childcare, and then most recently we’re also looking to have free wireless accessibility at city parks so that children can have a safe place to go to to do the distance learning they have to do in a park environment where they can do so safely and inexpensively. So that’s just one more way that our city has tried to be on the forefront of helping our community adapt to these very difficult times.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah. The park idea is brilliant. I mean, you see some of these news stories where children are all cooped up in a vehicle because that’s their only connection, and so that’s an awesome addition to the mix. So I commend you on that one.

Jordan Hamm:

Yeah.

Matt Bronson:

And that’s really done in partnership with Peak Wifi, a local internet company that is helping to serve the area and just to give kudos to the City of Arroyo Grande because they’re the ones who worked first with Peak Wifi to establish this program at Elm Street Park in Arroyo Grande. We already have a partnership with Peak Wifi, they’re putting up security cameras at various parks and facilities so it’s a natural nexus for us to work with them. And so our first park that we’re rolling this out will be at Grover Heights Park. By the end of September, we will roll out this new service to be able to offer this to kids, it’s a password protected wifi network. So it’s really geared for the school children and their parents and guardians, not just for anybody walking up to the park to be able to provide that safe space to access their classwork at our park.

Jordan Hamm:

Nice. So during these challenging times, what has made you most proud of your city?

Matt Bronson:

I would point to our community spirit and camaraderie. I’ll never forget that time back in March, where we all had to transition to a shelter at home or stay at home environment. I think all of us will have those days burned into our minds when we were told to do something we had never done before. Think about it. A statewide stay at home order given this rapidly growing pandemic. It was just surreal, but that was the moment that we were in. We adapted quickly, we moved quickly, and we pivoted to make sure we were doing this responsibly.

Our city government pivoted very quickly into a remote work environment where we’re still providing city services, but doing so remotely doing so in an abundance of caution and abiding by the state requirements. Our community was scared, our community was feeling uncertain, and we certainly understood that.

We also wanted to make sure that we had the community’s back and the community had a chance to express itself. So one thing we did as a city was to put together a yard sign program. So back in April, the city funded these yellow yard signs that said, “We got it,” hashtag GB together. And we put them out at city parks with the idea that people could go and get a sign and put it back at their house or put it in their business, and just display that community spirit.

And we had about 500 signs made and people took to that, they put signs on their properties, they put signs all over, and it just was a nice reminder that ultimately we got this. We may have different thoughts and different opinions and different viewpoints, but at the end of the day, we’re about a community. We’re about a community together. And that’s what I really love about Grover Beach, is that at the end of the day, we are a community that has each other’s back, that supports one another, and at the end of the day we got this. So that was really a very cool thing that we saw all across the community.

I think I’d also point to the overall resiliency and ability to adapt. Our businesses in particular have done a great job in adapting to these changing times. Certainly they’re feeling the financial impacts, they’re feeling the burden, but they’re hunkering down and getting things done and showing that resiliency that really shows the successful community that we are.

I also want to point to the fact that our city government and our city council in particular has not stopped in continuing to move the community forward. We have pivoted to virtual meetings like every other city has done, but we’ve taken some really big topics to the council in recent months. Our housing element that will define the future of our housing needs and making sure we have enough affordable housing units to meet the needs of our community. We’ve taken a new ADU ordinance, accessory dwelling unit ordinance, to help identify how our ADUs are a part of our housing picture for our community going forward.

And of course, street repairs and sidewalk improvements. You can’t talk about Grover Beach without talking about all the street work we are constantly doing to really make our streets and roadways even more accessible for our community. And we have our next project about ready to begin construction shortly. We have a new sidewalk construction project. So we have been able to continue moving the community forward even while we’ve been adapting and pivoting to these difficult times.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. I never thought I could be in love with a street as much as Newport. Newport turned out beautifully. It’s just gorgeous.

Matt Bronson:

It did. [crosstalk 00:12:20] Newport is a great example of a complete street. So you have a street not just for cars, but for bikers, for pedestrians. It’s for everybody to be using their streets.

