A proposal to create a new property-based assessment district in downtown Santa Monica received support from the City Council March 25th when it authorized city manager Lamont Ewell to sign a petition on behalf of the city that could bring the issue to a ballot for a vote by property owners.

The funds raised under the assessment district — proposed in the Downtown Management Plan — would be used for maintenance, an ambassador program, marketing, homeless outreach, special projects and administration. The budget has been reduced slightly from the original proposal to about $3.6 million, said Brad Segal, a project consultant.

The proposed assessment district basically would include properties bounded by Ocean Avenue, Seventh Street, the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) and Wilshire Boulevard.

The City Council also accepted other recommendations in the Downtown Management Plan and approved an ordinance adopting local modifications to the method of levying assessments pursuant to the Property and Improvement District Law of 1994.

For about two years now, the Bayside District Corporation has discussed its proposal to create a property-based assessment district (PBAD) with the city on a number of occasions. If the proposed district is approved by property owners, Bayside would continue to manage downtown Santa Monica. Bayside is a public-private management company that oversees Downtown Santa Monica, which includes the Bayside District and the Central Business District.

“I think this is really good,” said Councilman Ken Genser. “I wanted to give compliments to this process. I really feel good about the fact that we’ve gotten to this point where there is general consensus and people are trusting each other, listening to each other, working to bring this together. We’re clearly moving forward on this.”

If the petition receives enough signatures, the city will prepare and mail out ballots to all property owners within the proposed district to vote on whether to approve the formation of the assessment district, said Elana Buegoff, a city senior administrative analyst.

At least 50 percent of the ballots cast — weighted by assessment — must be in support of the district in order for it to be formed.

The proposed assessment district would call for a 20-year term, with another vote required at year ten.

At the City Council meeting, several key changes were also made to the Downtown Management Plan — endorsed by the Bayside board of directors in March — that could change the way things are done downtown.

While Bayside was formed two decades ago, “downtown has changed dramatically in those 20 years,” said Segal.

Although previously included, the fenced area of the Big Blue Bus maintenance yard is no longer included in the proposed assessment district boundaries.

Rates under the assessment district would vary. They would be higher for commercial properties along the Third Street Promenade and significantly lower for nonprofit organizations.

Under the plan, the number of board members of the working group would decrease from 15 to 13. Six members would be appointed by the City Council, six by property owners and one by Ewell.

The group would have representatives from each of the three zones of the proposed district and will “be composed of a mix of downtown property and business owners and downtown and Santa Monica residents.”

If the district is formed, the city and Bayside would work collaboratively to manage the existing and enhanced maintenance in downtown that would be written into the services agreement between the city and Bayside, Buegoff said.

Several people spoke in support of the council endorsing the petition drive and management plan, including Bayside board members and business owners. Some also expressed concerns.

“I came in as somewhat of a skeptic,” said Todd Flora, a newer member of the Bayside District Corporation. “I still do not feel this is a perfect plan. There are some things, however, I think we can take care of through the governing process. I think if we’re going to invest in a lot of homeless outreach, we do need to make sure it is homeless outreach and not a homeless sweep.”

Flora added that he really supported using “private funds to really enhance the downtown.”

Judy Abdo, a former Santa Monica mayor who is on the working group for the project, said she, too, had some concerns, but thought the city should support the plan.

“I think you need to follow this very, very closely to make sure the homeless are not swept off of the Promenade or out of the downtown,” Abdo said. “I think, again, it’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good plan and is going to help our downtown a pretty great deal.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown said, “I have been really impressed how the downtown community did come together.”

He noted that he had concerns, including some on the homeless issue, but did “want to move forward.”

With the City Council’s support of the management plan, Bayside will initiate the petition process and the working group will gather signatures and continue to work to educate stakeholders through workshops, meetings and one-on-one discussions.

The council will vote on the measure again at its second reading at the next council meeting, which is standard procedure.

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