Council Refuses To Sign PBID Petition

LA MESA -- In a tortuous meeting with more twists and turns than the road to Julian, the City Council refused to sign the Property Based Improvement District petition but voted 3 to 1 to put a July deadline on the whole issue.

The actions, which followed a majority of speakers asking council members to show leadership and sign the petition, left much of the downtown Village leadership confused and bewildered.

"Frankly I am very disappointed," said Lynn McRea, the accountant who led the PBID Steering Committee. "Basically we were asked by the council to pursue this, we worked for two years and now where is their leadership?"

Other committee members complained the council was rolling over to a vocal minority.

"You saw it,'' said local business owner Jim Wieboldt. "They heard from one business leader after another saying this was good for a community and instead they backed a bankrupt book store owner and a 2 percent margin chocolate bar salesman.''

Mayor Art Madrid, who by any analysis had one of the worst political nights of his 20-year-mayoralty, said at meeting's end that he believes the PBID proposal is dead.

"They killed it tonight,'' Madrid said. "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.''

Madrid said he had personally talked to a number of property owners who were waiting for the City Council to commit to the plan before lending their support and he believes they will remain on the sidelines after the council's decision Tuesday night.

"They were waiting to see what we'd do and we didn't do anything,'' Madrid said.

Council member Ernie Ewin said he was less certain than Madrid of the PBID's demise. Ewin opposed signing the petition "at this time'' but thought members of McRea's Steering Committee might be able to modify the plan, perhaps lower the overall cost and bring it back to win his vote.

"I'm not saying any absolute that I'd support it then,'' Ewin said, "but that's what I was looking for. Some movement.''

Ewin said he has always been concerned about a process in which a small number of large property owners can impose fees on a part of a city, but he hoped that overwhelming support for a PBID would overcome these concerns. However, the PBID effort didn't race through the petition phase and it appeared without the city's support, it might founder.

"I had hoped there would have been a better response from the property owners without having the city force the issue with its vote,'' Ewin said. "That hasn't happened yet.''

Ewin and Councilman Dave Allan voted against Madrid's effort to sign the petition. Madrid won the support of Ruth Sterling. That left council member Mark Arapostathis as the deciding vote, but he had recused himself temporarily because of a possible conflict of interest.

Arapostathis, who is also an employee of the La Mesa Spring Valley School District, said concerns ostensibly  by local residents had forced him to seek a legal opinion from state officials of whether his employment represented a conflict on this issue. School officials have spoken against using school funds to  pay a PBID assessments on its district offices.

The effort to establish a Property Based Improvement District was based on similar efforts that have been used to lead the revival of Adams Avenue, Little Italy, the Gaslamp District and another dozen commercial districts in San Diego County. If a majority of property owners representing more than 50 percent of the value of an area agree, their properties are assessed to raise money to improve services, security and marketing.

Efforts to achieve something similar for La Mesa's iconic downtown Village, however, have struggled for reasons that can seem driven as much by personalities as politics. While a small, but vocal number of Village merchants opposed the effort because of the added costs to their operation, many more, including the Merchant's Association leadership, had supported the PBID.

Speaker after speaker at Tuesday night's meeting extolled the need for better, more consistent leadership among Village property owners and pointed to the success of PBIDs in surrounding communities. Many were property owners and business operators who were willing to pay the assessments.

Bill Jaynes, a business owner, and Deena While, whose bookstore Readers Inc. is closing, spoke against the PBID as they have at many meetings. They were also joined by local attorney Scott McMillan.

But if the proponents and opponents in the audience were clear, the council members' own positions were harder to decipher. After all, this council, at the request of merchants, had voted to spend the money to hire the consultant who led the PBID process. It also had consistently in its policies and practices raised questions about the commitment and professionalism of the Merchants Association in handling Village development issues.

But politics can be as fluid as mercury and this council, particularly, has been undergoing changes lately.

Madrid managed to win re-election two years ago, but there has been much speculation about whether he would run again or whether he could maintain his hegemony in local politics as he moved toward his 80s. Allan, a pretty consistent Madrid ally in recent years, has announced he would not seek re-election in November and as Ewin and Arapostathis position themselves for a possible mayoral run, they have been more than willing to part ways with the mayor.

