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LA MESA -- With news of the last piece of funding potentially in place, attention quickly turned to the unfinished business of determining how refined the finishing touches will be for La Mesa's downtown Village revitalization effort.
City Councilman Ernie Ewin filed an agenda item for the next City Council meeting asking for a formal update on the Property Based Improvement District effort that largely disappeared from the radar after the council's last meeting in July.
Leaders of the PBID effort, while not slugging it out with opponents on local bulletin boards, were making noises of perhaps hammering out a compromise aimed at attracting the three votes from City Council that could push the PBID effort toward success.
Lynn McRea, the local accountant who served as chairwoman of the PBID Steering Committee, said for the first time Thursday that if the City Council agreed to sign its own PBID petition, the effort would have enough support to push the PBID process through to a formal referendum.
"Listen, we heard the concerns raised in the meetings and, of course, we'd love to have the council's support,'' McRea said. "Truth is, we're still mystified as to why the council support hasn't been there yet, but we're willing to compromise and if that brings us to something that can have even wider support of the community, it will be worth the extra effort.''
The PBID has been at the heart of a struggle between the city and some local merchants and Village property owners who view the $370,000 annual PBID budget as too big and a challenge to some businesses struggling to survive in a difficult economy.
For years, however, city officials have struggled to form a workable partnership in which the merchants and property owners who benefit from the city's downtown investments contribute to maintain improvements paid for with taxpayer funds.
As the need for a refurbishment of La Mesa Boulevard increased, the city and a group of local merchants and property owners began looking into a formal PBID, which would require that all property owners contribute to help maintain and market the quaint, traditional core of the this city.
As it stands, the city would cut back on some of the finer finishing touches of the $5-million proposed project if some form of formal support for the improvements isn't established.
Opponents of the PBID have declared the effort dead, as recently as today on comments on LaMesaToday.com, but the supporters say those death knells have been premature and squarely put the council and its five votes at the center of its target.
"We've been working right along,'' said Jim Wieboldt local business owner and chamber of commerce board member. "We do feel we would have been further along at this point had the council shown more leadership on this issue, but now that the funding is in place and it is clear we want the full project with all the amenities, I believe we can find the recipe that gets us moving forward.''
Wieboldt acknowledged the recipe may require making substantive changes in the PBID proposal to persuade council members to support the effort the council itself has funded to this point.
"We look forward to the council members expressing what those changes would be,'' he said.
Mayor Art Madrid represented the city on the PBID Steering Committee and has been a vocal supporter of the concept, but even he was saying changes may be needed to find the three votes on council to push the effort forward. "Everything needs to be on the table," Madrid said.
The other four council members, however, have been more opaque in where they stand on the PBID proposal. The issue got caught up in November's election and, frankly, there were probably more votes to be lost in supporting an effort the detractors could and did describe as a "tax.''
But distanced now from a looming election, the votes needed are more those of current property owners, the only people who can sign the petitions and create the PBID. Many property owners support having a system that would require full participation in supporting the downtown Village environment and those supporters believe that once the council votes its own petition, a number of other significant property owners will follow suit.
The Steering Committee (shown above during an August, 2011 meeting) also has a wide variety of steps it can take to reshape the issue, including reducing the overall size of the PBID area or eliminating specific types of property from participating in the effort. Such changes could alter the overall cost as well as adjusting the number of petitions and eventual votes it would take to establish the district.
PBIDs have been used in a number of cities across California, including Little Italy, the Gaslamp and El Cajon in San Diego County among others.