The LookOut news

Residents Get Unprecedented Say in Pico Business District

By Jorge Casuso

In an unprecedented decision that split the newly formed Pico Business Improvement District board of directors, business representatives voted Tuesday to allow as many as four residents to sit on the 17-member board.

The vote makes Pico the only business district with more than one resident representative on its board. The Main Street Business District, which has seven board members, has one resident on its board of directors and the Montana Business District, which has as many as nine members, has none.

"Pico more than any other district has recognized they must bring residents in as a village approach," said Gwen Pentecost, the City staff member in charge of overseeing the creation of the business district. "This kind of approach is new for business districts. I've never seen that happen before.

"They have some thorny parking problems to attack," Pentecost said. "If you have neighbors at war with you, you're in big trouble. If you come in with neighbors, it's a whole different subject in front of the City Council."

The decision to have residents make up as much one-third of the board came after a motion to reduce the ratio to one-fourth failed when it deadlocked 6 to 6.

"This is the voice of the businesses," Pam Stollings, who owns the Unurban coffee house, said after the meeting. "Though I welcome the input of residents, I think their vote should be a little more limited."

Resident representatives, who were not allowed to vote on the proposed bylaws, argued that the business district was formed after they organized to bring in preferential parking to the eastern end of the Pico business corridor.

"This business came about because of residents," said Faron Isom, who led the push for preferential parking and was elected to the board as a resident representative. "This is not a power grab."

"The reason the neighbors are here is because of the encroachment of business," said resident Peggy Lyons, who also is a member of the board. "We can serve you by deflating the anger. You guys need to understand what this is about."

Residents who sit on the board (the other two are longtime Pico activist Clyde Smith and Dennis Dunbar) will not be allowed to vote on fiscal matters. But they will have a say in shaping policies for the district, which is made up of more than 400 businesses which are levied a special tax to bankroll the organization's $60,000 budget.

Some business leaders argued for the need to include residents in what is perhaps the city's most unique - as well as economically stagnant -- business district, which recently received $7.4 million worth of improvements in an effort to boost its lagging economy.

"We are not a regional destination," said board vice president Tom Burney, who owns the Jiffy Lube franchise on Pico and Cloverfield boulevards. "Most of the businesses live and die providing services for the residents. The way we are shaped and our size calls for unique solutions."

At its first official meeting as a business district, the board also voted to spend 45 percent of its budget on outreach. The focus is far different from merchants on Main Street or Montana Avenue, who spend most of their budget on advertising and marketing.

"Pico is very different," said Dan Ehrler, the executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, which helps the board run its meetings and keep its books. "The goal is to establish it as a known entity clearly defined to businesses and residents.

"We're not looking at making this a destination shopping district," Ehrler said. "Certainly the thrust is outreach to establish this organization as a resource to both businesses and residents."

The 34-block-long commercial strip is perhaps the most diverse in the city. It includes luxury hotels and cheap motels, the City's major high school and college, gas stations, upscale restaurants and fast food chains and several auto repair shops.

Most of the board members, however, represent the eastern edge of Pico, which has experienced a parking crunch caused in part by three popular restaurants, Trader Joe's and McCabe's Guitar Shop, which holds weekend concerts.

Some board members think the bylaws should require resident representatives of the four mini-districts carved out by the board.

"Why should you have three or four residents from one isolated part of Pico," Stollings said. "The improvement district covers all of Pico. Where are those residents?"

Board president Jim Stebinger said that the board is made up of those members who have shown interest in serving.

"We sent out mailings and did a lot of things and we have the people that came around at the beginning," Stebinger said. "The residents that have shown up are four, and they have stayed with us."

The chamber's Ehrler notes that the bylaws approved by the board on Tuesday can always be changed.

"If in a month or three months if the people don't like how the organization is structured, then they can change the bylaws at a general meeting," Ehrler said.

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