Amy Chu 8:30 a.m., Sept. 15
Downtown San Diego Partnership's new business model; paid for by residents and business owners
The new business model for non-profit business booster Downtown San Diego Partnership is now complete and property and business owners in downtown San Diego can now see where $19,000 worth of assessments went.
While primarily focusing on strategies aimed at bolstering the influence of the Downtown Partnership, the outside consultant, Progressive Urban Management Associates, did have a few plans for the future of the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District (PBID).
Among those plans: to expand the scope of services from enhanced city services to economic development, parks and open space management, parking management, capital improvements, and even paying for a downtown shuttle service.
"From the best practice cities surveyed (and from our knowledge of major market PBIDs throughout the U.S.), PBIDs offer funding support for a variety of inter-related program activities. While the PBID in San Diego is focused solely on clean and safe services, this is but one of many potential program components," reads the 15-page "organizational blueprint."
The new plan cost the Downtown San Diego Partnership $25,954.
There are a few problems with the expenditure; while the Downtown Partnership is a private organization and can spend cash how it sees fit, 73 percent of the bill, or $18,946, was paid with PBID assessments. And nowhere in the California’s Streets and Highways Code, or the City’s Maintenance Assessment District Ordinance, does it allow assessments to pay for new business plans.
Despite those issues, Downtown Partnership brass weren't shy about spending taxpayer assessments for the work. The contract with Progressive Urban Management explicitly states that the that consultant’s objective was to “create an organizational restructuring plan that will build the [Downtown San Diego Partnership’s] influence to champion downtown development, management and marketing.”
"This cost PBID taxpayers nearly $20,000 and I am still trying to understand how a private club, the Downtown San Diego Partnership, can use tax dollars for their own projects," writes downtown resident Kathy Casey. "Taxpayers currently pay $72,000 per year to the Partnership for oversight of the PBID. There is absolutely no accountability."
But spending taxpayer money on a non-profit's business plan isn't the only complaint that residents have lodged against the City and Downtown Partnership in recent years.
For years now some residents and property owners paying into the PBID say they have received the short end of the stick. As we first reported in April 2010, the City overcharged thousands of residents and business owners for assessments they paid in 2005 to 2009, totaling nearly $300,000.
No refunds have been issued. The City Attorney is currently trying to recover the money in a lawsuit against the company that drafted the engineer's report, SCI Consulting. But that may take some time. The case has just been moved from San Diego County to Orange County.
And, in addition to getting overcharged, residents and property owners have also been forced to pay for outside consultants, one as much as $130,000. That particular contract was awarded to Marco Li Mandri without approval from the advisory board.
But the move to expand the scope of services for the downtown PBID occurs as the City finds itself having to fight yet another lawsuit over the legality of maintenance assessment districts.
Earlier this year a judge ruled the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District invalid. Residents there are now receiving partial refunds. And now, San Diegans for Open Government has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of all 57 maintenance assessment districts in San Diego, including the downtown PBID.
Below is a link to the new "organizational blueprint":