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Santa Ana Council Halves Fee in Merchant District

October 08, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Fees paid by downtown Santa Ana merchants to improve and promote the business district have been cut in half by the City Council, although some merchants who wanted the district dissolved are still unhappy.

The Business Improvement District had previously raised about $200,000 annually from the 600 merchants. Now, it will collect only half that and drop marketing efforts such as promotion of street fairs in local Spanish-language media.

Some merchants say the issue is not the size of the fee but who controls the fund. For years, merchants have sparred with the city and among themselves over the city's emphasis on the nearby Artists Village, a zone of shops and galleries, instead of on the downtown's many Latino-oriented businesses.

The district, critics say, has become a vehicle for city officials, through allies on the district board, to alter the character of downtown, from a Latino immigrant shopping area to a cluster of restaurants and shops more palatable to other ethnicities.

"It's not how much money we have to pay," said Sam Romero, who owns a shop that sells Roman Catholic religious articles. "Someone else is making decisions with our money, and we have no input."

City Manager David M. Ream said the fee can be abolished if a majority of businesses vote to do so in December. But that prospect is unlikely, because the complaining merchants are outnumbered by those who support the association's programs. The fee, levied according to the size of the business, had ranged from $300 for an income tax preparer to $7,000 for a supermarket and will now be half that following Monday night's vote.

The fees will still be used to pay for downtown improvement projects, including landscaping, lighting and pedestrian benches.

Mayor Miguel A. Pulido and Councilwoman Alberta Christy abstained in Monday's vote, noting that they work for companies in the district. Councilman Mike Garcia voted in favor of halving the fee, even though he works for a planning consultant firm, Rosenow Spevacek Group, which is downtown and pays fees. He said the city attorney told him he could vote because he does not have a controlling interest in the company.

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