Will property owners tax and spend?

Cookies and Costco bottled water were on hand to soothe the most tax-fearing of Chico’s downtown business world, but a meeting introducing the idea of a new assessment district drew more curious questions than overt concern.

More than 40 people showed up to the Chico City Council Chambers for a Nov. 13 meeting that was put together by the Downtown Chico Business Association (DCBA).

If the idea wins approval in an eventual vote of property owners, the DCBA could be replaced by a new Property and Business Improvement District, or PBID, which would raise tens of thousands of dollars by creating new assessments.

The money would go toward boosting the downtown’s appeal to shoppers and could include safety programs, marketing, maintenance and lobbying. But all that would be up to the eventual board members. “It’s designed and created by those who pay,” explained Lisa Nava, an associate with DownTown Resources, a Sacramento consulting firm that was hired with the help of a $25,000 city grant,

PBIDs emerged in the mid-1990s in California as a way for business districts to go beyond what cities are able to provide and to compete with malls and other shopping centers. The DCBA is forbidden from collecting more than about $29,000 a year, which it pads by hosting special events. “That doesn’t go very far,” said Charlie Osborn, president of the DCBA Board of Directors.

Key players in downtown business listened intently as Nava told of the positive effects of PBIDs in other areas. As attendees chatted in their seats, most seemed undecided. ("People don’t usually vote to tax themselves,” one uttered to his neighbor.)

Property owners could obviously pass any assessment along to tenants; the key question was whether the added cost would pay off in increased business.

Proponents will have until August 2004 to convince them. A steering committee began meeting this week.

To succeed, the PBID needs the blessing of property owners representing more than 50 percent of the total assessment amount, based on square footage. “There is no set form,” Nava said. “It really comes from hearing from you—what you think is palatable.”

If enough signatures are gathered, the PBID would go to a vote under Proposition 218, after which the City Council would have to ratify it. The private, nonprofit corporation would exist for five years, at which point property owners could vote to renew it.