City Council Split on Whether to Back PBID, Will Make Decision in July

All but three of 16 speakers at meeting favored the downtown business-improvement district.

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.

See more: PBID-related articles on La Mesa-Mount Helix Patch

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.”

Eric Yates April 25, 2012 at 11:47 PM
for now... :) thanks for reading, Kevin!
Kevin George April 25, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Back at ya Eric. But can you get my comments back on the front page, I feel like the masked avenger.
Komfort April 26, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Sympathy comment to get your flood to five. Please fix this format.
Kevin George April 26, 2012 at 12:23 AM
K, is there a boycott that I am not aware of?
Deena While April 26, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Patch: Do you want people to comment? If so then why is the "What People Are Saying" section reduced even further to show just one comment at a time? That's what drives your readership....we want to know what our neighbors are saying. We've had a screwed up website for over a month now....when are the 'patches' coming to correct the bugs? This used to be such a fun place to hang out and chat with my neighbors...but heck! I can't even find my neighbors. I did something this morning that I haven't done in two years....I commented on La Mesa Today! I know! Crazy isn't it? But when I woke up this morning patch didn't have a report on the city council meeting and LMToday did....I hope that doesn't continue to be the case.
Deena While April 26, 2012 at 12:50 AM
OK, I feel better after that Patch Rant. Last night there was a lady from one of the churches who spoke against PBID, and there were several people in the audience that just don't do public speaking, but they attended the meeting to show their concern over this topic. In all the city council meetings to date where PBID was discussed, have you noticed that all the supportive speakers have been TeamPBID members?
Scott H. Kidwell April 26, 2012 at 01:47 AM
This seems to be falling short so it appears proponents want to use the power of the city to bolster the effort. The mayoral, et al., selling argument to have the city sign now was just not compelling enough and others were not buying! The message was clear in the end-The effort is not dead as long as the proponents can convince a critical number of private property owner of the claimed merits. If the benefits are so obvious it should be no problem.
Jimmy Sanders April 26, 2012 at 03:01 AM
"They killed it tonight,” Madrid told La Mesa Today after the meeting." Yes that's right Mayor. Blame others for your failure to convince enough people to sign on to this idea!
Steve Sund April 26, 2012 at 03:23 AM
I agree with Deena, La Mesa Today totally scooped The Patch on this.
Ken Stone April 26, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Eric's reporting is solid and fair. It's more important to get it right than to get it first.
Deena While April 26, 2012 at 04:41 AM
I'm not particularly attacking Eric as much as the site in general. It's pent up frustration aimed at an object not a person. I guess things were just so perfect when you were here Ken. Poor Eric inherited the site as the 'downgrades' started.
Super Terrific Response April 26, 2012 at 05:37 AM
For those in favor of the PBID effort, last night showed (in painfully slow fashion, no less) how the wheels are coming loose on this wagon. For those in opposition to the PBID effort, last night showed how the less you kick, scream and otherwise look foolish the more likely you will win by attrition. It was ironic to hear the Mayor refer to the "veteran City Council" several times. This group needed training wheels more than once thanks to the muddled "friendly" amendment offered by Dave Allan. And Ernie Ewin didn't help matters by his monotone ramblings about his "need to see more" from La Mesa business and property owners. Of course, Ruth Sterling was her usual confused self by voting for the Mayor's motion first and then voting in favor of the subsequent standalone motion offered by Dave Allan. And with Mark Arapostathis away from the dais for this portion of the meeting poor Art Madrid was ultimately cast adrift from his fellow "veterans." Perhaps what the city of La Mesa really needs over the next two and a half years is a whole new slate of councilmembers to lead this city out of the doldrums. Because with the council deciding to not make a decision last night they showed the vocal anti-PBID minority they don't have the stomach to stare them down. Andrew PS. Is this the same city council that will decide the fate of Park Station? Well, let me be the first to say "Hello eighteen story office building!"
Janice Sherlock April 26, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I invite anyone from LaMesa that may be considering the BID venture to visit the College Area BID monthly meeting and find out about success for an area. This group of hard-working volunteer board members (and volunteers) have done a lot to enhance the community and brought a sense of vitality to the area that was not there previously.
Komfort April 26, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Do you have a website?
Bill Jaynes April 26, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Hi Ms. Sherlock, La Mesa is discussing a PBID, not a BID. Some are open to a BID (which only assesses businesses and wouldn't burden district residents and nonprofits such as our churches). We object to a PBID in part because of the disparity in voting power which would allow the City (as the largest property owner), Auerbach redevelopment (as the largest private landholder), and just 7 other properties to attain a voting majority over the remaining 200 properties in the district. We thinkr the "enhanced benefits" of the long-delayed Streetscape Project are best addressed with a $65,000 Maintenance District that would also allow the project to quickly get back on track (although I must note that the lack of a recovery mechanism didn't keep some of the improvements from already being built on the portion of Allison adjacent to the Civic Center and Auerbach eastward). Would you care to tell us more about your experience with BIDs? We should hear from a disinterested outsider what the benefits are so we can see why they might be superior to Mayor Madrid's scheme to attach a $378,000 remora to the Village. Bill Jaynes ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BRITISH 8401 La Mesa Blvd. 619-464-2298 (The County's oldest British import store, serving La Mesa and all Southern California from the same location at 4th and La Mesa for over 30 years ) P.S. To Parking Commissioner Jim Wieboldt: Napoleon had an opinion about British shopkeepers, too. How'd that work out for him, again?
