LA MESA VILLAGE -- Some members of the La Mesa Village Merchants Association want the city to loosen its grip on the money it takes in from parking meters in the business district.
Specifically they are asking that the city use some of the $377,000 in the parking fund to maintain flowers in the 44 planters along La Mesa Boulevard.
“We need to be more charming,’’ said Laura Lothian, who also complained about trash and graffiti proliferating in the village area.
Lothian said she and others asked the city for the help with planters, but were told instead the city is considering removing the planters and spending $80,000 for new parking meters. She and other merchants encouraged the organization’s membership to attend the April 13 City Council meeting when the issue is scheduled to be debated.
Chris Gonzales, program coordinator for the city’s Community Development office, said the city is not turning its back on the Village merchants. Rather, he said, the Council has been consistent in saying it will use the parking money to make capital investments along the street, but has always insisted the cost of maintenance be borne by the merchants and property owners.
Gonzales pointed out the city, in fact, purchased the planters in the 1980s with the understanding they would be maintained by the local business owners and several merchants did think the membership should be taking care of this duty.
The majority of the planters are maintained by local businesses, but with vacancies increasing in the recession and other merchants struggling, a number of the planters are going untended.
John Vigil of downtown’s First Republic Bank said the association has been taking every step it can to save money during the downturn and he listed a variety of investments the group is maintaining including spending $21,000 for Christmas in the Village. He said the organization is in solid shape financially, but is asking the city for flower help because money is tighter and the parking fund seems flush.
Gonzales said the city is considering purchasing new meters for the stretch of La Mesa Boulevard between 4th and Acacia streets. The new meters, he said, will allow shoppers to use a debit card to pay for parking, answering a criticism of forcing shoppers to scramble for quarters all the time.
Gonzales also had some new information on the grander plans the city is pursuing to conduct a complete overhaul of La Mesa Boulevard through the village area.
That project, Gonzales said, would be more than $1-million and would involve city and federal money, but again, would be limited to the original capital improvements of rebuilding the street.
That entire project, while currently being designed with funds paid for by the city, won’t be started unless the merchants or property owners in the area agree to establish a special assessment district to raise money for the upkeep of the new improvements.
Gonzales said a steering committee is being formed to determine the costs the downtown merchants or the property owners would need to cover each year to maintain the new street and its amenities.
That process, he said, has been completed in six months on rare occasions but generally takes between 12 to 18 months – meaning merchants will be scrambling to maintain a charming feel in the street’s current form for some time.
And many don’t want the planters removed and would like the city to pitch in for some flowers in the meantime.
City Council takes up the planter issue April 13.