It was telling that after spanking the mayor with the PBID vote, Ewin, Arapostathis and Allan handed the mayor two other defeats in rapid succession. The trio refused a Madrid effort to further restrict parking fund money and then agreed to spend some of that parking money to power wash the Village streets -- a request Madrid had consistently opposed as a divergence from council policy for the use of that money.

Amid these plate tectonics of local politics, it is possible that the facts of the subjects at hand can be lost -- or at least evaluated on a different scale. At this point, only one thing is clear. The council voted 3-1 to give the PBID Steering Committee until the second meeting in July to produce enough signed petitions to convince Ewin, Allan and perhaps Arapostathis they should join Madrid and Sterling in supporting an effort the council voted to fund years ago.

The future of La Mesa's downtown Village may or may not hang in the balance, but those who were supporting Tuesday said without a PBID you can expect the continued decline of retail and the increased conversion of Village stores into real estate, legal and accounting offices.


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Comment by scott mcmillan on May 5, 2012 at 2:13pm

Read the words of would-be council member Jim Wieboldt:

 ". . . "You saw it,'' said local business owner Jim Wieboldt. "They heard from one business leader after another saying this was good for a community and instead they backed a bankrupt book store owner and a 2 percent margin chocolate bar salesman.''

 

What an inappropriate thing to say!   Who is he calling "bankrupt," hope he has some facts to back that up, and how does he know the margins on candy bars?  Not only is PBID going to go crashing down to defeat, so is Art Madrid and the louts (namely Walton & Wieboldt) that hang out with him.

It is really a shame that Mr. Wieboldt has to be so nasty to his neighbors.  That is not leadership. It is more like Junior High school bullying.   But, I figure it starts at the top and flows downhill.  The top being Art Madrid. 

Art Madrid's days as a leader in La Mesa have likely passed.  His hijinks and would-be closed-door political machinations have no place in this age of the Internet.   Nor does his misogynistic attitude that he displays at the City Council meetings.  Now, more women are graduating from college, medical school, and law school, than their male cohorts.  Yet, Art Madrid persists on referring to the women at the council meetings by their first names but to the men by their titles and last name. 

I used to think he was a pretty cool mayor.  I'd see him at the local school games.  I spoke with him a couple times on the phone.  Very accessible.  But, now I know my first impression was inaccurate.  I don't like how he does business, how he treats others, and who he surrounds himself with.

Comment by Lisa Moore on April 28, 2012 at 1:50pm

Thank you Chris and Bill for you explanations as to the difference between BID and PBID and keeping it to a short version.  It makes it a little easier to understand the discussion going on including the recent U-T article.  As far as the City of La Mesa and the La Mesa General Funds they may be using to cover their portion of the assessment....those funds come from the tax revenues generated by we the tax payers (property or otherwise).  Sometimes it gets a little foggy as to whose money the City of La Mesa really is spending....guess that is a common problem with city, county, state and federal governments!

Comment by Bill Jaynes on April 27, 2012 at 8:02pm

Hey, Lisa, I resemble that remark!

Chris is essentially correct about the mechanisms. I would note assessing businesses rather than properties produces less disparity in fees on those in the district because the range between the largest and smallest property here is far greater--and more lopsidely distributed--than between the smallest and largest business. BIDs also take the question of use into account, so that fees bear at least some relationship to ability to pay as well as likely burden on services.

Finally, please remember that if cleaning the widest area is the issue, an assessment district of $65,000 is sufficient. The remaining $313,000 covers services that even Ed Henning conceded are of less benefit to our non-commercial neighbors. A BID would place those expenses where they belong, ultimately putting less strain on, for example, La Mesa's General Fund.

One question I haven't heard answered is why the Council would ever consider yielding their discretionary power over $60,000 to a private group of landowners. If the city really wants to spend that much, wouldn't the Downtown Meter money make more sense? At least then our elected representatives retain some flexibility to adapt in bad times.

Bill Jaynes

ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BRITISH

619-464-2298

Comment by La Mesa Today on April 27, 2012 at 4:22pm

Lisa,

My understanding is that a BID is a business improvement district. It involves only the commercial businesses and would not necessarily include residential properties or churches. The PBID includes all property owners, including the residential, church and non-profits.

