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Downtown Santa Monica Considers Expanding Property Tax District

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 10, 2014 -- The Downtown Santa Monica property assessment district that funds the area’s maintenance, marketing and other services is set to expand.

The City Council Tuesday approved to plans by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. -- the nonprofit that oversees the bayside city’s economic hub -- to explore expanding the Property Based Assessment District (PBAD) to include Colorado and Lincoln boulevards in anticipation of the influx of visitors that will come with the completion of the Expo light rail in 2016.

By levying fees ranging from about $0.80 to $0.07 per square foot on properties within the PBAD, the district raises about $3.5 million a year for advertising, extra maintenance services and the Downtown’s Ambassador Program.

“More pedestrians will use Colorado over the next few years to access the train and Downtown and, of course, the housing, the hotels and the new mixed use in the area will add a new vitality to kind of a sleepy spot,” Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson told the Council Tuesday.

Citing the expected 2016 completion of the Expo line, which will connect Downtown Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles by train, and the City’s proposed overhaul of Colorado Avenue west of Fifth Street, Rawson said the area will likely need more services.

“These two major investments Downtown will create a new pedestrian concentration in that area which is currently very limited with service,” she said.

The Expo light rail, which has operated between Culver City and Downtown Los Angeles since April 2012, averages 25,000 commuters daily and, that number is expected to rise when the line is complete.

She added that business owners along Lincoln Avenue have also expressed interest in becoming part of the PBAD, since it could help integrate the area with the rest of the Downtown.

The money could help expand the Downtown’s Ambassador program, placing people near the Expo light rail station at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue to help passengers find their way around.

“We’re going to need not just signage wayfinding, but we’re also going to need human wayfinding,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis Tuesday.

“When you get off the Expo now, you’ve got the big Bloomingdale’s wall of terror in front of you, she said. And it will be important to let “people know that beyond that wall lies great and wonderful things like the Promenade,” she said.

Rawson reiterated that the process is only just beginning and that in order to be included in the PBAD, a majority of the property owners in the area must vote on it.

One major question that must still be answered is exactly how much will property owners pay in the potential two new areas. For that, officials said, more study needs to be done.

Currently, commercial property owners on and around the Promenade pay the most per square foot -- around $0.80 -- because they are located in the area “receiving most benefit,” according to the City.

Residential properties and nonprofits throughout the PBAD are assessed at lower rates -- from $0.56 to $0.07 a square foot -- than commercial properties.

Since the PBAD was created in 2007, Rawson said it has been a huge success.

“Year after year, we receive high marks from our residents, shopkeepers and property owners for the services we provide,” she said.

Councilmember Ted Winterer added that as part of the study process, staff might consider looking at Lincoln Boulevard south of the freeway, an area where an assessment district “seems to me much needed.”

As part of Tuesday’s vote, the Council committed to split the cost -- up to $55,000 -- with Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. to study the impacts of expanding the PBAD.

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