Business & Real Estate

No study in sight for a downtown business improvement district

A plan to form a Los Altos business improvement district to serve merchants and property owners will just have to wait, according to members of the organizations that had backed it.

At the Feb. 13 Los Altos City Council meeting, members of the Los Altos Village Association, Los Altos Property Owners Downtown and the Chamber of Commerce asked the council to allocate $10,000 for a BID feasibility study. However, the council rejected the proposal, noting that the city’s Downtown Vision project had yet to be completed. Instead, they encouraged the groups to conduct their own educational session.

Representatives from the three organizations argued that a BID, which would impose an assessment fee on businesses or properties, could help fund downtown projects such as sidewalk cleaning and maintaining planter boxes.

Scott Hunter, administrative director of the Village Association, said that without the council’s support, he had no immediate plans to organize an educational session.

Grace Hase / Los Altos Town Crier
The Los Altos Village Association pays for decor downtown, including the banners that adorn some poles. The cost of such enhancements could fall under the responsibility of a business improvement district, should Los Altos decide to implement one.

“We see this as a partnership between all of our organizations downtown and the city council,” he said. “We do still feel that the city needs to be a partner in this. There’s a lot of information that our organization needs, but also that the city should have regarding the benefits or lack thereof.”

Some of the information Hunter referred to includes the amount of an assessment and whether it would include property owners, business owners or both.

“If there was another way to fund these community benefits, as well as take care of the planter boxes and make sure the sidewalks are repaired, these things can come off of the city’s responsibility and fall into the actual downtown group that is funding them,” he said.

Improvements like sidewalk repairs also aren’t always easy. Hunter said that if something needs fixing or replacing, there’s a process they have to go through with the city. However, sometimes the city doesn’t have the ability to complete the task.

Hunter said that while he hopes people will go out and educate themselves, BID proponents ultimately will have to wait until they have an ally at city hall for the feasibility study to come to fruition.

Kim Cranston, president of Los Altos Property Owners Downtown, echoed many of Hunter’s sentiments.

“My understanding is that I’ve heard from other property owners (that) had tenants who spilled ice cream and caused a messy sidewalk (that) it’s not as simple as an (owner) going out and steam cleaning,” he said. “There are limits on the ability to do that. It’s pretty complicated, so this would be the way to do it regularly, less expensively for each individual property owner.”

Cranston also agreed that they would need a new person to champion the effort now that the city’s economic development director, Jennifer Quinn, works on a contract basis, remotely.

Quinn was responsible for preparing the staff report on BIDs for the Feb. 13 council meeting.

“This is something the various merchant organizations have considered over the years,” she said. “Once the idea came to the city, it was something that we wanted to support in the way we could by exploring feasibility, as ultimately we would be the organization to administer the assessment.”

Quinn said she respected the council’s decision to wait until the visioning process is complete. However, she added that she felt a BID would be positive for Los Altos because it would allow all businesses to participate, and it would result in dedicated funding for the downtown area from a source other than the city’s general fund.

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