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Some property owners push back against property-based tax for downtown SLO

Posted at 11:50 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 17:41:03-04

San Luis Obispo city leaders are hoping to make downtown cleaner, safer and more inviting.

Organizers of the Downtown SLO Association are proposing a property-based tax for owners in the area.

Most property owners, if not all, say there is a need for more resources, but many question who should pay for it.

Taken 6/14/19, this photo shows a homeless person sleeping by nearby businesses in the downtown area.
Courtesy Downtown SLO Association.
This photo taken June 21st, 2019 shows clothes and trash potentially left over from a homeless person in the entryway of a business.
Courtesy Downtown SLO Association
A broken vase sits outside a downtown business.
Courtesy Downtown SLO Association.

Back in March, the proposed Property-based Improvement District or PBID looked to generate $800,000 every year and tax nearly 400 property owners. With not enough support, the Downtown SLO Association shrunk the district boundaries.

Downtown SLO is asking property owners from Nipomo to Osos and Palm to Marsh to sign a petition to push this plan to the next phase, but not everyone is on board.

The PBID concentrates on a 13-block “core” of downtown.

The only Downtown SLO ambassador covers 35 blocks cleaning, greeting and helping visitors.

Many downtown dwellers want to see more of it, but some property owners don’t want to pay for something everyone uses.

“I don’t think is it the property owners responsibility to keep downtown clean,” said Leslie Morganti-Menges, who owns five downtown properties. “I think it’s the city’s responsibility.”

The newly proposed PBID looks to tax nearly 120 downtown property owners. Morganti says opponents have independently collected 60 signatures against the plan.

The CEO of Downtown SLO says the $400,000 in annual tax revenue would help build the ambassador program by adding 4-5 ambassadors.

“When we went back and re-evaluated, we looked at where the most pedestrian traffic takes place and it is on Marsh behind me and Higuera in front of me,” said Bettina Swigger, Downtown SLO CEO. “The sidewalk is where these services will be delivered.”

The more property you own within the boundaries, the higher percentage of the vote you’ll have.

The yearly assessment is then based on the size of the lot plus the building plus the linear frontage.

It means people like Morganti will get a weighted vote, but it also means she’ll have to pay more if the tax passes.

Owning three residential and two commercial sites could cost her more than $6,000 a year.

“Most other property owners will pass this on to their tenants and what it’s going to do is make downtown rates even higher than they are,” said Morganti.

However, Swigger says that’s not what they found in their research of PBID’s in other cities like Ventura.

“We see vacancy rates go down, property values go up and businesses are able to be more successful because people feel safer coming downtown,” said Swigger.

Downtown SLO headquarters operates out of 1135 Chorro Street which is encompassed in the proposed PBID. For that property, the owner would have to pay approximately $750 yearly.

The city manager signed the PBID petition on behalf of the city properties affected including city hall and the community development building

The city already provides a baseline level of services, but Swigger says extra money would go a long way.

“[The city] will never be able to provide this level of service like the ambassador program,” said Swigger.

City leaders say those baseline services will stay if the tax is passed. Downtown vitality was identified as a top city goal and the city says it will continue to invest in new economic programs and maintenance to reach that goal.

Some opponents say Downtown SLO is giving more say to bigger developers with the new boundaries.

However, a variety of supporters say the fee is worth it.

People also suggested creating volunteer groups and fundraisers before taxing property owners.

“I believe that there are plenty of options to create a volunteer force to enhance cleanliness of downtown,” said Kathy Freeman Godfrey, who is against the proposed PBID. “We have a great partner in Cal Poly and there’s plenty of organizations and clubs there that are looking for community service projects.  Let’s formalize the partnership. It isn’t necessary to hire an out of town company to bring in ambassadors to do this job at $20.00 hour.”

Until June 30th, Downtown SLO will be collecting petitions from those property owners.
Swigger says they’re close to getting the 51% of the total proposed property assessment needed to take it to the city council.

If the threshold is met and city council approves it– the city will send out a ballot.

If majority there is a majority vote for the ballot, a public hearing and adoption by the city council will take place in September.

If successful, services will begin January 1, 2020.