Updated at 9:28 a.m. Feb. 29, 2012
Answering critics of a proposed business-improvement district, Jim Wieboldt on Tuesday declared: “The PBID is not dead.”
“The PBID effort remains strong. We have petitions coming in daily [calling for a vote on the district],” travel agency owner Wieboldt told the La Mesa City Council on a night when the issue got its first detailed airing at City Hall.
But in response to a council question, Wieboldt conceded that PBID advocates were about $100,000 short of the $189,050.01 in petitioners’ assessed valuation needed to permit a vote on raising their own property taxes.
That means the fate of the petition—and ultimately the PBID itself—could rest with the City Council.
The city controls 15.9 percent of the district’s valuation, and a council vote expected by early April may be decisive.
Mayor Art Madrid stressed that Tuesday’s discussion was informational, with no vote scheduled on whether City Hall as a downtown property owner should sign the petition in circulation for almost two months.
But the council and a succession of speakers spent two hours debating the PBID, which would cost the La Mesa General Fund $60,000 a year.
One was Brian Marshall, superintendent of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, whose Date Avenue headquarters would be assessed $7,000 a year.
Marshall said the PBID’s only benefit to the K-8 district would be yearly* power-washings, and suggested it likewise would do the Civic Center little good.
“I urge the council to not sign the PBID petition and support the call for the [PBID] Formation Committee to redesign the PBID with input from all who would be impacted,” Marshall said, reflecting his school board’s ire about not being contacted on the issue until December 2011.
Madrid responded by noting that many longtime La Mesans pay “school tax” as part of their property taxes, but have no children attending schools and get no benefit. So why should the school district object?
Smiling, Marshall replied: “It’s a great question, and luckily I was an economics major at UCSD and I have a great answer.”
He noted how some segments of society benefit all segments—especially public education, which trains doctors, police and firefighters that aid La Mesans.
“You receive a benefit to having an educated citizenry,” Marshall said, but contrasted that with the PBID: “I don’t see personally and as a district the benefit of this PBID to La Mesa-Spring Valley children.”
Madrid countered by arguing that the PBID would make The Village safer—leading to more people wanting to move to La Mesa, bringing children to local schools and boosting ADA [average-daily attendance] funding for the district.
Dawn Marie Tol mocked the mayor’s reasoning.
“I don’t know anyone who feels unsafe in The Village,” she told the council. “That’s a silly proposition.”
She and others called on the council to set a deadline for the gathering of ballot petition signatures. But Ed Henning, the city’s PBID consultant, said state law requires no deadline—and that the process could last 18 months.
Councilman Dave Allan, stepping down at the end of his term in 2012, quipped: “I hope it will take 18 months. I’ll be out of office.” But later he said: “Seems to me there should be some kind of deadline.”
Council members Ruth Sterling and Ernie Ewin asked questions suggesting they had doubts about the benefits of the PBID to the Civic Center property.
“What am I [as a property owner] going to get beyond what the city provides me?” she asked.
“Higher property taxes,” cried an older man in the front row of the council chamber—resulting in a lecture from Madrid against catcalls and disrespect of speakers.
Madrid later was criticized by an animated Scott McMillan, a downtown lawyer who accused the mayor of showing disrespect to “my representative” Sterling when the mayor interrupted her during a question, saying Ewin had the floor. (See attached video.)
Bookstore owner Deena While, a one-time member of the PBID study committee, said: “The PBID has tried to solve too many problems” and gotten “too big and too expensive.”
Patrick Dean, who noted he would like to be on the council someday, said: “I’d like to see a highly democratic and transparent process. A lot of people are shaking their heads [over the PBID].”
And Marie McLaughlin, who operates the La Mesa Antique Mall in The Village, called the PBID “extremely unfair for us retailers.” She said: “I don’t know [how] my $4,000 [annual assessment] is going to improve my bottom line.”
In other business, the council heard Police Chief Ed Aceves summarize his first quarterly operations report. (See attached PDF).
Despite a highly publicized series of October and November store robberies, Aceves said La Mesa’s crime rate in 2011—30.2 crimes per 1,000 residents—was the lowest since the 30.1 rate of 1966.
Aceves, the La Mesa native who succeeded Al Lanning as chief in October, also showed a chart indicating that of 950 county residents freed from state prison under Assembly Bill 109 as budget relief, only seven were La Mesans at their time of arrest.
But the La Mesa Police Department is monitoring 130 probationers within city limits, hoping for state budget help on supervisor staffing, Aceves said.
The council also delayed action on a staff suggestion to begin the process of raising sewer fees. Sterling suggested that be delayed until next year since residents may feel a pinch by having to pay the sewer bills twice a year with their property taxes rather than the traditional practice of billing every other month.
And by a 5-0 vote, the council adopted a 384-page “Bicycle Facilities and Alternative Transportation Plan”—made possible by a federal grant that aims to improve health, the environment and the city’s economy. (See attached PDF.)
*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the power washing would be monthly.