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Bayside Votes to Recommend Ambassador Program, Homeless Outreach Team

By Jorge Casuso

March 23 -- Worried there were only two Downtown property owners there to testify, the Bayside Board approved a series of recommendations to the City Council Thursday that would be funded with potential property assessments.

The key recommendation is to launch an “ambassador program” to provide concierge services for visitors and serve as “eyes and ears” on the bustling Third Street Promenade. Although they would not provide “security,” the ambassadors would alert police to nuisance crimes.

Other recommendations include funding for a homeless “outreach team,” hiring full-time attendants for the public parking structure restrooms and funding for traffic analysis and management and for a supplemental analysis of infrastructure needs.

The board also will recommend that the council boost the Bayside District’s $500,000 budget for marketing and promotions, include a special improvement district and urge the City to move forward with a $180 million plan to add 1,712 parking spaces over the next ten years.

Rather than being specific, the recommendations address “much broader issues” that will be fined tuned during a public process that will begin after the council considers the suggestions later this month, Rawson said.

“We have a whole other phase,” she said.

The recommendations are the result of a seven-month study by Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) that allowed Bayside stakeholders to weigh in on the area’s biggest challenges that could be addressed by a new assessment district.

Last month, the board recommended that the council change the Bayside’s management structure to give the private sector a bigger say and carve out a larger assessment district that would require all commercial property owners, and not just retailers, to pay for the enhanced services.

Property owners, who must sign off on a new district, have long complained that the council controls all 11 seats on the board and that they have little say on how the money is used.

So when Bayside officials looked around the boardroom Thursday night and saw only two property owners who have long been involved with Downtown issues, they were concerned.

“This seems a hefty list for people not to show up,” said Board member Johannes Van Tilburg, an architect who owns property Downtown. “The moment we make a decision, they’re going to show up to protest.”

But other Bayside officials said the absence of property owners was not necessarily a bad sign.

“I think they like what the money is being used for,” said Bill Tucker, a board member who owns property on the Promenade.

“Generally, I think they concur,” said Rawson. “I think we’re on the right track… The community has bought off on how we spend the money.”

After laying the concerns aside and grappling over parliamentary procedure, the board tackled what is likely the most important recommendation approved at the meeting– an ambassador program for the Promenade similar to those in the Pasadena and Long Beach downtowns.

But the vote was preceded by a lengthy discussion over the role of the ambassadors.

Board member Patricia Hoffmann, who cast the only dissenting vote, took issue with a proposed motion that would have recommended that the ambassadors “provide assistance to the SMPD through a coordinated effort to address nuisance crimes.”

“If we want people to put a smile on the Promenade,” she said, “they should be different from those who are going to keep an eye out for nuisance crimes.”

The word “security” was eventually struck from the final motion, but the board agreed that the ambassadors should keep an eye out for nuisance behavior and report it to police.

“I think if something really bad is going on, I don’t think there’s anything wrong having a guy on the ground” to report it, said Board member Jennifer Hranilovich.

“They would provide eyes and ears,” said Board member Rob Rader. “That doesn’t mean it’s a policing function.”

“It’s a mater of degrees and focus,” said Board member John Warfel. “I don’t have a problem with someone picking up a walkie-talkie and calling police. I think it’s a misnomer calling it a ‘security force.’”

Rawson said Police Chief Tim Jackman “likes the ambassador program” and “thinks it has worked well in Long Beach,” where he served as deputy chief before taking over the top spot in Santa Monica in December.

“There is a strong connection between ambassador programs and the police chief,” said Rawson, who added that she had spoken with Jackman about the issue on three separate occasions.

Another hotly debated recommendation was funding a traffic analysis and management, with the board considering hiring an advocate to address transportation issues.

“I want a warm body we’re funding to take care of this,” Hranilovich said.

Board member Barbara Bryan agreed. “It’d be nice if we had someone in our corner whose loyalties are here,” she said.

The final motion, however, did not fund a new position.

The board also debated a recommendation to fund an ongoing analysis of the Downtown’s aging infrastructure. While the board agreed the analysis was needed, some board members worried that the City could request additional funding in the future if complesx issues arise.

In the end, the board unanimously approved a carefully worded motion to fund “supplemental analyses of existing infrastructure and future improvements and special projects to advise the Bayside Board.”

If the council buys into the Bayside’s general recommendations, it could take three months to draft a plan, another three months to launch a petition drive to get the go-ahead from property owners and three more months to get final council approval.


"The moment we make a decision, they’re going to show up to protest.”What has changed since this was before us years ago, is state law and technology." Johannes Van Tilburg



"I think they like what the money is being used for.” Bill Tucker


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