"Our agenda is a community agenda," said Scott Raty, president and chief executive officer of the Pleasanton chamber. "Politics is certainly a part of that at the local, state and federal levels. That's our focal point."
Raty pointed out that the chamber is an association with more than 800 business and some individual members that advocates a strong local economy. Its weekly agenda is filled with meetings to advance business objectives and support individual companies, including many start-up or recently established entrepreneurships.
Its recent publication, "Pleasanton 2015: A Community Vision," lists major programs the chamber is sponsoring, including education, health and human services, housing, community leadership and improving the local economy.
Concerned by inadequate state aid to public schools, the chamber considers the current funding crisis to education as a number one priority. Strong schools, access to higher education and workforce skills development are essential to sustaining a vibrant community, maintaining a strong business environment and excellent quality of life for Pleasanton resident, Raty explained.
"Pleasanton schools consistently rank in the top five unified school districts statewide based on the California standardized testing and reporting results," Raty said.
"As everyone knows there are huge issues going on today in public education, with major funding gaps that continue to go unresolved," he added. "We'll put together public meetings so that the community can talk publicly about what it is prepared to do and how the chamber can help solve those problems."
As part of its recognition of organizations working to help Pleasanton schools, the chamber gave this year's Business Philanthropy Award to locally-based Safeway, Inc. for providing philanthropic service beyond the scope of normal business activity. In 2009, the chamber noted, shoppers who used e-scrip when buying groceries enabled Safeway to donate more than $270,000 in funds to some 40 Pleasanton schools and organizations.
On the political front, the chamber, through its 501(c)6 foundation, will likely sponsor candidate forums in advance of the Nov. 2 election for school board candidates. Two seats on the board will open, including board member Jim Ott's since he has decided not to seek re-election, and long-time member Pat Kernan, whose four-year term will expire this year. He has not said yet whether he will seek re-election.
The chamber also will hold breakfasts or evening forums for City Council seats. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman has announced that she will seek re-election to another two-year term, which would be her last, and council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne are seeking re-election to additional four-year terms, which also would be their last if re-elected because of term limits.
The chamber either directly or through its foundation also will sponsor additional town hall forums, including one next month in partnership with the Bay East Association of Realtors on Pleasanton's housing situation and its need for more "workforce" or affordable housing.
Raty said the chamber also plans to engage the public in discussions on transportation, transit-oriented developments, the city's 29,00-unit housing cap and what should be done if opponents of that cap win their current suit in Alameda County Superior Court, and a general discussion of the state's budget crisis and how the public sees these issues being resolved. Even health care based on the outcome of current measures under consideration in Washington are possible topics for chamber-sponsored public meetings.
While most cities and states have chambers of commerce, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a national force in presenting the views of American business in Congress, local chambers such as Pleasanton's are independent. They work with the California State Chamber of Commerce on statewide issues of importance to local business, but they are depending on local business membership for guidance on Pleasanton issues and local funds to pay for chamber activities and campaigns.
"We're not a division or a branch," Raty explained. "We are governed by local business members. As the executive, my job is to have a staff that essentially acts as the group that that advises the volunteer business leaders who are engaged in committee activities, board activities and a variety of other things that make up our agenda each year."
Part of his job is to be visible, very visible. He's seen everywhere: at City Council and Planning Commission meetings, public forums, business mixers and at a number of similar events in neighboring cities. Although board members and leaders change year by year, Raty and his staff stay, handling chamber issues from its building at 777 Peters Ave.
"We're the glue that holds it all together," he said.
For Raty, taking the helm at the Pleasanton chamber was an easy transition from his 14 years as head of the Hayward Chamber. His career path, in fact, has provided management and operational experience that is serving him well in Pleasanton.
Raised in Danville, he earned a teaching credential when he graduated from San Jose State University. He taught for several years before accepting a management position in the San Jose Job Corps program, becoming a top regional executive in country's longest running, federally funded program for job training and education. Married to Cathy Raty now for 33 years in June, he chose to stay in the Bay Area rather than accept a promotion to a Washington, D.C. position, and took the Hayward position. The couple has two children: Mike, 28, and Adam, 24.
Raty said chambers of commerce date back to the 1400s, established first in major seaports where local merchants organized the early chambers to fight off outside interests that were "shopping" their wares. Chambers have evolved ever since.
Here in Pleasanton, it wasn't long ago that newcomers found chamber packages at their doorstep with maps and business promotions. Those have been replaced by online services, including a daily-updated web site about Pleasanton chamber activities. Also, members are not only business people; nonprofits such as the Tri-Valley YMCA and even the clergy belong.
A highlight of the chamber is its annual installation dinner and community awards program, usually held the last week in January. This year's event at the Pleasanton Marriott Hotel filled the ballroom, with Realtor Steve Fast sworn in as chairman of the chamber for 2010, succeeding Laura Olson of UNCLE Credit Union.