Laura Lothian April 26, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Three months after the PBID ballots went out, only 25% have been returned. Conversely, this week, 92% of San Diego hoteliers voted by ballot for a self-imposed tax increase (room surcharge). Seems Ernie's ok with the city being a player but not a game changer which is to be commended.
How long is the process "open" for the ballots to be returned? What were/are the rules? Was there a deadline on the ballot in which it needed to be signed and returned? It seems that until the supporters get this "approved" it remains open-ended, and the rules are not set in stone.
Kevin George April 26, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Marcia, that has been the point of the anti PBID folks for a couple of months. There is no specified deadline for the petition. The proponents get to plod along until they win or give up. Seems absurd doesn't it?
Craig Maxwell April 26, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Two different visions of, and future hopes for the Village: that's what the PBID battle is really about. On the one hand we have the mayor's contempt for the status quo--many of the shops and their owners--and his single-minded push to enlist major property owners in an effort to radically reconfigure the entire area. This is far from conjecture. In his own words, the Art Madrid has said that Village should become, "like the Gaslamp Quarter or Little Italy." Not, in other words, a place mostly made up of charming, retail "mom and pop shops," but one composed primarily of bars, restaurants, and professional offices. And on the other, you have the Village as it is, the one my customer's never fail to compliment. “What a lovely little downtown!” they say. And, “How atypically Southern California. This place has such an 'authentic' old-fashioned feel, and interesting diversity of shops.” Placing, as it does, the fate of small retailers in the hands of a few big property owners, the PBID is both fundamentally unfair, and profoundly undemocratic. But I hasten to add that nothing about our appreciation for the “Village-as-it-is” precludes improvements or change. Far from from it! However, both the interests of equity and maintenance of Village character demand that these be market-driven, occur incrementally over time and not be part of some self-serving “top down” city plan to remake the area in its own ever-seeking-new-forms-of-revenue image.
Deena While April 26, 2012 at 08:15 PM
True Craig. When I talk to young families and seniors who have moved to the village area, they are drawn here by the charming little downtown. They love having a little town right around the corner from their home. But, as we found out several months back, the residents do NOT want a night life that will disturb bedtimes for babies, and adults. Here is where the future plans of the village need to be solidified. Does the village continue to be a cute, charming, historical attraction? Or does the village become a destination for night life?
Things I Learned April 26, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Scott H. Kidwell April 26, 2012 at 09:44 PM
And maybe a microcosm of the larger discussion facing us as a nation. Are we fundamentally first individuals with inherent personal liberty protected by the US Constitution or are communities to be supreme over individuals, where crafted majorities rule for the good of the collective and the US Constitution is an out of date relict that must needs be revised or discarded.
Gnu Sharif April 27, 2012 at 03:10 PM
whatiknow April 27, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Do we want a vibrant downtown paid for by the business community?? Or do we continue to subsidize failing businesses just because some folks have watched too many Mayberry RFD reruns? Whimsy and melancholy shouldn't pass for solid public policy.
Batman April 27, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Subsidize? Who downtown is being subsidized?
whatiknow April 27, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Some folks' pining for Floyd the barber and Otis the drunk has led to the gradual deterioration of the downtown business front. Such results in decreased sales. Decreased sales result in decreased revenue for tax payers. So the defacto result is that opting for the status quo as a matter of public policy equals subsidization of the current shopholders. Implementation of the PBID would not only revitalize downtown, it would revitalize the city's coffers as well. I would rather not pay for some folks to play with their lemonade stands.
Marie McLaughlin May 08, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Now that you mention it....and they are given the floor without the same time constraints the detractors have!
Marie McLaughlin May 08, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Apparently there are no rules for team PBID
Marie McLaughlin May 08, 2012 at 03:09 AM
and PBID is going to assure a vibrant downtown? The village is fine just the way it is. More taxes are nothing more than more taxes.
Marie McLaughlin June 01, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Kevin, I'm late to comment, but better late than never. You bring up the major points that are the crux of the matter. The people of La Mesa paying the taxes should be doing the voting rather than allowing the mayor to decide for them. We business owners have already voted "no" by not turning in sufficient approval ballots. More taxpayer money shouldn't be spent trying to cram PBID down our throats.


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