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LA MESA -- The City Council had its first official group discussion of the Property Based Improvement District Tuesday night but there was little in the way of substantial comment or action. In fact, this discussion suggested the PBID debate eventually may end up being a mix of short memories, rhetoric and political kibuki theater.
At one point a local attorney who seemed angry about everything stood and wildly ranted about disrespect, welfare for merchants and political process. He was apparently against the PBID but ran out of time before he could get around to explaining why.
As with all recent PBID meetings, there was a string of supporters and a string of opponents and their respective arguments are becoming so familiar it can feel like this whole idea may be talked to death before any vote is taken by anyone.
And yet, the City Council members started asking questions like this whole PBID thing was a new concept. That's where the short memories come in.
The City Council did hire the consultant who spent the last year leading a process that resulted in the formal PBID proposal being floated around town. Mayor Art Madrid sat on the Steering Committee and at least twice there were formal updates for the council on the progress of the PBID process. In addition there were exhaustive coverage of each PBID meeting on local news websites and a three-part, in depth series in an East County magazine.
For the last month the PBID maps and the working document have been posted on the city's website. Yet, Councilwoman Ruth Sterling was asking questions Tuesday about what benefit the city would get from paying a PBID assessment even as the list of services were displayed on the screen before her. One would think that might have been understood before hiring a consultant to pursue this issue.
And other questions by the other council members were only slightly less obvious. Either they had paid no attention at all to an issue that has had signs for and against adorning main street storefronts or they were trying to convince PBID critics of an independence that is hard to square with the council's role in starting this whole PBID process.
If all of this is confusing, you are not alone. Unless you have a long attention span or a wonkish love for government, the PBID process is challenging.
On Tuesday night, a long series of local merchants, a school official and a few landlords stood before the council asking it to shoot down the PBID by refusing to sign the supporting petition, which, as a land owner, the city has a right to do. Some wore buttons saying "Save Our Village.''
Then Jim Wieboldt, a local business owner and, as he reminded, a former board member of the Village Merchants Association, stood and reminded the council that the whole PBID idea actually started eight years ago when the merchants asked the city to help form one.
By night's end there was more heat than light and more than enough questions for the council to ask City Manager David Witt and his troops to research and bring back for future discussions of the issue. Madrid said he hoped the council would vote on whether or not it would sign the petition that would allow a formal PBID balloting process by the first meeting in April.
If approved by a majority of Village property owners, the PBID would assess each property and would raise about $370,000 per year to fund extra maintenance, security and marketing for the city's traditional Village commercial core. If the PBID is not approved, the city council has implied it would cut back on the scope of a $5-million rehab project being planned for La Mesa Boulevard.
Witt was asked to report back on exactly what would be cut from the street redesign if there was no maintenance support from a PBID. That, too, will be brought to a future meeting.
The PBID pulse goes on.