Pacific Boulevard merchants have received the go-ahead to impose a tax on themselves that would fund additional services such as security.
After nearly an hour of deliberations, the City Council last week voted 3-2 to approve the so-called Huntington Park Business Improvement District. It is bounded by Randolph Street, Florence Avenue, Seville Avenue and Malabar Street and includes about 700 businesses.
The levies, which are determined by the size and location of a business and should raise about $500,000, will go into effect by the first week of July. Nonprofit organizations will be exempted.
Merchants had been developing plans for the district for five years. But determining how to compute the levy, spend the money and inform the business owners in the affected area slowed the efforts.
"This is an open wound that needed to be closed," said Councilman Raul Perez. "The merchants will now be able to control their own destiny with this," he said, adding that the district will come before the council every year for approval.
Perez said afterward that he figured the businesses "in the next few years can use most of the money on security. In the following years, they could use it for marketing or they could lower the levies," or eliminate the district altogether.
Critics hoped the council would postpone its vote, saying the levies are a hard blow to merchants who have been struggling during harsh economic times and that the formula to determine the tax is unfair.
"We are not against the concept," said Maricarmen Medrano, a businesswoman who led the anti-district efforts. "It's just the wrong time to burden us with it."
Medrano submitted 370 protest signatures from business people, an amount she said represented about 65% of the projected revenue. If businesses representing more than 50% of the projected revenue had rejected the plan then it would not have gone forward. But Henry L. Gray, assistant community development director, said the dissenters accounted for about 30% of the revenue.
Mayor Thomas E. Jackson, who with Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Maes voted against the measure, offered a last-minute alternative that would have taxed all businesses in the city instead of just those in the district. The levy would have been based on the businesses' income, reducing the burden for mom-and-pop and low-income stores.
But Jackson remained wary of any tax.
"I apologize to the guys who worked their fannies off for this . . . but I guarantee people are going to say, 'We can go to Timbuktu and open the same business somewhere else,' " without a levy, the mayor said.