Ashlea Boyer:

I think it also curbs the speed on that street a little too, because it’s not just a big, huge wide open street. It’s got some structure to it now. So I don’t feel like people are tearing down it quite as fast as they might’ve been in the past. So that’s helpful too.

Matt Bronson:

Absolutely, and that was one of the goals of that project. So that’s a good example of it’s not just putting new pavement on a street, it’s about fundamentally changing the roadway in certain conditions because we’re trying to create a different kind of street environment than was created 50 years ago.

Shannon Bowdey:

That’s awesome. I lived on Newport once and there was a car that was barreling down the road between 9th and 10th and it became airborne and landed through a telephone pole. It looks a lot better now. But anyway, so Grover Beach has led the county in establishing guidelines for cannabis sales and distribution. What is one unexpected positive and one unexpected negative that came out of this experience?

Matt Bronson:

We certainly have been a leader in this space. We were the first community in San Louis Obispo County to create a legal commercial cannabis industry. Back in 2017 our council adopted our ordinance and then in 2018 our first businesses started to open up. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in establishing the industry in a safe and responsible way. We have very stringent regulations that make sure that we have community safety in mind, that make sure that we have our health and air quality, water quality taken care of. Our city government works very diligently to make sure that the industry is regulated responsibly, but with a goal of economic activity. Our council from the very beginning was clear that this was going to be an opportunity for economic prosperity and bringing in new jobs, new development, and new tax revenue into our community.

So three years later, we’ve approved 30 businesses to be able to operate, and currently 11 are operating as we speak right now. Those 11 include three retailers, a number of manufacturers and distributors and some testing labs as well, as our vision is really to create a cannabis cluster, an ecosystem of different businesses that support one another and provide the economic activity that our community was looking for.

Overall, we’ve created more than 200 jobs through this new industry and generated roughly $1.5 million a year in tax revenue. This revenue did not exist two years ago in our community. So it’s one that we’re approaching cautiously and carefully to making sure that we are prudent in these new revenues and not over extending ourselves just yet in a brand new revenue stream that we’re still adapting to.

So to your question about unexpected positive or negative, I think on the positive side, I think the degree of attention that we’ve gotten on a statewide and national level has been unexpected. I had the fortune of serving on a League of California Cities panel last year about successful cannabis regulations in our communities and that was a great opportunity to tell our story. But earlier this year, Grover Beach was featured in a national magazine for International City County Management Association, about a case study in regulating the industry successfully, and that transitioned into a conference presentation for a worldwide audience about little Grover Beach and how we are becoming the cannabis center of the central coast, but doing so in a very safe, responsible way. So that was very, very cool to see that recognition. It just shows the council’s policy leadership and staff’s execution of this new industry in a very safe way for our community.

Jordan Hamm:

That’s awesome.

Matt Bronson:

On the negative side, I would say that very early on when we were just developing the ordinance in 2017, we had a very rapid price increase in land value in the industrial area that’s really our so-called green zone, where you have the cannabis businesses being able to operate. So we had in some cases land values doubling or tripling overnight from some investors coming in. That that was sizeable and significant. Those prices have since come down. They have stabilized and normalized, but for a while, they increased quite a bit. The impact was that that caused some local small businesses who have been in our industrial area for decades to be priced out. We did have some businesses, a few of them, that had to go to a different city, had to go elsewhere. And as a city official, you hate to lose businesses in your community. You don’t want to be in that position. And I’m pleased that we had a number of them stay in Grover Beach elsewhere in the city.

So that was a negative to be in a position where some businesses weren’t able to continue going forward. We hope to be able to attract those back to the city at some point again down the road. But on the whole, if you look at the net benefit of this new industry, the jobs, the development, the tax revenue, the spinoff economic value, it’s been a significant benefit for our community and a testament to how we can do this right.

