San Jose leaders eager to renew special downtown commercial district
An aerial view of downtown San Jose. File photo.

    A special district that provides extra cleaning and security to downtown San Jose property owners is up for renewal next year, and local stakeholders are eager to keep it running for another decade.

    San Jose’s downtown property-based improvement district (PBID) expires in December 2022, and the San Jose Downtown Association and local businesses are making sure it gets renewed.

    PBIDs are quasi-public entities that take money from property owners to pay for additional services in commercial districts. Payment is generally assessed based on the size of a parcel and is collected from both residential and commercial properties. San Jose established its downtown PBID in August 2007 and renewed it again in 2012, with property owners agreeing to extend it for 10 years.

    Renewing the district is a lengthy process that will take several months. Property owners must first review and vote on a draft management plan that outlines new district boundaries, services and costs. If the petition is successful, owners vote again after receiving information about the anticipated assessment rates for their property. If that’s approved, the City Council votes to ratify the renewal.

    But renewal appears highly likely given the historic popularity of the program with downtown San Jose businesses. The last time the PBID was up for renewal in 2012, more than 90% of property owners voted in favor of extending it, said Chloe Shipp, director of open spaces for San Jose Downtown Association.

    The committee managing PBID is considering adding more services. But the biggest selling point of the district is Groundwerx, a PBID-funded program that employs homeless and low-income residents to clean up trash and graffiti. In the city’s core, where blight and economic stress have grown worse during the pandemic, these services are now considered essential.

    “I think our Groundwerx program is the best thing to point to,” Shipp told San Jose Spotlight. “We’ve added additional services since then, and I think they’re all meaningful, but imagine if Groundwerx went away tomorrow?”

    Groundwerx crews removed 768 tons of debris, pressure-washed buildings and sidewalks for 64,691 hours and removed 219,461 graffiti tags between 2008 and 2017. The program also employs ambassadors who offer directions to visitors and provide safety escorts within the district.

    Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Silicon Valley, said he’s personally chased people off who tagged the windows of his buildings. His organization’s office used to be at 3rd and East Santa Clara Street.

    King said Groundwerx crews cleaned up the area. But he was also impressed with the little touches the PBID helped fund, like setting up art displays and flowerpots downtown.

    “They did a number of little things, but altogether really fostered a sense of community,” King said. “They fostered a sense that San Jose was a nice place to live and work, and those little things, they’re hard to measure, but it had a great positive psychological impact for those who spend so much of our day in the downtown area.”

    Blage Zelalich, San Jose’s downtown manager, said attractive storefronts and clean streets don’t directly contribute to an economic system but they do encourage growth.

    Zelalich, who sits on the PBID board of directors and on the renewal steering committee, told San Jose Spotlight the city strongly supports renewing the district.

    “The services the PBID provides are enhanced services, over and above what the city did previously or could currently provide,” she said.

    Shipp said the committee is finalizing its management plan, which includes a possible expansion of the district’s boundaries around the downtown corridor. The district may eventually include portion of North San Pedro, the area north of St. James Park, a small extension along East Santa Clara Street, an extension on 2nd Street, an extension on Almaden Boulevard, and a portion of downtown west.

    “We originally had a lot of requests to go everywhere, but part of the PBID process is to pare down where you can legally go,” Shipp said, noting that some areas, such as neighborhoods zoned for residential, can’t be included. One councilmember, Magdalena Carrasco, wants to create a PBID in the Alum Rock neighborhood next year.

    Sam Washington, president of the Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce, said downtown San Jose hasn’t suffered the same kind of crime as other Bay Area cities because of Groundwerx’s presence. He’s in favor of maintaining the program and said it would be a good idea for the city to encourage PBIDs in other parts of the city.

    “When you move or buy into a neighborhood, you want reasonable safety. You want reasonable upkeep,” Washington told San Jose Spotlight. “The PBID is a great idea for neighborhoods that can afford to do it.”

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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