Los Gatos Recognizes Youth-Friendly Local Businesses

The Town of Los Gatos won the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government in the 2010 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the award program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

The Town of Los Gatos (pop. 30,497) is located in the southwestern portion of Santa Clara County, nestled at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains. While Los Gatos is closely tied to Silicon Valley and its fast-paced economy, it has a small-town feel and strives to maintain its image as a family-friendly community.

In keeping with its family-friendly values, the Los Gatos Town Council formed the Los Gatos Youth Commission in 2005 to give teens a voice in the community and to act as an advisory board to the town council on youth-related issues. The youth commission comprises 15 students from grades 8–12, with five alternates, and provides valuable input and leadership on important local issues.

One of the issues the commission recently addressed was the perception among local teens that there were not enough stores catering to teens in downtown Los Gatos. The youth commission conducted its own survey showing that teens were going out of town to spend their money — dollars that would remain in the community if there were more businesses serving teens. This survey coincided with the town’s “Shop Local” campaign to help residents learn about the benefits of shopping locally.

When the town council denied a chain clothing store’s application for a conditional use permit in the downtown area, some youth commission members interpreted that decision as an indication that the community did not support teens. This perception arose out of a misunderstanding of the policy reasons underlying the council’s decision. The situation presented an opportunity to educate the youth commissioners about the planning and land use processes that guide downtown business approvals. It also motivated the youth commission to see what could be done to highlight and support existing businesses popular with teens in Los Gatos.

Developing a Recognition Program

The youth commission borrowed an idea from a program in Alaska that solicits community nominations of youth-friendly businesses and provides recognition. By forging a partnership with the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce, the commission created a youth-friendly business program tailored to the local community.

The program’s criteria reflect local values. Under the program, any business can be recognized as youth friendly if it supports young people by:

  • Hiring youth;
  • Providing goods or services appropriate for youth;
  • Creating a respectful business environment for youth; or
  • Supporting youth causes or activities.

Nominated businesses are initially screened by a subcommittee of the youth commission and then referred to the full commission for review. Businesses recognized as youth friendly receive a congratulatory letter and a window decal for display. Marketing and promotional materials for the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce and the town also highlight the business.

Research and planning for the recognition program were conducted by the commission during its 2008–09 and 2009–10 terms. The commission launched the program with a press announcement on March 30, 2010. During the commission’s next meeting 45 businesses were nominated, and almost all of them were approved. Youth Commissioner Nicky Robinson says, “Our goal was to be inclusive during our selection process, as opposed to looking for reasons not to include certain stores.”

Program Generates Positive Results

The youth commission selected JJ Magoo’s Pizza as the first Youth-Friendly Business of the Year. The owner, Jim Johnson, was pleasantly surprised to be selected as the first business to be awarded that honor. “I designed my restaurant to be youth friendly because I’m a parent and I really enjoy kids,” he says. “I’ve coached and supported Little League for almost 20 years in Los Gatos, and I think it’s those connections I’ve made in the community that helped me win this award.”

The program has also produced some unexpected benefits. Part of the youth commission’s program-related activities involve following up with owners whose businesses are nominated but not ultimately selected. These discussions have created opportunities for the youth commissioners to better understand not only how the business supports youth but also the challenges associated with serving a young clientele. Such dialogue enhances the relationship between business owners and the young people they serve and helps build a stronger sense of community.

The Youth-Friendly Business program has generated appreciation among business owners who view the recognition as an important distinction in the community. According to Jessica von Borck, who serves as economic vitality manager for Los Gatos, “Businesses can tap into the significant market represented by our young people, and the youth can ensure that they have welcoming places to patronize. The synergy created by this program contributes to the overall economic vitality of our town.”

Los Gatos Town Council Member Diane McNutt applauds the commission for successfully implementing the program. She says, “The Los Gatos Youth Commission has demonstrated leadership and creativity by developing a program that enhances the relationship between our business community and our youth. The Town of Los Gatos appreciates our young citizens taking the initiative to make a positive change in the community.”

Contact: Steve Walpole, sergeant, Los Gatos Police Department; phone: (408) 354-6851; e-mail: swalpole@losgatosca.gov.

This article appears in the September 2011 issue of Western City
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