Ashlea Boyer:

Awesome. All right, well, kind of dovetailed with that same question, tell us about economic development in Grover Beach. I was curious about the small business micro-loan program that you offered to business owners during COVID. I know Mayor Lee mentioned it briefly to me, but we didn’t get into detail. So I thought maybe you’d be able to share.

Matt Bronson:

Sure. Our council has had goals for many, many years and every year economic development is right on the top of the list. It’s been a long standing goal of our community to help build a stronger, more diversified economic base. We like to say that our goal is to try to have a bigger slice of pie for a bigger audience and be able to have prosperity be shared by all, not just in our city, but across our region.

So we’ve been working very diligently on economic development for many, many years. Most recently, I’m proud to say that we’ve partnered with the Chamber of Commerce on economic development services so that they are on the front lines helping us with business retention, business attraction, outreach. Versus hiring new city staff members to carry out that role, we’re working with those who are already in the field, the Chamber of Commerce, South County Chambers of Commerce who are doing a tremendous job as our partners in economic development. We used $150,000 in funding from the Diablo Canyon closure bill that was approved by the legislature a couple of years ago, and some general fund funding to fund the first round of micro grants.

What we believed was that as a way to help bolster our economic foundation, we needed to help our businesses now and retaining jobs and retaining activity. So back in June, we had our first round of business micro grants, where we allowed Grover Beach businesses the opportunity to apply for up to $10,000 in one time grant assistance to help with payroll, to help buy PPE for COVID compliance, to be able to maybe expand in certain places to be able to adapt to COVID. We were fortunate enough to be able to fund all 20 businesses that applied back in June, and we had some great stories of how businesses were able to keep going with those micro grants.

The timing of the interview today is very fortuitous because just today, we’ve released the second round of business micro grants that we’re pleased to offer to our community once again. This time the funding is coming from the federal CARES Act. We received some funding from that bill that was approved by Congress this spring, and so we’re using $125,000 of our CARES Act funding, the bulk of our funding, to support this second round of micro grants. This time we’re granting up to $5,000 to try to spread out the money even further among businesses, but we’ll be receiving applications through the end of September and making decisions and cutting checks to businesses immediately after that.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s fantastic.

Matt Bronson:

It’s a great partnership once again and I think a great way to show that we’re using $275,000 of funding to help support our local Grover Beach businesses in weathering this financial storm.

Jordan Hamm:

That’s amazing.

Ashlea Boyer:

Awesome.

Matt Bronson:

I’ll also add longterm our council is looking at the future of our economic prosperity. Council last week approved two new hotels that will go in on El Camino Real right near ManRock Brewing Company and Perfetto Cafe. These two hotels will have 180 rooms total along with some housing units behind them. So that’s another example of how we are trying to build a stronger economy for the future. We have other hotels that are in the pipeline on El Camino Real, and of course on the beach front property, which is state parks property. Council also approved installing transoceanic cables that are landing in Grover Beach, coming over from Asia and accessing our rights of way and we’re getting some revenue from their accessing our right of way to be able to have high speed fiber optic cables connecting the world through Grover Beach.

And lastly I’ll just say, economic development starts with the businesses you have and making them even stronger, and so our work to try to retain businesses, helping them expand and grow from within is a core of who we are and our pro business philosophy.

Jordan Hamm:

So exciting.

Shannon Bowdey:

So exciting. So Matt, prior to Grover Beach, you held positions with much larger cities. What drew you to this position?

Matt Bronson:

Correct. I had the fortune of working for three other great communities prior to working in Grover Beach. I worked for the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, where I began my career in the budget office, worked there for about four years, and then the County of Marin for seven years in the county administrator’s office. And then most recently the city of San Mateo up in the Bay Area where I was assistant city manager for six years. Those were great organization and great communities, I valued my experiences in each of them. I was looking at becoming a city manager, becoming the CEO of my own organization, and so when I was looking at the opportunities, I was very careful about where I was applying to. I wanted to apply for a position in a community that fit my interests, my goals, and what my family was looking for and Grover Beach caught my eye.

