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VALLEY BUSINESS | Valley@Work

Business Leader Seeks BID for Northeast Valley

March 28, 2000|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS

It's a dubious distinction indeed.

Business Improvement Districts, those self-selecting commercial stretches where merchants or property owners agree to assess themselves fees to finance improvements, are sprouting up all over the City of Angels.

Well, not quite all over.

Every Los Angeles City Council district has at least one such area approved or proposed except one--the 7th City Council District in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Why?

David Gershwin, a spokesman for 7th District Councilman Alex Padilla, said the cost of launching and maintaining such a district would be too much for many small local merchants to bear.

"These businesses are already hurting. They can barely pay their rent," Gershwin said. "Councilman Padilla is concerned that many small businesses, along Laurel Canyon [Boulevard] and San Fernando Road, wouldn't be able to afford the additional fees that would be imposed."

Instead, Padilla has advocated other avenues for business and community improvement, such as the Targeted Neighborhood Initiative program, which is working to improve conditions along Van Nuys Boulevard.

But Anou Abrahamian, who serves on the board of the Arleta Chamber of Commerce, thinks areas like Arleta and Pacoima could benefit greatly from the kind of pinpoint attention that stems from a Business Improvement District--despite the region's relative lack of affluence.

"This is just probably a very easy excuse," said Abrahamian, who chairs a four-member committee of local business leaders trying to establish a property-based district in Arleta.

*

If such a district were approved by the City Council, the fees would be paid by property owners, not merchants. Business owners pay the fees only in business-based, or merchant-based improvement districts, and those fees vary widely depending on the types of projects the districts plan to tackle.

Even so, Abrahamian said, the merchants have a big stake in helping get the area tidied up.

"It's wrong to say the merchants can't afford the assessment because the merchants aren't making money now," he added. "If we improve the area, we will make it more pedestrian friendly. They will have a lot more customers, the property values increase and everybody is happy.

"Sherman Oaks is very nice and very clean already," said Abrahamian, who owns the Woodman Plaza shopping center at Woodman Avenue and Van Nuys Boulevard in Arleta. "This [northeast Valley] area needs a BID most of all."

Nancy Hoffman, chief executive of the Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, which includes part of the 7th District, agreed that such improvement districts could be useful in the northeast Valley. But she said a number of properties are owned by "absentee property owners who might not even be in the state."

Gershwin said Padilla would support a property-based Business Improvement District but feels the distant-landlord hurdle might be too great to overcome.

"We'd love to see more Business Improvement Districts," Hoffman said. "But they're just so hard."

There are 25 established Business Improvement Districts in the city, including eight in the San Fernando Valley. An additional 22 are proposed, including four in the Valley.

Eight or nine more areas are in the early planning stages but not yet on the official "proposed" list, according to Mike Vitkievicz, the city clerk's official who oversees the program. That would include areas like Arleta.

In each case, either business or property owners agree to self-imposed fees that are used for everything from tree planting and street lights to security crews.

"The Valley has done very well" in launching Business Improvement Districts, said Vitkievicz, who added that six of the region's eight districts were approved by the council just last year. "A disproportionately large number of districts are in the Valley."

Vitkievicz said he thinks such improvement districts will become even more popular if a small group of them succeeds in its current gambit--vying for funds through the Community Development Block Grant program.

Six districts--none in the Valley--are working with the city to establish a mechanism to allow districts to receive federal block grant dollars.

Vitkievicz said having an established and well-functioning improvement district "tells the feds that here's a responsible group, an established self-help group."

The lure of dollars from Washington, D.C., and the examples of success locally, should increase the number of areas seeking improvement district status, he said.

"We've got a projection of 39 districts in operation by the end of next year, with in excess of $20 million in assessment revenue," said Vitkievicz, calling Business Improvement Districts one of the most exciting programs to come to this city in years.

"There are a lot of busy little beavers all over, organizing their communities," he said.

*

One is Abrahamian, an Armenian native who fears he might have to sell his strip mall if improvement district-generated upgrades fail to materialize.

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