Marco Li Mandri wants to change city law to make it easier to form assessment districts. He’s helped start 61 such districts around the country.
  • Marco Li Mandri wants to change city law to make it easier to form assessment districts. He’s helped start 61 such districts around the country.
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins wants to make it easier for property owners to levy assessments on their neighbors property tax bills to pay for community improvements.

Last month, on February 21, Atkins introduced legislation aimed at tweaking California's Property and Business Improvement District Law by introducing Community Benefit Districts.

Community Benefit Districts are nearly identical to Property and Business Improvement Districts except for three major changes: The bill would reduce the number of property owners needed to establish an improvement district from 50 percent to 30 percent, as well as extend the life of the district from ten years to twenty years. Lastly, if passed the legislation would turn San Diego County into a testing ground for the Community Benefit Districts, meaning the law would not apply to any other county in California.

Atkins' proposal is not a new idea. In fact, former-assemblymember Juan Vargas introduced similar bills in 2002 and 2005 and an identical bill which Vargas later pulled from consideration in 2012.

None have gone over so well.

In 2002, then-governor Gray Davis vetoed Vargas's first attempt, saying the "bill offers no compelling reason why the assessment period should be extended so significantly, or for why the percentage of property owners signing a petition in support of such a [Business Improvement District] is reduced from 50 [percent] to 30 [percent]. I am committed to the principles of smart growth and urban revitalization, but I do not believe that this bill provides the proper balance between these principles and those of fair and just taxation.”

Ten years later Vargas still had trouble finding support for the law. In 2012 he pulled the bill amid complaints from lobbyist groups and labor unions who believed the law was unneeded and could potentially tarnish California's Property and Business Improvement Law.

"The bill’s unreasonably low petition threshold of just 30 percent (as opposed to the 50 percent required for PBID formation) would allow a small number of property owners to initiate the district proceedings without obtaining consensus support from even a bare majority of impacted businesses," read a letter opposing Community Benefit Districts from a number of lobbyist groups including the California Business Properties Association, the California Building Industries Association, the California Retailers Association and others.

Opposition to Vargas's law even came from nonprofit organizations which represent assessment districts. "The concern is that if you lower the petition threshold to 30 percent, you could foster a situation where a few large parcel owners could band together and force a district through the process without support of many small owners," wrote Kerry Morrison, executive director for Hollywood's property-based improvement district, in an April 2012 letter to Vargas.

"What the proponents do not reveal, however, is that the number of ballots typically returned is relatively small; hence the initial petition threshold is actually the more challenging hurdle in [business improvement district] formation."

But the legislation, once thought dead, has risen again.

Maintenance assessment district-guru Marco Li Mandri came up with the concept of Community Benefit Districts and served as an adviser to Vargas and Atkins in writing the legislation.

Li Mandri says the legislation will correct flaws in the property and business improvement district law.

First and foremost, he says, the name is wrong. "It implies only 'business improvement' when in fact, all of our downtown and commercial areas are becoming mixed use and the majority of new development is not business oriented."

Other flaws says Li Mandri: "The five-year term, particularly in light of the end of redevelopment is far too short. Districts should last as long as property owners received tangible benefit. It should be their choice instead of a full employment act for formation consultants."

"Finally, the 50 percent petition threshold is unreasonably high and only favors districts with high concentration of property ownership. The petition doesn’t create the district, the balloting does. But many areas never get to balloting because they could not reach the petition threshold. The argument that it builds 'community support' is a farce. The high petition threshold forces districts into smaller boundaries and lower budgets because the threshold is so high. It makes no sense to require 50 percent of the weighted property owners to trigger a balloting when only 55 to 65 percent of property owners will even return their mail ballots."

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins' office did not reply in time for publication. The bill, since the amendment, is now headed back to the local government committee of the State Assembly.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


BlueSouthPark April 1, 2014 @ 6:16 p.m.

Oh jeez. Thanks for the heads up, Dorian. Knew this was coming. Economic Development announced that their goal for 2014 going forward was to privatize services in the urban core, and create property-based assessment districts out of business-based assessment districts. You can always count on the Dems from D3/D8 to try to screw small and residential property owners and to help Marco. What is it that he holds over them?

