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Downtown SLO drops plans for new property district amid backlash 

The Downtown San Luis Obispo association announced July 9 that it has tabled plans to form a new property-based improvement district (PBID) that, if approved, would've funded cleaning and safety efforts in the city's commercial and civic hub.

click to enlarge WITHDRAWN Downtown San Luis Obispo is tabling an effort to form a new downtown property district, which would have funded four to five new ambassadors like Austin Bertucci (pictured) to perform cleaning and outreach services. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • WITHDRAWN Downtown San Luis Obispo is tabling an effort to form a new downtown property district, which would have funded four to five new ambassadors like Austin Bertucci (pictured) to perform cleaning and outreach services.

After a surge in opposition to the PBID that grew "divisive," the nonprofit's board of directors voted 10-2 on July 9 to withdraw the proposal—which would have affected about 125 property owners from Palm to Marsh streets and Osos to Nipomo streets.

The district would have collected roughly $400,000 annually to fund four to five "downtown ambassadors" to clean, conduct outreach to visitors, and connect homeless individuals with services. There are more than 100 cities in California with active PBIDs, according to Downtown SLO.

"We will not be moving forward with this initiative at this time," Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger said in a press release. "Questions have surfaced in our community, and this issue has become divisive. Our goal as an organization has always been and must remain to present a unified voice for the businesses in the downtown."

Downtown SLO's decision came a week before the SLO City Council was scheduled to certify that the PBID had received the needed signatures to move forward with a final vote.

"We actually did get the [signatures]. It just got to be where the downtown was getting divided, and that was the last thing we wanted as a board," Downtown SLO President Pat Arnold told New Times on July 10.

Opponents of the PBID took issue with the cost of the assessment—which varied from several hundred to a few thousand dollars per year depending on the size and frontage of the property and building—and questioned whether an ambassador program was an effective solution to cleanliness and safety concerns downtown.

Broad Street property owner Wendy Spradlin, a member of the No on PBID Committee, walked the streets on July 9 warning businesses about the district and its impact on property taxes and, potentially, rents if passed. Spradlin told New Times she tries to keep her tenants' rents as low as possible but that a PBID assessment—which she said would've been nearly $2,000 annually for her—would likely result in rent increases.

"We're just so happy that reason prevailed," Spradlin said of Downtown SLO's decision. "Having walked that entire side of Higuera Street, it was amazing the amount of support we had from the storekeepers we talked with. Everyone was like, this is not the way to go."

PBID critics also felt that the city, which owns several parcels downtown, and a few large property owners would have had an unfair sway in the district's formation vote, since votes were weighted by the value of the assessments.

Looking forward, Downtown SLO hopes to continue engaging businesses and property owners on ways to improve cleanliness and safety in the area. They'll continue to employ the current downtown ambassador, Austin Bertucci, who receives strong support from the business community for his work.

"He's going to stick around, absolutely," Swigger told New Times. "There are definitely still problems that need to be solved. We're going to be looking at ways to engage people on this topic." Δ

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