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LA MESA -- A couple of the most vocal opponents of the proposed Property Based Improvement District called a community meeting Wednesday night to discuss alternatives to the PBID.
A kind observer of the event as it unfolded might have described it as a fledgling attempt to try and find a middle ground in the increasingly heated debate.
To others, the small gathering of merchants -- many of them showing startlingly little familiarity with the details of the much-discussed issue -- might have stood as testament to why La Mesa Village needs some kind of professional management.
It was noted there are 168 merchants in La Mesa but fewer than a dozen showed for this discussion and several of the merchants took time out from this debate to note how disengaged many of those 168 are from collective efforts to promote the business district.
"A lot of them won't even support the car show,'' railed Anna Sanfilippo, whose pizza fueled this event in the banquet room of her La Mesa Boulevard restaurant.
Local car dealer Rick Bucklew noted that the PBID steering committee had pursued an improvement district to develop a way to get everyone contributing toward the district's endeavors.
But this group was here to bury the PBID, not praise it and Bill Jaynes, proprietor of All Things Bright & British, endeavored to educate the crowd to the subtleties of the issue and herd them toward some form of consensus that could give this gathering a positive outcome.
It wasn't an easy task. Jaynes learned it is clearly easier to be in opposition to something than to find consensus among the passively engaged but strongly opinionated merchants who made up his audience on this night.
The challenge the anti-PBID forces face is that if they succeed in scuttling the PBID effort, the city may scale back the streetscape redesign project planned for La Mesa Boulevard; even some of the most ardent PBID opponents would prefer the full Monty on the streetscape project so they are searching for some cheaper, lesser form of PBID to persuade the city not to diminish the La Mesa Boulevard plans.
Jaynes and former book store owner Deena While were trying to explain the possibility of having a lower-budget maintenance district or a straight business improvement district that could meet the city's desire for maintenance help without dunning the property owners for the $370,000 annual budget for maintenance, marketing, security and events planned for a PBID operation.
When it was clear there would be no rallying around any specific form of collective promotional effort from this group of merchants, Jaynes instead said he would bring a formal request to the city that it lay out for the merchants the different range of street scape improvements and delineate the exact cost merchants could be asked to contribute if the city is to be convinced to deliver the Cadillac version of the La Mesa Boulevard redesign.
City officials have been reluctant to add extra enhancements to a Village redesign if the local property owners aren't going to contribute to their maintenance.
The idea for a PBID gained momentum after the Village Merchants Association, a small and sometimes sparsely funded group, told the city it couldn't find enough support among its members to maintain planters along the historic boulevard.
For much of the last two years, a group of 15 property owners and local merchants hammered out a plan for a PBID that, if passed by a majority of Village property owners, would require all property owners within the district to contribute to enhanced promotional, maintenance and security efforts.
"We have to do something," Bucklew said to the group last night while suggesting a summit with the PBID Steering Committee. "This town needs to come up a notch. We've managed to make it somewhat of a destination, but we need to promote it, year round.''
But Bucklew was expressing the opinion of PBID supporters -- many of them prominent property owners and merchants along the boulevard -- who believe investments are needed in amenities, security and marketing to help the quaint neighborhood commercial district maintain an effective profile in the regional economy.
But to other merchants who were drawn to La Mesa for its low rents, anything that adds to their cost of doing business is met with skepticism at best and outright anger at times. "We don't need more government,'' one merchant muttered at one point.
The meeting ended with the group leaders promising another meeting in a month. Though no specific date or agenda was set, Sanfilippo's willingness to host the meeting, and the quality of pizza she puts out for her guests, should alone guarantee better attendance next time.