Wayne Garibaldi is a Jackson native who has served in Jackson city government for 16 years, with the last 14 on the city council. Garibaldi will not stand for another term this year, so before he leaves at the end of 2020, I interviewed him to get his thoughts about the city, the public health emergency, and his outlook on businesses in Jackson.
Please note that Garibaldi’s opinions are his own, and don’t reflect positions of the city or the city council as a whole.
A Short Biography
Garibaldi left Jackson for southern California in 1973 to go to college and get his degree in economics. His first job was at Wells Fargo Bank, and he worked for several other banks in the Los Angeles area.
While he was working at a bank in Orange County in 1983, Garibaldi’s parents called him and said that a new bank, Bank of Amador, was starting in Jackson and that he should move back to his hometown to take a job with the bank.
Garibaldi did. “It was a good decision,” he said—so good that he stayed at the Bank of Amador and its successor, American River Bank, until he retired two years ago.
Giving Back to the City
Volunteering in community organizations was something that came naturally to Garibaldi. “Corny as it sounds,” he said, “I kind of think that all of us have a duty to put something back into our community beyond just working, paying our bills, taking care of our families, and being a law-abiding citizen.”
Garibaldi was interested in city government, and so he joined the planning commission in 2004. City planning was somewhat familiar to him because he was involved in construction and business financing at the Bank of Amador.
In 2006, a city councilmember left in the middle of his term. The city appointed Garibaldi to fill the final two years of that unexpired term. He was elected to a full four-year term in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012 and 2016.
Garibaldi said that he told people for over a year that he wouldn’t run for another term in 2020. “I think everything and everyone has a season,” he said. “In the beginning, we’re just learning, then we become highly productive, and eventually we settle and are just coasting. Coasting is not good enough for Jackson. I’ve helped keep all the balls in the air, and Jackson’s fiscal head above water, but I haven’t really moved the needle forward. I think the best thing may be for me to get out of the way, and give some other folks with different talents and fresh ideas a chance.”
Garibaldi said he has no regrets. “Public office, like all volunteering (in its many forms), is a way of giving back and showing gratitude,” he noted. “I’m at peace that I’ve tried to put reasonable time and effort back into the people and place that I love.”
So, he doesn’t plan to disappear from helping Jackson succeed. “I’m satisfied with my effort, but not with my results,” he said. I have this notion to try working from behind the scenes, in a supportive role, and see what those results look like.”
Managing a Pandemic
Garibaldi noted that the city council approached the COVID-19 public health emergency head-on and without panic. “We acknowledged we are not the experts, and we are in relatively uncharted waters,” he said. Garibaldi added that though the council was determined to follow state and county guidelines, it was equally determined not to place any additional restrictions on city businesses.
The council’s goal, Garibaldi said, “was for life in Jackson to look and be as normal as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet still take every action possible to keep our residents safe and our businesses running.” He added that the approach to code enforcement has been focused on egregious offenders who jeopardize residents’ safety.
Garibaldi also singled out the help the council has provided to local restaurants. “I’ve been amazed at and proud of our restaurants and dining facilities,” he said. “The Council allowed restaurants to reserve some public Main Street parking to serve take-out customers, and I believe the Council would go further to help our restaurants if anyone has a great idea.”
He also praised residents’ efforts to slow the spread of the disease. “A lot of things are unlucky when you’re a rural, small county and small city,” Garibaldi said, “but in this particular case, it helped us in that our retired population were recognizing that this could be worse for them now than if they were 20. I think Amador County has responded better than other areas of the state.”
Impact on City Government
Like all governments, the city of Jackson is attempting to manage a precipitous drop in revenues. Unfortunately, Garibaldi said, “basically not a dime of those COVID-19 dollars can go toward backfilling significant declines in city revenues.” Those revenues come from business sales taxes, a share of DMV registration fees and gasoline taxes, and the city’s transient occupancy tax, better known by its acronym TOT.