The differences and the limits on the two are complex. For those who sat through all the PBID meetings -- including me -- there was a lot of talk from the consultant that state law prohibits anyone within an improvement district from receiving services from that district if they are not, in fact, contributing to the assessments. So if your goal was to clean up an area more widely, exempting churches, government lands or residential would require making certain their sidewalks didn't get cleaned or their properties patrolled by security. The consultant led the steering committee through these various options and they settled on the PBID, I surmised because they wanted to have wider leeway in applying the services to a wider area and having more people and the government properties involved would keep individual assessments lower. Chris Gonzalez in the city operation could give the most authoritative explanation of this. I hope this helped. Chris Lavin

Comment by Lisa Moore on April 27, 2012 at 2:41pm

Can someone explain the difference between the BID  and PBID.....a short version will do.

Comment by Kevin G George on April 26, 2012 at 12:04pm

For me the most refreshing thing I read was that Ernie Ewin will be running for Mayor, I sure hope that is true.

His speech regarding changing his outlook on the PBID because of the lack of support from his constituency was great. Imagine that! A Council member sensing the obvious lack of enthusiasm for this proposal and changing his mind to fit the majority constituents, instead of insisting that he knows better.

What a concept.

Ewin 2014!

Comment by laura marie lothian on April 25, 2012 at 5:32pm

Ernie was absolutely right to postpone the city's vote on signing the petition until there is evidence most of the property owners want the PBID. Three months after the PBID ballots went out, only 25% have been returned. Conversely, this week, a whopping 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.  Dave was also absolutely right to demand a deadline. Not only does this issue need closure one way or another but if the PBID were given months (years) to eventually pass, bitterness would linger. A PBID done right could be a wonderful thing for Downtown La Mesa but the people spearheading it, namely Jim Wieboldt and Lynn McRea, alienated too many people.

Comment by Bill Jaynes on April 25, 2012 at 2:36pm

Please remember that the U-T article is primarily a discussion of BIDs, not PBIDs, no matter what the Team implied last night. Many of us have advocated a Maintenance District to get the Streetscape Project moving, and a future discussion of a pure BID that would only assess downtown businesses and leave the residents, churches and other non-profits alone.

Aside from the absurdly high costs of this PBID, the main conceptual problem with tying assessments to the properties is the heterogeneity in parcel sizes that allots a majority of votes to a mere 9 out of about 200 district properties, with nearly a third of that majority wielded by government.

Two important points to note from the article:

1. "Each merchant typically pays between $50 and $400 annually."

PBID envisions some assessments in the thousands of dollars. Don't take the word of some lowly 2 percent margin chocolate bar salesman. Go ask Marie at the Antique Mall how badly she'll be hurt. Talk to some of the professionals on Lemon and Allison about whether they expect to receive any benefits in exchange for hemorrhaging cash to fund this ill thought out scheme.

2. "He found that San Diego's districts tend to be especially resourceful compared with other districts across the U.S., by leveraging their assessment money to get grants, special events revenue and sponsorships, among other funding, he said."

La Mesa trucked in one of these BID reps who said that part of the function of a BID is to "scream loudest" for limited general fund monies. Wasn't the Council trying to avoid that in the first place? When PBID screams, I'd like to know which less organized neighborhoods will go hungry.

The article is not even a blanket endorsement of BIDs. The study specifically contrasts San Diego's approach with most other jurisdictions across the country. Sure, we might be able to replicate the results of our neighbor to the west, but it seems like after 4 months TeamPBID+1 has only managed to persuade slightly more than 5% of the proposed district of that untested assertion. ($21,000 divided by $378,000)

That said, a BID makes far more sense for the Village than a PBID as the deviation from small to large businesses is much tighter, and the distribution more balanced than what we find with the underlying properties.

Comment by william adams on April 25, 2012 at 1:43pm

Based on this UT article, its the merchants' and City's loss. 

Comment by steve sund on April 25, 2012 at 1:18pm

Great job of reporting Chris.  Saw you on TV sitting there in the front row the whole marathon of the meeting.  I couldn't pay attention to the proceedings after the 14th or 15th mention of "PBID"...

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