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Downtown Santa Monica Businesses Could Vote on New Fees

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

April 27, 2015 -- In another sign Santa Monica is changing with light rail due to arrive early next year, City Council members are poised to authorize special elections for new tax assessments on properties near Expo Line stations to keep up with the expected wear and tear from thousands of commuters.
 
Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM) officials submitted petitions to the City with sufficient signatures to hold mail-in balloting for the proposed new assessments, a City staff report said.

If approved Tuesday by the City Council, about 50 property owners on Lincoln Boulevard will get to decide on the proposed Lincoln Boulevard  Property-Based Assessment District (PBAD), while about two dozen owners in the Colorado Avenue area will vote on the Colorado Overlay.

Downtown Santa Monica officials needed signatures from at least 40 percent of  commercial  property owners in the two zones to qualify for the mail-in vote; they collected more than 53 percent from Lincoln owners and more than 62 percent from Colorado area owners, staff said.

At least 50 percent of commercial  property owners in each area must vote yes for the assessments to go into effect. The report did not say when the balloting would take place.

A call to Housing and Economic Development Director Andy Agle, whose office prepared the report, was not returned by deadline.

Downtown Santa Monica Inc., a private-nonprofit company that manages the Downtown area under a contract with the City, wants to expand the Property Based Assessment District (PBAD) formed in 2007 to pay for extra services beyond what the City normally provides -- enhancements such as pressure-washing of sidewalks, community and promotional events and a Downtown Ambassadors program.

Property owners within the PBAD pay varying fees that raise $3.5 million a year to provide the extra services for the area.

Downtown Santa Monica officials want to add owners on Lincoln into the PBAD and increase the assessment Colorado area owners pay by creating the Overlay. Both areas will need increased services when the Expo Line opens in early 2016, particularly Colorado Avenue, Downtown Santa Monica Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson told the City Council last year (Downtown Santa Monica Considers Expanding Property Tax District, April 10, 2014).

The formerly “sleepy spot” is due for “a new vitality” upon completion this year of the $10 million Colorado Esplanade renovation project on Colorado west of Fifth Street, which is adding wider sidewalks to handle more pedestrians, Rawson said.

“More pedestrians will use Colorado over the next few years to access the train and Downtown,” she said.

When it opens, connecting Downtown Santa Monica with Los Angeles for the first time in more than a half-century, the Expo Line is expected to draw 25,000 riders a day, increasing cleaning costs in the Downtown area. Officials also will need to expand the $1.3 million Downtown Ambassadors program to help Expo passengers find their way around, Rawson said.

In a one year period -- from 2012 to 2013, the Ambassadors guided 70,000 visitors to Downtown businesses. During the same period PBAD assessments paid for the removal of 11,113 pounds of trash and power washing 2.1 million square feet of public streets (Assessing Downtown Santa Monica's Needs, June 13, 2014).

As part of Tuesday's vote on the assessments, Council members are being asked to authorize the City Manager to cast two votes on the City's behalf in the Colorado Overlay mail-in ballot, because Santa Monica owns two parcels within the Overlay, the staff report said.
 
The two parcels represent 16 percent of the total Colorado Overlay proposed assessment, an assessment of $48,300 to the City under the proposal. However, Metro is expected to take control of one of the parcels, at 402 Colorado, the terminus of the Expo Line, “and the assessment would be Metro's obligation thereafter,” the report said.


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