As in-person shopping within the city has been curtailed and more people shop online, Garibaldi said it’s hard to say how much tax revenue will come to the city from online purchases, and we probably won’t know the amount until October. The reason, he said, is simple: “People finish hotel and sales tax quarter out, then they have 30 days to file their return with the state, and the state then has to figure out what money belongs to the county, then it trickles to the county, then it trickles down to Jackson.”
Though there are some monies available to assist with some city-related expenses, Garibaldi said, but that hasn’t changed the reality of the situation. “Every city employee has worked harder and sacrificed of themselves during COVID-19,” he noted. “And for some, due to the city’s economics, their reward was a furlough that reduced their hours and pay. They love Jackson as much as I do, and so they continue to do their best every day. I cannot thank them enough!”
A Plan for Growth
Garibaldi noted that he’s “a detail guy,” so he’s been thinking of a growth plan, even though he won’t be on the city council beyond this year. He believes that the city must double in size to around 8,000 residents to prosper.
More specifically, Garibaldi said, “that growth needs to be focused on attracting middle and upper-middle-class working families. Those families are desirable because they put more into a community than they take out; they’ll put in the extra effort for a better future, and there are lots of them out there to attract.”
He acknowledged that Jackson is not at the top of anyone’s list to make their home, though the move to remote working may improve Jackson’s attractiveness. But, he added, a simple and clear growth plan should include the following features:
- A community that is enthused about, or at least resigned to, the need and benefits of growth.
- A friendly government attitude that courts and encourages the right growth.
- Affordable housing
- Amenities, which includes shopping, dining, etc.
- Good schools
Garibaldi noted that while this list isn’t easy to implement, it can be done. “If Jackson can do just a little better in most of those areas,” he said, “the growth will come, and so will more prosperity for everyone. And the cool part is that each one of those areas feeds the other. We don’t have to be great at all of them, but we must understand each one is an important part of the recipe.”
But, he added, “we need compromise and tolerance to progress.” The Jackson community is highly divided about its future, Garibaldi said, and because of that Jackson has stagnated. “Lacking a consensus and vision of our future is worse than even an ill-conceived one,” he concluded.
Improving the Climate
Garibaldi believes the overall business climate in Jackson is good, but that doesn’t mean challenges don’t exist. “My fundamental beliefs about business opportunities haven’t changed much over the decades,” he said. “When I worked at the bank, I was fond of saying that the equation for a successful business is relatively simple: Business people perceive a need and move to fill it.”
Yet Garibaldi is also cognizant about the challenges businesses face today. “I know that COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in our local economy,” he said. “Online competition, government regulations, and homelessness issues have negatively impacted many of our existing Jackson businesses.”
The city is working to help city businesses through the public health emergency as best it can. Garibaldi noted the city recently distributed $30,000 to about 60 city businesses to help alleviate the impact of the public health emergency. However, he noted, “if you do the math, it was basically a symbolic gesture of support for our business community, and unlikely to save any struggling business that is unable to adapt.”
Indeed, Garibaldi noted that business fundamentals haven’t changed despite recent obstacles including the pandemic. “In business, there will always be change, challenges, opportunities, delays, windfalls, obsolescence, and sometimes just being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time,” he said. “Businesses must continually adapt, evolve, overcome, and reinvent themselves to survive and be successful.”
Main Street Alchemy
Activity on Main Street Jackson, especially after 5:00 p.m., has been a constant challenge for the city. “I’m very jealous of Sutter Creek’s Main Street vibe,” Garibaldi said, as he’s driven to Sutter Creek after 6:00 p.m. and Main Street is bustling with activity.
Despite Sutter Creek’s success, he added, “I would not want to duplicate that, because Jackson’s identity is different than Sutter Creek’s.” Garibaldi admitted that it bothers him when he drives down Main Street in Jackson and it’s quiet.
