Event at Fin’s raises $18,000 for the homeless

May 7, 2016

More than $18,000 was raised in one evening for South County residents facing homelessness during a festive “Dinner for a Cause” at Fin’s seafood restaurant in Grover Beach on May 5.

Every penny spent by patrons during “Fiesta at Fin’s” was donated to 5 Cities Homeless Coalition by Fin’s owner, Bruce Van Vort, and his employees, who generously donated their tips as well. California State Parks, the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition volunteers and a number of local businesses and individuals provided support for the event, including donated raffle prizes, live entertainment and special desserts.

Funds raised will help provide housing and meet immediate financial needs of families who are homeless or facing eviction in South County. A portion of the proceeds also will help Lucia Mar’s Families in Transition program supporting homeless youth.

“Requests for help in the Five Cities area are up three-fold over last year at this time,” said 5 Cities Homeless Coalition Executive Director Janna Nichols. One of the most pressing needs is assistance for families who are trying to stay in their homes despite the loss of a job, rent increases or family breakups.

The $18,400 raised from the event is a record for a Fin’s event supporting the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, Nichols said. Since 2014, Fin’s has hosted several events in support of the organization’s programs and services. The next event is scheduled on Giving Tuesday, December 6.

“Many thanks to Fin’s Chef Carlos, his fantastic kitchen crew, all the Fin’s staff who donated their time and tips – including two who delayed their vacation departures to participate, California State Parks, our business partners and the members of the community who answered the call to support their neighbors in need,” said 5 Cities Homeless Coalition Board President Mike Byrd. “We couldn’t do what we do for the community without such generous support.”

Volunteer servers, hosts and wait staff included Brent Marshall, Dianne Thompson, Steve Lieberman, Jake Miller, Lynn Compton, Mike Byrd, Rick Gulino, Laurie Morgan, Dena Bellman, Eugenia Gamble, Shelly Higginbotham, Jeff Lee, Richard Van Houten, Barbara Harmon and Larry Vernon.

California Fresh Market, KK’s Bunt Cakes, Eclairs and other friends provided special desserts for the event. El Tapatio and Sound Investment provided entertainment.

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Kudos for Bruce Van Vort and the employees at Fins!

Read this nice letter from Barbara Harmon and then the mayor’s response.

Mayor Hill,

After giving this matter much consideration, I am sending this email to express my disappointment and disbelief about your actions and your lack of transparency involving your Feb. 23, 2016 letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Initially, my main concern was that Council had no knowledge about your contact with the FTC, on behalf of the City, and because my only notification was via the FTC’s response, received one month later.

Since then, other concerns have materialized. Approximately 3 weeks ago, one of your supporters told me that, “we knew about that letter (FTC letter) months ago.” This statement shocked me. How do you reconcile that your supporters knew of your intentions, and yet, the Council was not notified? How do these actions demonstrate transparent governance?

Another concern I have, is that the contents of your letter convey an official city position in support of one business over others. This is also a business that is well known in our community as a key supporter of your campaign.

I’m concerned that the appearance of supporting one business over others could place the city in a position of an unfriendly business environment. A position opposite of what you and I have been striving to remedy.

It would be helpful to know why you did not inform the Council, even with a courtesy notification, that you would be contacting the Federal Trade Commission on the City’s behalf. You and I made a commitment to promote transparency in our city government, yet your actions are contrary to this commitment.

Please offer an explanation about why you acted without consideration or notification to the Council.


Mayor Pro Tem

Barbara Harmon


Last year’s merger of Vons (Safeway) and Albertsons grocery stores resulted in the Federal Trade Commission ordering the combined company to sell certain stores to other operators to maintain competition and prevent monopoly pricing in local areas such as Arroyo Grande. One store ordered to be sold was the Albertsons location in Arroyo Grande which had always been convenient to residents and a top sales tax generator for the city. Albertson’s sold the store to Haggens which almost immediately went bankrupt amid counter lawsuits with Albertsons.

Haggens assets came under jurisdiction of the Federal Bankruptcy Court who put them up for sale to the highest bidder to compensate Haggens creditors. In the bankruptcy proceeding, the high bidder for the Arroyo Grande location was Arroyo Grande-based Spencer’s Fresh Markets, the fact being widely publicized at the time.

However Spencer’s was not given possession of the store which remains vacant since early November. Meanwhile many former Albertsons customers moved to Trader Joes and Smart and Final, but many others moved to stores in other cities with consequent loss of tax revenue to Arroyo Grande. On February 23, over three months after Haggens abandoned Arroyo Grande, with no move by the City to facilitate a new operator for the store, and amid rumors of “tabling” the completed bankruptcy auction and monopolistic takeover maneuvers by Albertsons/Vons, I wrote to the Federal Trade Commission expressing concern over the situation and the possibility to have Spencer’s, being the top bidder, or at least another competitive operator reopen the store as soon as possible.

Now Council member Barbara Harmon is criticizing my contact of the Trade Commission claiming “lack of transparency”, apparently because I didn’t check with her in advance.

Ms. Harmon claims unnamed supporters “knew about that letter months ago”. Fact: the letter was only sent one month before the response was delivered to Harmon and others. No one could have known “months ago” and in fact Haggens had only closed three months before the letter was written.

Ms. Harmon claims concern about appearance of supporting one business over another. Fact: the letter was sent only after Spencer’s was widely publicized as being the high bidder in the bankruptcy auction. What the letter in fact advocates is transparency in the process and opening a competitive grocery store in the location as soon as possible.

Ms. Harmon correctly notes that Spencer’s were supporters of my election campaign, and I’m proud that a great employer such as Spencer’s did support me. Ms. Harmon’s claimed shock is ultimately revealed as just another political attack in an election year. Perhaps she’s worried about reaction to her own lack of advocacy that the City’s largest grocery store be reopened.

I have repeatedly asked the City to advocate for potential operators to open that store again, but the response has been that the loss of tax revenue there isn’t that big a deal. I emphatically disagree. As I watch businesses leave the city, some actually having been told they weren’t really welcome or there was no place for them here – truly examples of supporting some businesses over others- my disappointment and disbelief has been the total lack of economic development initiative and business recruitment and retention effort on the part of the City. That is what has to change. I would encourage Ms. Harmon to try to become part of the solution.

Jim Hill