The Hillcrest Business Association is urging east Hillcrest to look at setting up maintenance assessment district to provide businesses and residents with services that west Hillcrest already enjoys — private security patrols to deal with homeless people, sidewalk cleaning and landscape maintenance.
"I hear people say 'why can't we be like Little Italy?' We can be like Little Italy with a maintenance assessment district," said Ben Nicholls, executive director of the business association. Nicholls calculated that it would cost $298,000 a year — money that would come from property owners and business owners in the area. Many of the 50 or so people who attended the Tuesday night presentation seemed to support the idea, which has to be approved in a vote of the residents.
"Our biggest problem is the homeless people and the mess — including human waste — they leave behind," said one east Hillcrest business owner. "Customers see things that make them lose their appetite." (East Hillcrest is defined as the section east of the 163.) The city currently has about 60 maintenance assessment districts and nearly 20 business improvement districts, according to the city website.
Assessment districts have come under attack by people who say the districts are an end run around California law that requires a vote of the people before taxes can be levied. Attorney Cory Briggs has sued the city repeatedly over such districts, not always successfully.
"Assessment districts are a tax levied without a vote of the people," Briggs said in an email.
Last year, the city rewrote rules about what such districts can do, loosening restrictions and requirements. The plan divides the area into two zones, one with more commercial and business activity and a second that is more residential. There are about 240 parcels in the proposed district,
The formulas for calculating individual parcel fees begin with the linear feet of street frontage and then the square footage of the property is used to calculate additional fees. Right now, the estimates are $14 per linear foot of frontage and 35 cents per square foot. The assessments are included in the property tax bills and the city oversees the assessment districts and their funds. So, for example, at 35 cents per square foot and $14 per linear foot, a tax bill for a 50 ft. by 40 ft. building would be $700 (2,000 x .35) for linear footage plus $700 (50 ft. x $14) for square footage, or $1,400 total per year.
"The most complicated part is where we do what work, who pays for what," Nicholls said.
It will take a neighborhood special election to approve such an assessment district, attorney Scott Koppel said.
The vote for or against the district is weighted by the dollar amount each property will pay, rather than one vote for each owners. Someone with a big building on a corner, whose estimated assessment would come to $2,800 has twice the voting power of the owner of that building facing a $1,400 assessment, according to Koppel.
The most costly issue for the proposed east Hillcrest district is dealing with the homeless people who camp out on the streets. The business association works with Citywide Protection Services to deal with the issues arising from homeless people on Hillcrest streets. "It will not solve the homeless problem," Nicholls said. "What this will do is address antisocial behavior. Some of that antisocial behavior is incredibly dangerous."
Thomas Tamar from the security company explained that foot patrol security guards will, for example, persistently awaken people sleeping on the street. "Every time we come back, we're going to wake you up again," he said. "It's not just waking people up; we engage with them and we try to connect them to services."
They work with the Alpha Project, but have found that services are "patchwork," he said.
East Hillcrest annual funding estimates (Presented by Ben Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association)
Private security: $95,000
Sidewalk cleaning 34,000
Landscape care 85,000
Special project 20,000
Contingency funds 15,000