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Signing On

By Jorge Casuso

April 28 -- The drive to create a new assessment district Downtown got off to a good start last month with nearly half of the property owners needed signing a petition to take the plan to a vote.

The equivalent of 20 percent of the property owners who would bankroll the plan – or half of the 40 percent needed – had already signed on before petitions were mailed to the majority of the 360 property owners on April 18, Bayside officials said.

With the signatures weighed according to the assessed value of a property, the drive was given an early boost by Macerich Company, which, as the owner of Santa Monica Place, represents 7 percent of the vote. The City, which represents 10 percent, agreed to sign on to the plan in March.

“Many, many of the Promenade property owners have signed on,” said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District. “There’s a lot of people talking to a lot of people right now. Lots of property owners are calling other property owners to get their support.”

Among those signing on, Rawson said, are owners of residential buildings and some office building owners.

Downtown’s largest residential landlord, JSM Capital, which owns residential buildings along 5th, 6th and 7th streets, backs the plan.

“What’s exciting is it’s an opportunity to re-energize and reposition the Bayside District for the next 20 years,” said Allen Freeman, the company’s chief operating officer. “It provides a stream of revenue for Downtown that makes it more livable for residents, workers and visitors.

"It also gives property owners a better opportunity to oversee how their money is spent,” Freeman said.

If the necessary signatures are gathered, the Downtown property owners would then vote on a plan that would change the way the entire Downtown is managed for the first time since the wildly successful Third Street Promenade was launched two decades ago.

The plan – which was approved by the City Council – would revamp the Bayside Board and the way it is chosen and pump an additional $3.6 million in new assessments to boost maintenance, enhance marketing efforts and create an “ambassador program” to inform visitors and help keep the streets safe.

“It’s an investment, and an insurance policy,” Rawson said. “It’s not charity. The property owners realize they’re getting something for it and that the purchasing power of the collective is much greater than any individual.”

Under the proposed plan, assessments would be based on the property’s size, type of use and location in an expanded district divided into three zones – one comprised by the Promenade, another along 2nd and 4th streets and Ocean Avenue and a third between 5th and 7th streets.

A property on the Promenade would pay the most at 76¢ a square foot, properties on neighboring 2nd and 4th streets and Ocean Avenue would pay 34¢, while those on 5th to 7th streets would pay 19¢.

A building on the Promenade with retail and office use, for example, might pay $16,500 a year, while a large office building could pay as much as $45,000, Bayside consultants said. While a hotel might pay $20,000, a non-profit could pay as little as $1,500 per year.

Under the plan, the streets would reap benefits proportional to the assessments paid by their property owners.

The assessments would help tackle some of the longstanding problems facing a thriving strip that must retain its edge in the face of increased competition from new venues, such as the Grove in the Fairfax District and Hollywood and Highland, Bayside officials said.

The new assessments would bankroll $1.3 million in enhanced maintenance of Downtown streets, which are showing the wear and tear of millions of visitors a year and add $400,000 in marketing.

The money also would launch a $1.23 million ambassador program that would provide a concierge service for visitors, act as a “neighborhood watch” by adding extra eyes and ears to help keep the streets safe, as well as serve as witnesses to help charge individuals that commit nuisance crimes. The plan also would include money to put attendants in public restrooms 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

In addition to the new assessment, the plan dramatically overhauls the way the Bayside is managed, giving property owners more power over who makes policy decisions. Under the plan, the existing 11-member Bayside Board currently appointed by the council would be replaced with a 13-member board, six of whose members would be appointed by the council, six by the property owners and one by the City Manager.

Although the board’s makeup would not be prescribed, the members would come from the three proposed zones in the district, which stretches from the east side of Ocean Avenue to the east side of 7th Street and from the north side of Wilshire Boulevard to the 10 Freeway.

The proposed assessment district would have a 20-year limit, with property owners voting after ten years to determine if it should continue.

The council already has given the plan – which has been in the works for two years – an enthusiastic thumbs up, noting that the details can be hammered out if it receives a majority vote in support from the property owners, based on their assessments when the concept comes to the final ballot.

“I think it’s a terrific idea and a plan . . . to make the Downtown a better area . . . and a more inviting atmosphere,” Council member Bob Holbrook said when the plan was presented to the council in February.

“I think this is really good,” Council member Ken Genser said in March, when the council directed the City Manager to sign on. “There’s general consensus now. We’re clearly moving forward on this.”





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