Now taking PBIDs

Some downtown property owners like idea of an improvement district—but not its cost

HIGHEST PBID-ER <br>The proposed PBID would cover 35 blocks in downtown Chico, with different geographic areas assessed fees at different rates.

The proposed PBID would cover 35 blocks in downtown Chico, with different geographic areas assessed fees at different rates.

PBIDdy: There are 126 owners of property in the area of downtown Chico that would pay into the proposed PBID, representing 225 parcels. Most of the property owners are local.

Property owners may choose to pay more in a controversial attempt to make downtown better.

As the issue took on the air of a political campaign, advocates spoke about the benefits of a Property and Business Improvement District (PBID) that would use fees paid by property owners to fund maintenance and safety programs, economic development and marketing for downtown Chico.

“It’s planning for the future of the downtown,” said Bob Malowney, a member of the PBID Steering Committee, at an April 26 “petition kickoff” meeting at the City Council Building. He owns the Bird in Hand gift and clothing store and its building on Broadway.

But while prior meetings on the topic were mellow, this audience of about 20 had a lot of questions. The tone was one of interest in the idea of improving the downtown but surprise and dismay at how much it would cost.

“I don’t see anything wrong with a fee. What I’m objecting to is the amount,” said Ramona Peters, who owns property on East First Street and learned at the meeting that her assessment would be double what she expected.

Jon Morehead, whose holdings include the Phoenix Building, said he’d have no choice but to up his tenants’ rents hundreds of dollars—assuming he’s not locked into a long-term lease—and risk their moving out.

Morehead said if rents get too high downtown will lose even more retail business to the malls, and restaurants and night spots will dominate.

Proponents have three weeks to gather signatures that could end in a June 2004 ballot vote to create a district into which all property owners within the 35-block district would pay fees.

The complicated ballot process is based on the total assessment each property owner would pay. For example, if an owner’s fees would be $1,000 a year, he or she represents 1,000 votes. If the petition is signed by property owners representing more than 50 percent of the total votes, the Chico City Council will hold public hearings and decide whether to call the election.

If an election is held, ballot votes will similarly be weighted by assessment paid. Even if it’s successful, the council could overturn the vote and reject the PBID. The city, as the major downtown property owner, is also eligible to both sign the petition and vote in the election.

If it passes, the PBID would start Jan. 1, 2005, and last five years before going to another vote. Rates could rise 3 percent annually.

Katrina Davis, executive director of the Downtown Chico Business Association (DCBA), acknowledged that, while there is a handful of property owners who will choose to bear the fees, most will pass the costs on to the tenants. Even so, it’s the property owners who would serve on the yet-to-be-formed Downtown Chico Partnership board that would govern the PBID because, Malowney said, they have more “invested” in downtown than business owners.

The nonprofit, 30-year-old DCBA, which brings in $32,000 a year in fees and augments that with fund-raisers and city money for a total budget of $289,000 a year, is limited by finances in what it can do, Davis said. But if the DCBA were folded into a PBID, the new entity would bring in $410,000 through assessments, for a total annual budget of about $650,000.

The money would be split up among keeping downtown “clean and safe” (43 percent), image enhancement (14 percent), economic development (22 percent) and administration (16 percent), keeping 5 percent in reserves.

Besides sweeping and other cleanup, the program would include uniformed “guides” who would discourage panhandlers, skateboarders and the like from loitering on the sidewalks. Davis said the guides, despite working closely with the Police Department, would be “absolutely not confrontational.”

The assessments would be based on lot size and location and start at 8 cents per square foot. Floors above ground level would be assessed at a lower rate, and properties fronting parts of Main, Broadway and Second streets, along with Oroville Avenue, would be charged an additional $6 per linear foot.

According to a table listing assessor’s parcel numbers, the Collier building on First and Broadway would be assessed $3,525 a year. The News & Review, at Second and Flume, would be charged $1,899.

The city, which has already kicked down $25,000 for the PBID consultant, would be one of the top payers, accounting for 15 to 17 percent of the property to be assessed.

Property owner Tom Hall, who felt shut out of a steering committee that formed last fall, said fees should be voluntary, not gathered by “putting a gun to my head.”

His Garden Walk Mall would pay $4,120 a year, which he said adds 30 percent to his property tax bill and is money he could otherwise use to keep up his building.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this doesn’t go through," Hall told proponents.