The Ventura City Council has again approved a special downtown assessment district after opponents of the plan persuaded the council to clarify provisions for disbanding the district.
The council voted 6 to 0 late Monday in favor of the business improvement district, which will allow merchants to tax themselves to pay for advertising, promotion and street beautification that the city cannot afford. Mayor Richard Francis abstained from the voting and discussion of the plan because his downtown law office is included in the district.
The new version, which replaces an ordinance that the council approved last week, includes provisions allowing only 10% of businesses in the district to call a public hearing to consider disbanding the district.
The new district will levy an average annual fee of $275 on each business through the city’s billing system. It then will spend the money to promote downtown to shoppers and to potential tenants. The district hopes to entice businesses to settle in dozens of vacant buildings lining Main Street and Thompson Boulevard.
Fees range from $150 a year for businesses such as banks, doctors and lawyers to $500 a year for businesses with at last 10 employees. Hotels and motels will pay fees ranging from $166 to $999 a year, based on the number of rooms.
The money raised by the annual fees will pay for advertisements, street improvements and special expenses such as holiday decorations and extra security patrols during the holiday shopping season. The district is bounded by Ash and Olive streets on the east and west and by Poli Street and the Pacific Ocean on the north and south.
Opponents of the district equated it with an unfair tax and said they were never contacted by the businesses that brought it up for the council’s approval. About 31% of the businesses in the district opposed the plan last week, but opposition had eroded to about 25% by this week, as some opponents filed letters with the city clerk saying they now support it.
The opponents had failed to muster the 51% that it would have required to stop the district from being formed.
Opponents’ spokesman Mark Gray, speaking before the City Council on Monday, said the opponents dislike the district for a number of reasons, including concerns that it could be held liable for the actions of any security officers the district hires to clear panhandlers and loiterers off the streets.