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Letter Blitz Halts Proposed Business Levy : Taxes: San Pedro merchants called the yearly assessments excessive and unjustified. The money would have been used to finance public improvement projects.

March 03, 1994|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a furious letter-writing campaign, more than 200 merchants and property owners in downtown San Pedro have blocked a plan to tax their businesses for public improvements.

The proposed yearly assessments of $100 to $300 had the strong backing of Los Angeles City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., whose district includes San Pedro. Some property owners within the community's central business district also supported it.

But opponents, calling the assessments excessive and unjustified, mounted a protest that led to letters from 236 of the 419 businesses in the area, generally bounded by Harbor Boulevard, Pacific Avenue and 3rd and 10th streets.

The letter-writing effort forced the city, under state law, to drop the assessment plan for at least a year because it was opposed by more than 50% of those it would affect.

"As of right now, it's dead," said Tom Kruesopon, Svorinich's press spokesman. The councilman intends to reintroduce the plan next year, he said.

The proposal to establish the business improvement district was initially pushed by Svorinich's predecessor, Joan Milke Flores. She had responded to requests by some San Pedro businesses that the area be improved with better street lighting and other public works projects.

Under the plan Svorinich embraced after defeating Flores last year, the work was to be financed by an annual fee that would be assessed based on the type of business in the area.

But almost from its inception, the plan ran afoul of many business owners who not only considered the assessments excessive but their purpose vague.

"Nobody was sure what is was for," said businessman Nick Papadakis, who helped spearhead efforts against the plan.

One example of the confusion, Papadakis said, concerned how much money the plan would generate. While supporters said it should raise about $60,000 annually, the Los Angeles city clerk's official estimate was $95,900, Papadakis said.

In the weeks leading up to a City Hall hearing in January, opponents marshaled enough letters of protest to block the assessment.

"We stopped when we thought we were over the 50% mark," Papadakis said. "Had we done an extensive door-to-door campaign, the numbers would have gone up dramatically. Definitely."

Svorinich's press spokesman said that before reintroducing the proposal next year, the councilman hopes to make it more palatable to opponents. For instance, Svorinich intends to better explain the purpose of the assessments, making clear where and how the funds would be used.

But to hear Papadakis tell it, the councilman will have a lot of explaining to do.

"I feel very good that this has been put on ice because it is another tax assessment we do not need. It was poorly conceived, poorly planned, poorly presented," Papadakis said. "And if they bring this back, unless they define a budget, define an administrative authority, unless they answer all the questions that need to be answered, I will continue to oppose it."

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