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Tuesday, Oct 4, 2022
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BIDS: Not for All Neighborhoods

BIDS: Not for All Neighborhoods By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter Reseda merchants chose not to renew their business improvement district, but over in neighboring Canoga Park, the BID will continue for another five years. The Studio City Improvement Association has expanded its district to include several additional blocks, but Van Nuys Auto Row won’t be contributing to a BID anymore, thank you very much. About five years since the idea of a business improvement district where the businesses along a small slice of a commercial area pay into a fund to spruce up the neighborhood, the results are as different as the neighborhoods that spawned these groups. Some have been disappointing, others have exceeded their group’s expectations, but nearly all the improvement districts in the San Fernando Valley share one experience in common. “The process has been difficult because of people not knowing what to do,” said Bonnie Bursk, president of the Granada Hills Business Improvement Association. “I think it will be a little smoother in the next five years.” Business improvement districts first began to be formed in the late 1990s, encouraged by the city which handed out funding to these communities for feasibility studies. The city saw an opportunity to lessen its cost of providing services such as tree-trimming, and businesses saw the chance to gain some control over what happened in their own districts. Consultants were dispatched and BID guidelines were established allowing either for property-based BIDs, which assessed property owners in an area, or merchant-based BIDs where shopkeepers would ante up for the cost of the improvement district. Since then, 10 business improvement districts were formed in the San Fernando Valley with another, in Woodland Hills, currently underway. Two have since been disbanded, and for many of these business owners, even in continuing improvement districts, the chance to govern their own neighborhoods has proven to be something of a civics lesson. Some bit off more than their budgets could finance. Others came to realize that the problems they initially perceived were hardly problems at all. And all faced a tangle of red tape it has taken several years to navigate. Thinking otherwise At least one BID, some now say, should never have been formed in the first place. “I think the infrastructure of improvement just wasn’t there,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine of the now disbanded Reseda BID in his district. “Once we get the area moving forward we’ll find the business people want to invest in the community.” When it was difficult to get consensus among property owners, many of them absentee landlords, in the Reseda district, a rundown area at Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way, BID organizers moved to organize a merchant-based BID, easier to form because these types of BIDs do not require majority approval (only if a majority vetoes the BID can it be prevented from moving forward). Although some improvements were implemented, including the installation of security cameras along alley ways to discourage thieves, it proved difficult to make significant headway in the appearance of the neighborhood. So when it came time to renew the BID, merchants would not support it. “I can’t blame the business people that didn’t support it,” said Zine. “They weren’t getting the bang for their buck.” Zine said he personally observed the neighborhood and found trees were not being trimmed and trash was not being collected, perhaps because so many of the merchants were too busy trying to make ends meet to participate in the oversight needed. Then too, the area was so rundown and marred by an abandoned theater and empty storefronts that it was difficult to appreciate what few improvements were put into place. “My professional opinion is I find merchant-based BIDs to be very problematic,” said Susan Levi, who had been executive director of the Reseda BID and still heads the far more successful BIDs in Encino, Northridge and Sherman Oaks. “Property owners have a more vested interest in their community. Businesses come and go.” Perhaps not surprisingly, all the other business improvement districts in the Valley are property owner-based BIDs, where many say the improvements translate directly into increased property values. And for most, the changes have been palpable. Canoga Park movement Just at the other end of Zine’s district in Canoga Park, the business improvement district has redone sidewalk curbs and re-engineered alley ways, secured a grant to install a wall mural for the Canoga Park Youth Art Center, installed benches, trash receptacles and planters, replaced awnings and installed graffiti repellant glass in storefronts, among other projects. The Studio City Improvement Association has built a median along Ventura Boulevard, installed a Walk of Fame highlighting the film and television projects done in the area and re-paved two alleys that had been especially troubling to local investors. “These two alleys were beyond repair for the last 10 to 15 years,” said Lorena Parker, executive director of the BID. “No one could get it done because everyone (in city departments) wanted someone else to do it.” The group’s neighbors to the west, who had been just outside the district area, were so impressed with what they saw, they asked to come aboard for the next BID term. “They walked on their block and there were berries on the ground and weeds growing out of the pavement, and then they would cross the street and there’s a guy with the broom,” Parker said. “So they were the ones that got behind the initiative to add their block.” Another BID, Van Nuys Auto Row, disbanded after its initial term simply because the group’s initial, limited goals for the district, were met. Most however, have renewed their terms or plan to, often shifting their focus somewhat now that the original groundwork has been laid. “Part of our focus for the next five years has to do with getting more parking and putting together a team of people to look at business attraction,” said Mary Paterson, executive director of the Canoga Park Improvement Association. “We have a wonderful antique row but in talking to people we found some people are looking at retirement and don’t know if they’re going to sell their business. So we need a plan for the area so we’re not left at the whim of whoever wants to show up.” Slow money For most BIDs, the improvements have not come easily. Funding, initially expected in a lump sum, filters into the district more slowly, in some cases holding up projects well beyond anyone’s expectations. A priority in Granada Hills, for example, was to install medians along Chatsworth Avenue, but the medians are expensive and by the time the BID had accumulated enough funding to begin the project, the BID was in its fourth year. “We had to amend the plan to spend it in the fourth and fifth year,” said Bursk. Tarzana property owners had initially wanted to use their assessment to provide a security patrol. “We thought we would have guides along the street who would perform security and other things with a $55,000 budget,” said Harvey Goldberg, treasurer of the Tarzana Safari Walk and a member of the board. “Originally we were not as sophisticated as we should have been, and a lot of people were volunteers and didn’t understand the big picture.” The Tarzana property owners ultimately found that beautification projects, including landscaping, the installation of pocket parks and whimsical animal medallions on light poles were not only more suited to their budget, but also more suited to their goal of distinguishing the business district from others along Ventura Boulevard. Most agree that the success of a BID hinges upon its board, and requires not only keen oversight but the imagination to make the best use of budgets that range, at least in the Valley, between $60,000 and $300,000. “The board needs to understand what a BID can accomplish,” said Bruce Ackerman, president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “They also need to be looking at how to get the most bang for the dollar. Most BIDs are fairly small in scope, but if you are strategic and smart about it over a period of time it can make a huge difference.”

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