Will the city of La Mesa back a downtown effort to bring the PBID to a vote? The answer won’t be known until July, the City Council decided Tuesday night.
Nearly five months into its petition phase, the effort to establish a property-based business improvement district in The Village is short of ballot valuation needed to call a vote.
The future of the PBID is squarely up in the air because the council deadlocked on a vote to move the PBID from the petition phase to the ballot phase.
In a contentious meeting that dragged long into the night, the council decided by a 3-1 vote (with Mayor Art Madrid the dissenter) to postpone a decision until the second council meeting in July.
Madrid made known what he thinks the outcome will be.
“They killed it tonight,” Madrid told La Mesa Today after the meeting. “They had people out here who spent two years working for us on this thing, spending thousands of their own dollars and when they asked for our support, we told them no.”
Despite the large majority of supporters present, Councilman Ernie Ewin expressed concern about city backing of the PBID.
“The one thing that really troubles me in how this process works, is that forming a PBID and how the math comes together for approvals, you basically could have a small group of individuals setting it for all that are subject to this PBID,” Ewin said.
As a result of Tuesday’s action, the PBID steering must go back to the drawing board to modify the plan to try to gain additional support from among the 200 businesses in the district.
In July, the council will decide if it will support the effort or take no stand on the proposal, which allows property owners downtown to tax themselves for a variety of physical improvements, services and marketing efforts.
Before the 3-1 vote, the council deadlocked 2-2 on a motion to allow City Manager Dave Witt to sign (on behalf of the council) the petition in support of the PBID.
Ewin and Councilman Dave Allan opposed the motion. Madrid and Councilwoman Ruth Sterling backed it.
Said Ewin: “I recognize … that there are those who believe that there is a process established and it needs to be religiously followed in order to protect all parties. I want to make sure that when I do what I’m charged to do, I have the best information I can get.”
Councilman Mark Arapostathis recused himself from the decision, saying his main employer, the , has property in the PBID district and creates a possible conflict of interest. (The school district, whose Date Avenue headquarters is in the PBID zone, .)
Arapostathis is awaiting a ruling from the state Fair Political Practices Commission on whether he will be permitted to take part in PBID discussions.
Sixteen people spoke in the public comments portion of the meeting, with 13 favoring the PBID, and Deena While, Bill Jaynes and local attorney Scott McMillan in opposition.
Local accountant Lynn McRae, who heads the PBID steering committee, said the committee is still in the process of gathering petitions and garnering additional support.
“We are far from looking at this being a done deal,” she said. “We have a huge, vast number of people who support this.”
She described the committee as 15 members who own small “mom and pop shops, if you will” and who she said are “a good representation of the businesses within the district we are looking to form.”
“We all work in The Village every day and we all see some of the things we are trying to cope with every day, such as decaying infrastructure, crumbling sidewalks that are problematic for customers, electrical problems that affect events held in The Village, filth, trash, overflowing garbage, increasing crime, and more.”
By adopting the PBID, she said, it would generate increased sales tax revenues, increased property values, which she called a win-win for the owners and city.
McRae cited a U-T San Diego article Monday on the issue of business improvement districts, which stated, “If you see an exciting, dynamic and attractive commercial area in San Diego, there’s probably a business improvement district behind it.”
Said McRae: “We believe a PBID will save our Village. Without it, The Village I think will continue to degrade. Retail will fade into the past.”
Jonathan Baron, owner of the , urged the council to give approval to the petition.
“We have many property owners on the fence, waiting to see what the city will do,” Baron said. “Several businesses go above and beyond for the city as well as The Village. I would hope that the city would go above and beyond for The Village as well.”
Baron also cited the U-T article, which contends that business owners typically receive a 5-to-1 return on investment for their assessments.
“Five-to-1? Sounds like a no-brainer to me,” he said. “If someone wants to give me five dollars every time I give them a dollar, I’m going to take that every time.”
Jaynes, owner of , has been an outspoken opponent of the PBID. He said that it is not the proper role of the of the council to sign the petition to help one side, the pro-PBID side, as a means to get other property owners to sign on.
“I hope every one of you takes into consideration using your power as the single largest property assessed in the district,” he said.
“As all of the [petition] votes would be made public anyway, there’s tremendous pressure on a lot of property owners to sign, quite frankly out of fear, that they would be crossing certain members of the city.”
Jaynes also said that despite La Mesa being a well-run city, with decision-makers that “are good people and do good things,” he chastised the council for what he sees as “a poisonous mind-set that treats dissenters as cranks, that allows certain members of city staff to basically openly mock the press and public as voyeurs for participating in the public conversations, and write in e-mails that they don’t trust members of the public serving on committees.”
McMillan, who claims to have been kicked out of a prior public meeting for voicing opposition over the PBID, agreed with Jaynes.
“I’m a property owner at Nebo and Lemon, and I expect problems from my position,” he said. “I expect them from Mr. Madrid and his friends. We’ll see how that plays out.”
McMillan said that the entire process has been tainted and sullied with misinformation.
“I’m expected to pay over the life of [the PBID] in excess of $45,000. So that’s what you’re considering taking out of my pocket,” he said.
“As far as any sort of deliberative process that took into consideration the very positions of the members of the community, that didn’t happen. This was just something that 15 people decided that they were going to propose a tax—that’s what it is a tax on property owners to subsidize their businesses.”
Jim Wieboldt, who owns a in The Village and is an announced , disagreed that the PBID is a tax.
“It’s not a tax. I’m willing to be assessed that because I realize that not only is it good for my business, with the foot traffic that it will bring in, it’s great for our Village,” Wieboldt said.
Deena While, another opponent of the PBID, thinks that the issue is doing more harm than merely deciding if a business improvement district would benefit business owners.
“Friendships are being broken up and the community is being divided because of this,” said While, who has closed her La Mesa Boulevard children’s bookstore amid the economy.
“It’s just really sad to see the PBID process drag on this long, when we’re not at $189,000 [needed in valuation votes to assure a Village PBID election] and a penny, even with [the council’s] vote.”
“It’s obvious that this management plan is not getting the support that it needs after four months, and I hope that we can go back to the table, renegotiate,” she added.
“I think that if we were to reduce the scope, reduce the area involved and just have a mechanism in place to maintain the streetscape, I think that it’s more manageable, and we wouldn’t even be here right now.”