Chamber of Commerce officials will use a one-time, matching grant to ignite programs designed to broaden the city's appeal to new businesses and keep the ones already here.

The City Council awarded a $37,500 grant during the Feb. 28 meeting that will be used to market businesses in specific districts of the city, create a database of available commercial properties for prospective businesses, replace outdated technology and update its electrical system to meet city codes.

"The net effect will be more businesses opening in Laguna Beach and better retention of existing businesses already in our community," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, co-sponsor of the grant along with Councilwoman Toni Iseman.

Chamber officials proposed piggybacking on the concept of districts such as the ones created by the city and the Visitors & Conference Bureau as a vehicle for marketing. The chamber would assist each district by coordinating branding and marketing.

The chamber has been blamed in the past for promoting only downtown businesses, according to Pearson. She said focus groups will be created to expand the chamber's efforts.

Proposed programs and projects are estimated to cost $75,000, of which the chamber would raise half. Almost $30,000 of the total will go toward updating computer equipment, a data management computer program and an updated telephone and Internet system

"Our technology is like using baling wire and bubble gum," said Kristine Thalman, the chamber's executive director.

The grant is not intended for use in espousing candidates in the upcoming election.

"If it is used for political purposes, it would be a violation of the spirit of the grant," Iseman said.

The chamber has dabbled in politics in the past, when businesswoman Cayenne Bird led an attempt to recall City Council members.

"We are not going to have a [political action committee]" said recently installed board President Michael Kinsman. "Legally, we could, but it would split the membership. We won't support candidates, but we will present a candidates forum."

Kinsman also announced that the chamber had eliminated its nonprofit foundation because no money was raised for it or by it for three years.

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