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Venice Beach property owners being offered over $1 million in refunds

Venice Beach property owners being offered over $1 million in refunds
The boardwalk in Venice Beach, where property owners complained that a newly formed Business Improvement District failed to promptly provide services it had promised. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

More than $1 million in refunds are being offered to Venice Beach property owners following complaints that a newly formed group had charged them but failed to promptly provide promised services, according to city officials.

The Venice Beach Business Improvement District, which was formed a year and a half ago, reaped more than $1.7 million from property owners in its first year, but lagged in providing the cleanups, safety patrols and other services it had promised. Earlier this year, its board said it would look into refunding some of those charges.

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Property owners will be offered a share of the total amount of $1.8 million that was billed that year, minus the roughly $470,000 that was spent by the nonprofit contracted to run the business improvement district, according to the Los Angeles city clerk's office. Any property owners that never paid the charges will get a new and reduced bill, city officials said.

Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott, whose office started mailing out letters to property owners last week, said the refunds were offered up voluntarily by the group.

The Venice Beach Business Improvement District announced it would be launching "clean and safe" services this month. It recently unveiled a website saying it would "preserve and protect our colorful, exhilarating area by helping to fill the gap between community needs and the level of services the city can deliver on its own."

Chief Executive Officer Tara Devine and board President Mark Sokol did not respond to emails seeking comment on the refunds.

"It's not enough," said Marlene Okulick, one of the property owners who has raised concerns about the new district. Okulick complained that the refunds will only cover some of the charges for the last calendar year, and "their operations just started in May."

The slow rollout of services has not been the only controversy facing the Venice Beach district, which has faced suspicion from community activists worried about gentrification and privatization of the public boardwalk.

Okulick and several other property owners sued to dissolve the agency, arguing that it improperly included and charged homes that would get little benefit. In April, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city, finding that it was legal for property that is commercially zoned but used as a residence to be charged for district services.

The new group also faced scrutiny from the city for failing to turn in required documents on time. In March, Wolcott warned the group that if it did not turn in overdue reports about its plans, the city would take steps to abolish it. Wolcott told The Times that those reports were subsequently turned in.

Los Angeles is sprinkled with business improvement districts, which charge business or property owners an assessment for additional services in their area. They typically provide services such as sidewalk cleaning, safety patrols and business promotion.

Twitter: @AlpertReyes

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