Yes, Grover Beach is a much smaller community than the other ones I’ve worked for. That being said, I was struck by the aspirations of the city council, the aspirations of the community. I always like to say Grover Beach is small and mighty. We have big aspirations, big visions, and I was coming in as somebody to help achieve those big visions and to work with our great staff team to get things done. So that’s what drew me to Grover Beach, was really the aspirations, the opportunities, a forward looking and progressive city council that wanted to do big things and take advantage of our assets. We’re located on the California coastline. We have a train station in our community. We have a beautiful location around us, some great assets within our county. Grover Beach was poised for really taking the next step as a community, and of course our central coast location was very enticing to come into. We have a beautiful area, beautiful spots, and it was an opportunity for me and for my family to really come in and get settled in.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s awesome.

Jordan Hamm:

And what would you like to see most in 10 years for Grover Beach?

Matt Bronson:

That’s a great question and there are so many different possibilities for that. Let me focus on three different areas. One is back to the economy. I think the opportunity to continue the work we’re doing in building a diversified economy, I think having a diversified economy where you have different businesses providing different services and different types of jobs helps to insulate you further from economic downturns that you may have. So having a beachfront community that has a tourism component that has industrial areas, manufacturing, small mom and pop businesses, all those together creates a very strong economy and creates the kind of jobs we’re trying to have in our community. So 10 years from now, I think having that diversified economy even further with larger scale and smaller scale businesses is one thing I’d point to.

But getting more granular, I think having a Grand Avenue corridor that is even more thriving than it is now. We have the seeds of that thriving corridor. If you look at the beach, the corridor from 4th Street to the beach, that’s a delightful walk of businesses. We have some great restaurants and shops and cafes down there and a nice streetscape.

We also have a nice downtown area from 8th Street to 11th Street that has some potential as well. But we also have other areas in Grand Avenue that haven’t realized their potential just yet. So creating that streetscape of Grand Avenue, of making that the premier boulevard on the South County area, looking at not just the roadway, but the pedestrian experience, having mixed use developments with housing along with retail and a very walkable, bike friendly area that leads right onto a redeveloped beach front area that has some additional developments, additional shops, cafes, a beachfront hotel that’s been long envisioned at the end of Grand Avenue, but still a beach area that prizes natural scenery. What we love best about our beach is that it’s a beautiful natural beach, and having that ability for balanced access and natural beauty I think is something that we’d like to see.

And lastly, looking ahead 10 years from now, I think building on the work we’re doing now, having a progressive, eclectic, authentic beachfront community that is known as the premier beachfront place to live, work and play. At the end of the day, Grover Beach is a community. We’re a neighborhood, a neighborhood community. And so if you build on those assets we have now, that foundation of being a very independent thinking, eclectic but neighborhood oriented community, that’s the kind of place that will make people want to come here, stay here, raise a family here, and really see it as the community for their own. That’s what we see, what I see, coming forward over the next 10 years.

Jordan Hamm:

What a great vision, I love it.

Shannon Bowdey:

That sounds wonderful. I can’t wait.

Ashlea Boyer:

I’ve always thought Grover Beach was under appreciated. So it will be nice to see it come into its own. That was our first residence on the central coast when we moved here when I was four. So we lived on Ocean View. Went to Grover Heights Elementary and the whole nine. It was really great talking to you today, Matt. Thank you so much for coming on.

Shannon Bowdey:

Thank you, Matt.

Matt Bronson:

My pleasure. Thank you for having me and thank you for highlighting all the work we’re doing in Grover Beach.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Matt Bronson:

Thank you.

Ashlea Boyer:

Have a great day.

Matt Bronson:

You too.

Shannon Bowdey:

Bye.

Ashlea Boyer:

This is Ashlea Boyer.

Jordan Hamm:

Jordan Hamm.

Shannon Bowdey:

And Shannon Bowdey.

All:

With the Pismo Beach Homes Team.

 

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