By Mike Allen
March 1, 2019 (Santee) -- Santee’s brand needs a makeover.
That’s the determination of the City Council, which on Feb. 27 approved spending $80,000 and possibly more for a consultant to help the city “uncover” its brand.
The Council voted 4-0 (with Councilwoman Laura Koval absent) to hire Tennessee-based North Star Destination Strategies, following a decision to delay the issue to consider a proposal from a local public relations firm.
After minimal discussion, the council said it would reach out to the firm, San Diego-based Cook + Schmid, when it gets to the implementation stage of the branding process.
At its Feb. 13 meeting, North Star presented itself as a renowned expert in helping cities, states, and regions to determine the essence of their communities and effectively present that image it to the outside world.
“We’ll help you tell your story. It’s a lot more than a logo. Branding is what they say about you when you’re not around,” said Don McEachern, North Star’s founder and CEO.
McEachern said his firm won’t create a brand for Santee because that already exists in the city’s DNA. “Rather, we will uncover the brand and bring it to life in ways that have meaning for all your constituencies,” he said in the report.
In a slide show, McEachern showed a host of different cities that hired him and what the results were. Clients ranged from small villages of 350 residents to the states of Florida and Kentucky.
The branding process will commence with an extensive research, and public solicitation phase, then an insight and strategy development phase and finally, the creativity phase that entails selecting a strapline or tagline, and a logo to market the city’s brand. The process is expected to take about six months.
The city has the option of hiring North Star for implementation services, which could cost another $20,000.
Among North Star’s featured clients was Fargo, N.D. which adopted the slogan “North of Normal” following its branding process. Santee Mayor John Minto said he contacted a friend in Fargo, who told him he never heard of the slogan so he was skeptical about how effective the process was.
Speakers at the Feb. 13 council meeting were also critical about whether the process would address some negative aspects of the city’s past.
“When you look at the historical reputation and brand that Santee does have it includes discrimination in housing. Santee’s brand is intolerance, and in some cases it’s overt racism,” said longtime resident Patti LaBouff.
Evlyn Andrade-Heymsfield, a Latino woman who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year, said, “It’s no secret that Santee has the nickname "Klantee."
Councilman Rob McNelis, who defeated Andrade-Heymsfield in District 1 elections in November, said derogatory nicknames are common for many cities, adding the derisive name no longer applies to Santee, and hasn’t for a long time.
At the Feb. 27 meeting, Van Collinsworth, founder of Preserve Wild Santee, an environmental advocacy group, said given the city’s economic constraints, “I don’t see why we’re spending $80,000 for branding. I’d much rather see that money spent on a new park, on open space, or a new library.”
In other actions at the most recent meeting, the Council approved applying for a $26 million grant from the federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America fund to pay for part of the estimated $43 million cost for a first phase of improvements to widen State Route 52. The city hopes to win other grants to make a local match of $17 million for the project.
The city set up a Highway 52 Coalition to address the regular traffic congestion during commute times. The effort includes accelerating a planned widening of the freeway that isn’t scheduled until 2050.
The first phase entails widening of 52 westbound from Mast Boulevard to Santo Road for an additional truck climbing lane, relocating the current bike path from the north side to the south side of the freeway, adding a lane on eastbound 52 from Interstate 15 to Santo Road, adding a third lane on eastbound 52 from Mast Boulevard to the bridge crossing the San Diego River, and widening the on-ramp to westbound 52 at Mast Boulevard to two lanes.