No services two years after approval, refunds are being issued.
By Sam Catanzaro
In 2016 the Los Angeles City Council approved the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) at Venice Beach but more than two years later property owners are still waiting to see the services, activities and programs that are part of the BID.
BIDs are geographically defined assessment districts in which property owners charge themselves a fee to fund agreed-upon services that go beyond what the city is providing. BIDs exist all over the world and appear in every major American city. The City of Los Angeles currently has more than 40 BIDs in communities such as Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Westchester, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Encino, South Los Angeles and Wilmington.
The Venice Beach BID includes large portions of Ocean Front Walk, Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Rose Avenue and Venice Boulevard. The BID is run by the Venice Beach Property Owners Association, a non-profit contracted by the City. In 2017 the Venice Beach BID allocated 73 percent of the 1.7 million dollars collected from property owners into programs aimed at making the community cleaner and safer, promising bicycle, vehicle and foot patrols, sweeping and pressure washing, landscaping, trash removal and graffiti removal but none of these services are being provided yet.
The Los Angeles City Clerk is now issuing refunds to Venice Beach BID property owners on the fees levied because no services were provided.
“State law requires that no property owner pay more for services than they specially benefit,” City Clerk Holly Wolcott told Yo! Venice. “The entirety of the funds were not spent because most of the services were not started so they [the Venice Beach Property Owners Association] have opted to refund those funds.”
Wolcott says that these refunds will be sent out in phases, with the first occurring by mid-July. Second phase refunds will be sent no sooner than September 2018.
Despite the slow start, City officials, including Councilmember Mike Bonin, remain in support of the BID.
On May 14 Venice BID services began with the rollout of their “Clean” and “Safe” teams. The “Safe” team — made up of private security personnel from Allied Universal — will ride bikes and carry handcuffs and pepper spray to patrol the district, calling the police when necessary.
“Councilmember Bonin has been, and remains a strong supporter of the BID because it will provide supplemental services to make Venice the neighborhood every resident of the community deserves,” Bonin’s office told Yo! Venice. “The Councilmember stands by his commitment to work with both BID proponents and opponents to make sure that the BID is a vehicle that celebrates and enhances what it is special about Venice – its funky character, its diversity, and its tolerance of people of all walks of life.”
State law bars a BID from including buildings or lots in residential neighborhoods but homes that are deemed to be sitting on industrially or commercially zoned land are included and must pay into the fund. Some of these residents are frustrated that despite an overwhelming opposition to the BID among homeowners, the proposal still passed. When the Venice Beach BID went up for a vote among property owners, there were more “no” votes than “yes” votes. The district was approved, however, because more weight was given to bigger properties with more street frontage.
“This BID is anti-democratic, irresponsible, and unaccountable,” wrote Venice resident David Ewing in a letter to City Council. “These are not special services needed by businesses, nor is the BID set up to serve the entire business community within the district.”
Other residents say that they enjoy all the new restaurants and stores that have come along with Venice’s development but worry that the BID may hurt the businesses that make Venice a special place.
“While I am happy that we now have many good restaurants and small businesses in Venice, we need to remain cognizant of the fact that new businesses and development have pushed out mom-and-pop shops, artistic boutiques created by artists, and artists themselves,” Venice resident Roxanne Steinberg told City Hall. “With so-called “improvement” the heart and soul that makes Venice special gets lost forever.”
Tara Devine, Chief Executive Officer for the Venice BID, told Yo! Venice that she hopes opponents of the BID will be swayed once they see the services provided.
“The BID hopes to change your mind over time,” Devine said. “We hope that providing “clean and safe” services and seeing gradual, increasing cleanliness and safety in your neighborhood will win your support in the future.”
Yo! Venice read through more than 300 letters Venice residents sent to City Council and only found one in support of the BID, from Venice resident Kathleen Rawson. Rawson believes that the Venice will benefit from the BID’s private investment into security and sanitation but acknowledges and understands the opposition from many residents.
“It is true, they are concerned and rightfully so. Venice is changing, and much of it is not for the better as we see our quaint neighborhoods being bulldozed and replaced by cold, huge and unfriendly boxes shut off from each other,” Rawson wrote but added, “Venice is in a position to greatly benefit from this private investment if it is properly implemented.”
More information about the BID can be found at www.venicebeachbid.com or by contacting the City Clerk’s BID division at 213.978.1099 or Clerk.NBID@lacity.org.