A special district that provides extra cleaning and security to downtown San Jose property owners may be extended for another decade.
San Jose’s downtown property-based improvement district (PBID) tax, which expires in December, has renewal support from more than 50% of the residents and businesses who pay for these services, according to Chloe Shipp, director of public space operations for the San Jose Downtown Association.
The City Council unanimously supported the district to move forward with a vote to extend the tax for another 10 years. Ballots will be sent out to property owners in the special district this week to cast their vote for renewal by June 7.
The PBID is often associated with the Groundwerx program that employs homeless and low-income residents to clean up trash and graffiti. It’s considered an essential service as blight and economic stress have grown worse during the pandemic.
“There’s a lot that’s really positive (about PBID),” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “It’s not just the cleaning and beautifying, but also the outreach and help with the unhoused and so I’m just very grateful.”
The PBID is a quasi-public entity that takes money from local property owners to pay for additional services in commercial districts. Payment is assessed based on the size of a parcel and is collected from both residential and commercial properties. It is run by the San Jose Downtown Association in coordination with the city. The downtown PBID was established in August 2007 and renewed again in 2012, with more than 90% of property owners voting in favor of extending it.
The tax is expected to generate roughly $5.2 million annually, but could go up as fees are allowed to increase by 5% every year.
Derrick Seaver, president and CEO of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, said Groundwerx is the “top benefit” of the PBID.
“The ability to keep the downtown clean and vibrant is so important for so many businesses that have customer-facing storefronts in the downtown,” Seaver told San José Spotlight.
He said the special improvement district helps retain businesses and residents while encouraging consumers and new tenants to come into downtown.
Frances Wong, spokesperson for Team San Jose, agreed and said it’s important to boost tourism in the city.
“Our downtown is an important gateway for travelers and guests that stay at hotels, attend a conference at the convention center or see a show at one of our performing arts venues,” Wong told San José Spotlight.
About 77% of the funds generated by the tax goes to beautification and cleanup services, such as Groundwerx. The remaining funds go to economic vitality activities including helping small businesses with permits and marketing.
An average homeowner pays about $200 a year, according to Scott Knies, CEO of the San Jose Downtown Association.
Elizabeth Chien-Hale, president of the San Jose Downtown Residents Association and candidate for the downtown District 3 council seat, said most association members are incredibly supportive of the special assessment.
“We get tangential benefits,” Chien-Hale told San José Spotlight. “More foot traffic, more economic activities downtown, but I think for us most immediately is what Groundwerx is doing.”
The proposed downtown PBID is slightly different that what exists now, with expanded boundaries and only one payment option. It would have more cleaning and safety services.
New services include a social impact team to provide services to the unhoused population such as bathroom access while helping connect them with other service providers. Groundwerx will also increase from 29 to 41 employees.
In the last 10 years, property owners had basic or premium service as assigned by the management plan. Now all property owners will have premium services.
For those on the basic service, rates will increase slightly so commercial and enterprise government parcels pay $0.1339 per lot and building square foot, while residential, nonprofit and traditional government parcels will be assessed at $0.1083 per lot and building square foot.
If expanded and renewed, the plan will head to the Santa Clara County Department of Tax and Collections in August for collection through property tax bills in fiscal year 2022-23.
Julie Pollitt, president of the homeowners association at Paseo Plaza, said while she supports the tax, she wonders if there’s a more cost-effective solution.
“My question is, why does the city not already do the cleaning, why a separate entity?” Pollitt said, sharing her personal opinion and not that of the neighborhood group. “I know government isn’t always the most efficient and effective so maybe an organization like PBID works better. But if I’m still paying for the same services to the city, I sure would like to know.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said property owners could choose service levels.