Council OKs downtown district

A tax based on property size would make way for increased security, cleanliness

One of the goals of a proposed downtown Chico Property and Business Improvement District is to enhance commerce and reduce vacancies in the area.

One of the goals of a proposed downtown Chico Property and Business Improvement District is to enhance commerce and reduce vacancies in the area.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Despite some hesitation over specifics of a proposed Property and Business Improvement District for downtown Chico, a majority of the City Council voted in favor of its creation Tuesday night (May 16). Making the issue a little sticky was the fact that, as a downtown property owner, the city must also buy in—to the tune of about $69,000, to be paid through parking fines.

“Downtown is robust but fragile at the same time,” Tom DiGiovanni, as spokesman for the PBID, told the council. “We all as citizens of this town know that the experience of being downtown has been colored by significant problems with social behaviors—aggressive panhandling, vandalism.”

The focus of the PBID, then, would be to “enhance safety, maintenance and beautification programs in downtown Chico.”

As of Tuesday’s meeting, about 60 percent of downtown property owners had signed on to a petition to create the PBID, DiGiovanni said. A simple majority is needed to put the matter up for district-wide vote.

Financially speaking, each property within the confines of the district—Zone A being the downtown core, and Zone B reaching south to Ninth Street—will assess itself based on square footage. Commercial properties in Zone A will pay roughly 1 cent per square foot, while those in Zone B will pay about .08 cents. Residential properties pay a bit less. Altogether, the PBID’s assessment revenues will be $440,533. The vast majority of that—$400,000—is earmarked for clean and safe measures.

“You’re saying that for every dollar the city puts in, $5 come in from the private sector,” said Tom Hall, owner of the Garden Walk Mall, addressing the council. “Those $5 will be paying for things the city is normally responsible for. Isn’t this a conflict of interest? You have an impact on this PBID that is huge. If it really costs $400,000 per year to clean up downtown, you’re getting it for [a fraction of that].”

Hall went on to argue that he takes care of his own property and doesn’t see a need for enhanced security. “My PBID assessment is $5,000,” he said. “I urge you not to vote for this. … The $5,000 from me comes out of money I would use to maintain my property.”

Among the council, there was some hesitation when it came to the breakdown of who will be represented on the PBID’s board of directors. Will it be only property owners? What about business owners? Will the city get a seat—and what about the university?

DiGiovanni didn’t offer a concrete answer, but indicated it would be mostly made up of property owners. Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer argued on behalf of business owners, who are the ones “dealing with this on a regular basis—people sleeping in doorways and defecating on sidewalks.”

The council ultimately voted to authorize City Manager Mark Orme to sign the petition in support of the PBID on behalf of the city, and approved a resolution of intent to create the PBID. Both passed 4-1, with Councilman Randall Stone dissenting, Councilwoman Ann Schwab recused, and Councilman Karl Ory absent.

In other council news: The issue of commercial marijuana came back before the panel and was discussed briefly before being punted to the Planning Commission. City Attorney Vince Ewing presented his proposed ordinance prohibiting all commercial cannabis activity within city limits, as well as regulations meant to set up a permitting process for personal gardens, which will be allowed only indoors.

Some speakers took issue with the decision to prohibit dispensaries and other commercial marijuana in Chico—both due to inhibiting safe access and eliminating a viable funding source for the city. Others argued against the indoor-only option to grow. Among them was Councilman Stone.

“I don’t expect a whole lot of people who are going to grow six plants inside are going to go through a permitting process,” he said. He also expressed concerns of fire hazards related to indoor growing. Schwab suggested dispensaries as a way to curb the need for personal growing.

The panel voted 4-2, with Schwab and Stone dissenting, to forward the regulations to the Planning Commission for further discussion.