Garibaldi believes that Main Street needs to be the “leisure entertainment” area that focuses on music, dining, and shops that don’t cater to basics like hammers and nails. “The more types of businesses that are uniform,” he said, “then the more likely you’re going to have more reason for somebody to go down there.”
But uniformity in the types of businesses doesn’t help unless those businesses are open after 5:00 p.m., Garibaldi added. That leads to a conflict between business owners on Main Street, who have worked all day and want to go home to rest and relax, and workers who have disposable money to spend after they leave work in the evening.
Garibaldi has talked about that conflict to business owners over the years, and many owners said they tried staying open later for a few weeks and the experiment failed. “They’re right, first of all, in those attempts,” he said, and noted that several business owners on Main Street, not just one or two, need to come up with a uniform plan and stick with it.
“They probably need to try it for a year before they pass judgment,” Garibaldi said, “because it takes a while for people to get used to the fact that businesses will be open if they’re open at 7:00 in the evening.” To do that, he added, “we’d be better off with our retail and entertainment businesses opening a little bit later, at 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning, pre-lunch, and then staying open until at least 7:00 to give working people an opportunity to shop.”
Improvement Means Involvement
Garibaldi disagrees with people who believe participation in business and industry organizations outside of business hours is a luxury. “When you think about it, if your only exposure to your business landscape and customer base is through your own daily business activities, then you’re operating in a vacuum,” he said. “And that’s never a good thing!”
Engagement outside of business, Garibaldi asserted, is essential to know what’s coming next. “Some business owners reasoned they were only going to be modestly affected by COVID-19,” he said, “and then abruptly discovered that either their suppliers or their customers were affected, and as a result so was their business.”
What’s more, he said, you need to be active. “Just being a member and showing up to meetings doesn’t get it,” Garibaldi said. “You lose about 75 percent of the value that way. You don’t have to be a leader unless that’s your thing. But you need to be involved, active, and provide input.” He added the old truism still holds: “You kind of get out what you put in.”
Being active can also lead to certain advantages, and Garibaldi used the pandemic as an example. “If a business owner is already actively engaged with an outside organization,” he said, “he or she would already have access to insider information specific to how their business operations are affected, where and how to get supplies, best practices, and resources available for help like with the PPP program.”
There currently aren’t any city business associations a reality that baffles Garibaldi. And yet he understands why in light of the fact that past city attempts to foster Jackson business organizations have failed. “I count that as a personal failure as well,” Garibaldi said.
One of those attempts was the creation of a revitalization committee during the Great Recession. The committee was a partnership of businesses, city government, and members of the public. Garibaldi said that even though the committee received some small grants, the committee didn’t have enough monetary support to implement its ambitious plans. When the economy improved, interest evaporated and the committee ended.
“I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion,” Garibaldi added, “that it’s not something government can organize, nor probably should it. Local government is decent at government, but pretty mediocre at business, though they’re unlikely to admit that.”
So, he said, “a united voice of from our business community needs to be fully independent from government itself.” However, Garibaldi noted, “that doesn’t mean the City of Jackson can’t support and contribute funding to the effort and operations of a Jackson business organization.”
Garibaldi expects that an organization will sprout soon to provide support for businesses to get through an uncertain 2020 holiday season. “I worry about the upcoming holidays starting at the end of October,” he said, “and our retail merchants who rely on those holidays to make book.” He added that there could be one or more such organizations within the Amador County Chamber of Commerce, especially one for Jackson’s Main Street.
Yet support from the city or other organizations doesn’t solve the problem faced by every volunteer organization: low involvement. “Sustainable results take years to develop and grow,” Garibaldi said. As individuals and business owners, it’s difficult to sustain that fragile balance indefinitely. Gradually, participation and leadership dissipate, unless constantly recruited and revitalized (ahem).
“I’ve learned that one individual can make a huge difference,” Garibaldi added. “With two individuals, you don’t feel so alone and unsure. And that all significant change requires uniting many individuals and talents into a group with a consensus and a shared vision. And a clearly focused and committed group can achieve almost anything.”
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