The mentality is: only a handful of property owners, i.e., the BIG, wealthy ones, understand how utterly devalued their property is because there is no controlling group to make every neighborhood into an ornamented, swept, decorated miniversion of a mall. What happens is that members of business district, run by business associations, such as MainStreet in North Park, decide that the surrounding homeowners on many of the streets north, south, east, and west should also be taxed, owners are benefiting for free from all of the business owners' efforts. They want property owner money to improve the quality of life, as they see fit. It's such a scam.


monaghan April 1, 2014 @ 8:51 p.m.

What kind of Democrats do we grow here?

State Senator Tony Atkins is the 2014 honoree at the San Diego County Democratic Party's now-infamous annual spring dinner. Last year the official main attraction was new Dem convert Nathan Fletcher -- not first Democrat-in-eons Mayor Bob Filner whose snubbing there prefigured an official termination later in the summer.

Anyway, Atkins' partner in life Jennifer LeSar is big in the business of public-private housing partnerships even while Atkins continues to carry legislative water for "redevelopment." She's done it for years, always slipping past this clear conflict of interest. But she's reached a new low as author of this blatant attempt to diminish the 50% participation rule to grease the skids for tidy creation of "community development districts."


Wabbitsd April 2, 2014 @ 6:19 a.m.

That Li Mandri character has no shame in trying to suck up public money.


nostalgic April 2, 2014 @ 7:37 a.m.

These "districts" are composed of people who first pay themselves and then pay their friends. Millions of dollars translate to banners on street corners. And the city of San Diego monitors it all. What's not to like?


jnojr April 2, 2014 @ 10:55 a.m.

Just another money grab, a way to do an end-run around Prop 13, keep collecting the same amount of property taxes, but then collect more as "fees" and "special assessments" to pay for services that should already be paid for by property tax revenue. Always under the guise of "making the rich pay their fair share", and always resulting in higher prices for everyone else.


historymatters April 2, 2014 @ 8:36 p.m.

she is the biggest poverty pimp in the nation! why do you think Ive been warning about her and her wife Jennifer Lesar for sooo long? This money will go to her to build more of her tenement housing slums. See Florida street or El Cajon Blvd. Enough is enough This woman needs to be in jail. File a lawsuit via section 225 of the City Charter forcing the city to open up the shell companies this city does business w/. they are illegal per our Charter. Her name will be in there and we can finally put her in jail once and for all.


historymatters April 2, 2014 @ 8:37 p.m.

Look at my blog and how many articles I have about her and Jennifer LeSar....they both need to be investigated. They are not helping the poor. they are pimping the poor for profit.


BlueSouthPark April 3, 2014 @ 11:28 p.m.

Just checked AB 2412: Atkins amended the bill and sent it backon March 28 for review by the Committee on Local Gov. Here, in italics, are the only amendments, which appear in the second paragraph of the proposed bill:

"This bill would authorize a local agency, as defined, in the County of San Diego to form a community benefit district by complying with specified procedures and requirements, to be operated by a nonprofit management company, and to levy an assessment for the funding of certain improvements and activities within the district. This bill would make legislative findings and declarations as to the necessity of a special statute for the County of San Diego."

Because San Diegans are so specially retarded that we can't be trusted to operate under majority rule. Apparently, the perversion of the current State Law that Atkins hopes to achieve did not go over well with other Assemblymembers, so she's writing it only for San Diegans.

Thanks a lot, Toni. You're giving a big finger to democracy. You and your bad bedfellows will be hearing from the same people who wrote Vargas.


BlueSouthPark April 4, 2014 @ 7:11 p.m.

Here is the link to the Committee on Local Government, which reviews the Atkins proposal:

Please, please contact each member and discuss your feelings about changing a state law that currently requires a minimum 50% (reducing it to only 30%) of petition signers before local gov and private groups can force a vote to tax you, and one that they know they will win.

Because they have carefully drawn a line around area property blocks to create a "district" that will yield a majority of "yes" votes. Because they will be the group of persons who appoint themselves to decide how to spend your money. Because the term of the current state tax law now lasts 5 years (then a vote for renewal for 10 years), and Atkins' bill will change that first term to a generation: 20 years. Because it is not democratic. Or fair.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!