continued Billmeyer went on to defend the list of proposed changes -- and what they would cost -- that Li Mandri had put together. The list circulated with the original report describing a new maintenance-assessment district in Kensington. A $200,000 figure on the bottom line of the list is what alarmed many business owners. It represented what adopting all the changes would cost the community.
But "this list you've all seen has only examples," said Billmeyer. "It never was meant to be a proposal. It is a wish list and just gives an idea of what the costs [of various changes] might be. Marco was kind enough to put that information together."
Billmeyer also addressed concerns over the gas station in Kensington and the Kensington Library, which he calls "ugly as sin." He maintained that, being a big reader, he doesn't want to get rid of the library, only remodel it. Both the gas station and the library have figured into rumors that high-density housing is on its way into Kensington. Several local residents claim they heard Billmeyer say condominiums should be built on the site of the gas station. But Billmeyer denied that he wants to see the station go.
Finally, Billmeyer insisted that he tried to invite all the business owners in Kensington to his June 16 conference with Ellard and Li Mandri. But, Hanford tells me several days later, too many owners say they were never contacted. "They couldn't find me," he says, "and there I am in Kensington Video right on Adams. It smacks too much of the tactic developers use of sending out surveys of interest during the summer when many people are on vacation."
Even though Billmeyer told the July 19 meeting that he was the one to seek the help of Li Mandri initially, Guy Hanford thinks "there is some confusion about who approached whom" in their collaboration. The efforts do seem to express Billmeyer's "artistic vision," he admits. But he suspects a greater role by Li Mandri than simply estimating costs and explaining how maintenance districts work. He cites a tour of Little Italy that Li Mandri gave four Kensington business owners in early July to explain the maintenance-district concept. "Our community," says Hanford, "has nothing in common with a big business district like Little Italy." There are only residences on either side of the seven-block stretch of businesses on Adams Avenue that people know as Kensington, he notes. And Scott Kessler said at the July 19 meeting that the city is not interested in establishing separate maintenance-assessment districts in communities as small as Kensington.
"We now have hit the New City America proposal with a sledgehammer," Hanford continues, "and we'll do it again if we need to. But those kinds of pressure aren't going away. A year and a half ago, the city sent my parents [who own the property Kensington Video occupies] a letter encouraging them to support changing the zoning along Adams Avenue. But they're in their late 70s and have no desire to make big changes. The Mid-City redevelopment project in City Heights is going strong only a few blocks south of us. Kensington is not part of it, but there is little doubt that pressure for high density is heading up this way."
Chance Billmeyer refuses to judge the Kensington business owners' resistance to his ideas. But by phone, he does tell me that it was a "knee-jerk reaction. Just about everybody in Kensington knows we need some changes. More meetings like we had the other night will help us know what to do," he says.
Since July the Adams Avenue Business Association has replaced the blighted trees in Kensington. But the move may not have satisfied everyone. Peevey Jewelers owner Vallejo tells me that in early October he had a casual conversation with Marco Li Mandri, who told him that the effort to bring a new maintenance-assessment district to Kensington is not over.
In response, Li Mandri tells me that decision-making in Kensington "has neither begun nor is it over. It doesn't matter what I think; it is what the business and property owners want. If they like Kensington the way it is, then they should do nothing. Many believed Kensington needed to be taken to the next level. There are a few ways to do that. The most effective, quickest way to do that is through a [new] maintenance-assessment district, or what I call a 'community-benefit district.'
"The [recent process in Kensington] has been filled with misinformation," argues Li Mandri, who also complains that those who called the July 19 meeting to discuss his "initial budget" did not even have "the courtesy of asking me if I was able to make the meeting." The biggest-ticket item in that budget, he says, was to replace the Kensington neighborhood sign, which people could toss out separately if they didn't like. And the fears about Kensington being redeveloped are ridiculous. "Kensington does not even belong in a redevelopment district," he says.