Extra $870K Should Enhance Safety, Provide for Homeless
Downtown property owners have put their money where their mouth is, increasing fees on their parcels to pay for a new type of business district they say will make the area cleaner and safer.
For many owners, paying higher taxes for the increased services was a no-brainer, said Nikki Clay, chairman of Downtown San Diego Partnership, the primary business association for the area.
“I think what most folks felt was that for the additional dollars, the property owners are getting three times the amount of services,” said Clay, a principal in the public relations firm of Carpi & Clay.
Last month, the San Diego City Council approved a plan to privatize the formerly public maintenance assessment district in a unanimous vote, culminating a process that began some two years ago.
Under the new program, in addition to contracting out with private companies for the maintenance services to Downtown’s streets, sidewalks, lighting and parks, the new Property Based Improvement District includes a public safety component.
The latter is composed of a bike security patrol team, street “ambassadors,” and a homeless outreach team intended to reduce nuisance crimes and other problems caused by the area’s considerable homeless population.
While the majority of the homeless are not violent, their living on the streets creates numerous problems, not the least of which involve keeping the streets tidy, say many property owners.
Bill Sauls, an attorney and the chairman of the new district’s advisory board, said with the numbers of homeless, it is nearly impossible for city workers to keep certain streets clean for any length of time.
Sauls said he’s seen the area near his law office on C Street cleaned up by city crews, and just hours later, look trashy simply because of the number of homeless people hanging out or rummaging through trash cans.
“It’s a mess not because the work wasn’t done, but because the street people moved in there,” Sauls said.
The goal for the new district isn’t to move the homeless somewhere else, but to take a comprehensive approach to dealing with the problem, said Carol Beres, the owner of a building at Fourth Avenue and C Street.
The concept is to steer those homeless people who need help to the places where they can get it, she said. The Property Based Improvement District services includes a homeless outreach team composed of a San Diego police officer, a social worker, and a psychiatric clinical worker.
Sauls said by using the different professionals to address the problem, there will be fewer homeless living on Downtown’s streets.
“The combined effort of law enforcement, mental health professionals, and treatment facilities all working in conjunction is going to make an impact,” he said.
The district’s safety element adds more than $873,000 to its annual budget. The total budget of $2.27 million is 37 percent more than this year’s maintenance assessment budget of $1.66 million.
However, the district should save some $270,000 in reduced costs for the maintenance services it can get at a lower price compared with the city costs.
Downtown property owners had been pushing city officials for years to get them to provide a better level of maintenance to its area, but without any success, Sauls said.
They decided that instead of complaining, they would develop a solution and change the system.
The catalyst for the change was a survey of the district’s owners about how they would like the Downtown area marketed. It turned out a large number weren’t interested in marketing or promoting Downtown, Sauls said.
“The property owners were only interested in two things: a clean Downtown and a safe Downtown,” he said.
The new district will take effect July 1, and have an initial staff of about 40, nearly evenly divided between maintenance and safety workers.
Now that the district is official, the advisory board along with the Downtown Partnership are searching for an executive director. Hiring for the position is scheduled to be completed by May, Clay said.