Opponents of the proposed property-based business improvement district (PBID) for the downtown Village in La Mesa won a small victory Tuesday night, and the plan, as it is currently constructed, may be dying a slow death.
The City Council voted 4-1 (with Mark Arapostathis the dissenting vote) to approve a motion that would allow the PBID steering committee to continue its pursuit of the requisite votes necessary to move the project from the petition stage to the ballot stage.
Near the conclusion of the more than three-hour meeting, after council discussion and public comments from both proponents and opponents of that plan, it was decided that the steering committee would be allowed to continue to garner support for the PBID among property owners that would be affected by the proposal.
Vice Mayor Ernie Ewin said that he was apprehensive to move to approve the council’s role in the PBID because he is “looking for a little more substantial support,” than the PBID’s backers currently have.
Ewin indicated that substantial support means having at least “50 percent plus one” of the property owners supporting the PBID, which is what is required to move to the ballot phase.
“My concern is, and I’ve said this from the get-go, that I want to see a strong sense of support from the people that are going to be subject to these assessments,” he said. “It’s always been my understanding that we weren’t going to cast our vote until a time when the petition phase was completed. I do like PBIDs. I think they can be beneficial, but I also want to make sure that the process we get is appropriate.”
The majority of public speakers were against the PBID, many of whom have been outspoken opponents of the plan.
See also: La Mesa Village PBID Topic Page on Patch
Bill Stokes, a PM Master from the La Mesa Masonic Lodge, also spoke out against the proposal. He said that the Lodge does pay property taxes to the city, and at its current tax rate, he expects that they can remain in their current location on Date Avenue for about five to seven years. He said that for property owners like the Lodge, will see no direct benefit from the plan.
“We have no way to generate revenue,” said Stokes. “With the PBID [assessments], it would only accelerate our leaving.”
Jim Wieboldt, a member of the PBID steering committee, spoke on behalf of the committee. He said that since the April 24 council meeting—in which the council’s making a decision on the PBID was postponed until Tuesday night—he and other committee members have been actively seeking more support.
When asked by Ewin how far along the support had come, Wieboldt did not answer with specifics.
“I have been advised by our counsel not to give specific dollar amounts or percentages at this time,” Wieboldt said, to which opponents of the PBID sitting in the crowd scoffed.
However, the committee’s efforts at gaining support apparently did not get a lot of traction, as Wieboldt revealed, “even if the city decides to vote for us, it will not put us over the top” in guaranteeing a vote of affected property owners.
The city of La Mesa is the largest property owner in the current PBID area.
One of the major points of contention for PBID opponents is that of the $65,000 allocated for service maintenance as part of the plan. Some property owners are upset, since they are already taxed as a way to pay for current maintenance known as baseline services.
As part of this form of the PBID, the money in the budget for service maintenance would either be for streetscape improvements that do not currently exist, or an increased frequency in maintenance that is currently being done.
Some council members are split on their support of the current form. Mayor Art Madrid, who serves as the council representative on the steering committee, wants the PBID established. Council member Ruth Sterling does not.
After hearing public comment, it was Sterling who first responded with her concerns of the project. Reading aloud from a list apparetnly prepared before the meeting, she stated the reasons she could not support the PBID. Among them was the inclusion of the school district and churches, which would not benefit as much as other retail shops.
Arapostathis agreed with this notion.
“When people talk about our downtown, they come for very specific reasons, but they’re not walking the downtown to go to their insurance agent, or to go to their realtor,” he said. “They’re going for retail.”
He also said that he thinks a PBID necessary, if it were to help improve the La Mesa streetscape.
“I think the downtown needs a cityscape and we need improvements, and we need a maintenance aspect,” he said. “We do need to consider something though, because if we do have a streetscape and we don’t have a mechanism to keep it improved, it’s not gonna be there. And we’re gonna be right back where we started.”
After further discussion, Sterling asked, “So how does this work? When can this be dissolved?”
Legally, there is no time frame or statute that the steering committee must adhere to, in its attempt to garner the necessary support for the PBID. Pondering this, councilmember Dave Allan asked a poignant question.
“If [the council] can’t stop this, how long will [the committee’s search for support] continue?” he asked.
In truth, there is no right answer to this question. As long as the steering committee wants to continue to try and talk to property owners and advocate for their plan, they have legal grounds to do so. Realistically, it could be two weeks or six months or 10 years.
But whereas before, when the issue was tabled at the April council meeting, with no clear resolution, the committee has a specific goal in mind: 50 percent plus one. If and when that percentage is reached, only then will the PBID move forward.
Madrid is optimistic that it will happen, though he contends, it may take some time. He mentioned that two major property owners have yet to sign the petition, due to logistics and chain-of-command mandates. Having these owners onboard will go a long way toward getting to the magic number.
“Fifty plus one. If that’s the case, I think we can achieve that goal,” he said. “The council cannot, as Ms. Sterling was suggesting, just eliminate the committee. So now we have to deal with a more aggressive campaign.”