Earlier this week, the Vanguard noted a letter dated October 27, in which a group of seven prominent downtown property and business owners, led by Jennifer Anderson, have asked the city council not to renew the Downtown Davis Business Association (DDBA).
They write, “We object to this Association being renewed. We see no benefit to our businesses.”
Signers of this letter include property owners Jennifer Anderson, Anthony Reubner, Reed Youmans, Grace Chen and Lynn Yackzan, as well as Melrina Maggiora, real estate property manager, and Jason Taormino, a business owner.
This week, staff is recommending the city council approve the extension of the agreement “between the City and Davis Downtown appointing the Davis Downtown as the Administering agency for the DBID assessment proceeds.”
Of interest here are staff comments, first noting that, while there were several comments received including concerns, the city “has received no formal protests related to the 2016-2017 DBID assessment.”
That said, the staff notes that the council has passed extensions each year since the DBID (Downtown Business Improvement District) was established in 1988 with “a few protests” being raised. However, they write, “there appears to be a significant and noteworthy change this year, in both the number of business and property owners making comments and the nature of their concerns.”
Staff notes, “Many individuals have used the time prior to the DBID Public Hearing to raise concerns about the safety and cleanliness of the downtown. While quite valid in nature, many of the calls for increased security and attention to cleanliness have been made to the Davis Downtown which is not, in fact, a clear path for provision of security or cleaning services.”
This is an important point. The letter we excerpted from notes, “We have a serious problem with a dirty and unsafe downtown.”
They continue, “We support creating a new association with new leadership made up of restaurant, food service, bar owners and property owners to promote a CLEAN and safe downtown.”
The funding, they say, “would come from fees from these businesses to clean sidewalks, trash cans, and hire security for evening hours. This new Association would not be involved with parking or marketing.”
Furthermore, they support “a STRONG ordinance that would prohibit loitering and panhandling. We have developed a terrible visual appearance on street corners and in public seating areas. This has a very negative effect.”
As the city staff notes, neither safety nor cleanup are in the purview of the DDBA. Staff writes, “If it is the highest priority of Council, a different mechanism for the provision of funding for security and cleanup can be explored by staff.”
Indeed, the council is actually dealing with both issues.
As we noted earlier this week, last summer the Davis City Council had a brief discussion on panhandling. At that time, staff noted, “Panhandling itself is not illegal; it is a protected form of speech and cannot be banned. In general, a person has a right to ask for or show a sign asking for assistance.”
However, time, manner and place of panhandling or solicitations can be regulated “in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the solicitors and others in the community.”
Staff concluded with some suggestions. It warned, “Laws regarding panhandling must be aimed at specific behaviors and acts, not a person’s status as a panhandler or otherwise. Restricting panhandling must be justified and defined.” Staff recommended, “Any policy considerations be vetted through local community discussions, including relevant commissions, before any additional steps are taken.”
Based on last summer’s discussion, it does not appear that a strong ordinance “that would prohibit loitering and panhandling” would be legal.
Moreover, I have been to a lot of downtowns across the country and Davis has one of the cleaner and nicer downtowns that I have seen. So I’m not sure that we have “a serious problem with a dirty and unsafe downtown.”
At the same time, council is working on a plan to improve downtown safety and security. While we have objected to the moratorium on night clubs, the city is working on new requirements for late night establishments which, at least in preliminary form, appear to be agreeable.
Some of the critical components of the plan include changes to security arrangements, the provision of additional patrol officers potentially funded by downtown business establishments, and changes to seating and food requirements that will force the establishments to alter their business model from a dance club format back to the more traditional restaurant and bar establishment. Finally, wanding and new security requirements would push more safety mechanisms.
In our view, these are all changes that should occur at the city level and not be left to the DDBA or a new organization.
That leaves the one complaint, that the DDBA spends “nearly 50% of their budget on staff and they spend one third of their total budget on Art & Music events which promotes approximately 35 to 40 businesses of the 720 members.”
The letter continues: “This has become an UNFAIR tax on businesses that receive no benefit. For the dentists, dry cleaners, shoe repair, hardware store, beauty salon, real estate brokers and bankers – what do they get for the tax paid?”
They add, “It is even more difficult for those paying members that are north of 5th Street. They get nothing in terms of events or support.”
In our view, that might be a legitimate point but one that should be dealt with internally by those who are members of the DDBA and not be arbitrated from above by the city council.
In our view, the DDBA serves a specific purpose. The city council needs to address issues of safety and cleanliness and leave the promotional activities and priorities to the downtown merchants themselves.
—David M. Greenwald reporting