Bartl: Center city benefits from San Jose Downtown Association
Groundwerx pressure washer Mike Thibodeau cleans Second Street in downtown San Jose. Photo courtesy of SJDA.

A recent San José Spotlight column disapproved of San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA) Executive Director Scott Knies and called for SJDA to be replaced as manager of the downtown Property Based Improvement District (PBID).  As president of the PBID Board of Directors, I offer these facts about our organization.

The PBID originally formed in 2007 when downtown property owners signed petitions and then voted to assess themselves to fund dedicated clean, safe and beautification services. At a time when the city and Redevelopment Agency were strapped for resources and cutting basic services, SJDA organized its downtown owners to support a new assessment district to benefit the entire center city.

SJDA created the Groundwerx brand and developed a management plan – that ultimately had to be approved by the City Council. Since its inception, and subsequent renewal in 2012, the PBID has adhered to its management plan. Governed by an independent board, we have an agreement with SJDA to manage the PBID. The district receives no public subsidies and is funded completely through property assessments, foundation grants and fee-for-service contracts.

Groundwerx clean teams operate seven days a week and pick up litter and leaves; sweep and machine-vacuum public areas; pressure-wash sidewalks; remove human and animal waste; clean and detail receptacles and furniture; remove graffiti tags and stickers; and perform maintenance services such as pole-painting, paver-repair, weed-removal and refinishing of street benches. Last year, Groundwerx staff scraped more than 16 pounds of gum wads stuck to our sidewalks.

The Groundwerx staff begin shifts at 6 a.m. and are frequently the first point of contact for downtown’s homeless population. We coordinate closely with outreach and behavioral health service providers working for the city and county.

The PBID features a unique partnership with Downtown Streets Team and the city of San Jose Housing Department where homeless individuals gain work experience providing pan and broom cleaning in the district. Last year, of the 67 unduplicated participants in the program, 16 gained employment and five were housed. Groundwerx currently employs nine “graduates” of the program — all whom are paid in compliance with San Jose’s living wage ordinance.

We don’t just clean the downtown. The PBID is responsible for most of downtown’s street trees, and last year trimmed 606 of them. All those beautiful plants and flowers in hanging baskets, pots, saucers and planters throughout the district? PBID installs, waters and replants them all – more than 3,300 last year alone.

The PBID’s Street Life projects include decorative lighting, murals, dog parks and art crosswalks but our best-known project is the award-winning MOMENT at San Pedro Squared, where 12 parking spaces in the city’s Market/San Pedro Square garage were converted into four micro-retail units serving entry-level entrepreneurs.

Our Business Development services help recruit and retain district businesses, providing assistance with city permits, available space and pedestrian counts all while working in close coordination with the city’s Small Business Ally program.

Safety is another primary service of the PBID. Our ambassador team promotes a friendly downtown by providing a uniformed presence, making business contacts, reporting issues, offering directions and safety escorts. The PBID enhanced-security program hires off-duty San Jose Police officers to focus on quality-of-life issues in the district, averaging 50 hours a week.

The PBID is an unsung asset for downtown. We don’t do events, politics or promotions. We do the jobs we say we are going to do in our management plan. This is specialized work that requires hands-on management and accountability for the delivery of services. Most of all, it requires trust of the property owners paying the assessments. SJDA must earn that trust each day.

Doug Bartl is a director of real estate and facilities at Oracle and the president of the PBID Board of Directors.

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