In my tenure at City Hall, I’ve learned that the best news—even the news with the broadest and biggest positive impact–often doesn’t make the 10 o’clock news.
Here’s the latest news that the media (mostly) missed: in June, Downtown property owners overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves to renew their investment in the Downtown’s aesthetic revival.
For this, we owe a big debt of thanks to the leadership of Scott Knies, the Executive Director of the San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA), and a group of committed Downtown businesspeople. Over a half decade ago, Knies recruited Chuck Hammers, CEO of Pizza My Heart to lead several other business owners to focus on a simple objective: making Downtown “sparkle.” Since the creation of the Property-Based Improvement District (PBID) in 2007, property owners—including businesses, office landlords, and homeowners—have willingly taxed themselves to pay for enhanced beautification, cleaning, and security in the Downtown.
The results have been palpable:
The PBID deployed Groundwerx crews to clean graffiti, power-wash and porter sidewalks, trim trees, and pick up trash. Large pots and small hanging flower baskets added color to the streetscape, and decorative tree lighting brightened dark corners. Murals appeared along South First and South Second Streets, and whimsical designs and photography covered unsightly utility boxes. Teams of Groundwerx ambassadors directed wayward visitors, and provided an additional set of eyes (and cell phones) to deter nuisance crimes.
Who pays for all of this? These improvements result from the willingness of Downtown property owners to tax themselves to pay for the PBID’s $2.3 million annual budget. Last month, over 91% of them (astoundingly) voted to do just that. The overwhelming support for this fee speaks volumes about the extraordinary job that PBID general manager Eric Hon and others have done to provide high-value services for the property owners’ investment.
Critically, these improvements came just as San José suffered the first blows of the Great Recession, and as the Downtown’s “sugar daddy,” the Redevelopment Agency was relegated to extinction. The PBID has clearly sustained the Downtown through this difficult time. The Board’s plan for the coming term addresses many of the urgent contemporary concerns of vacancy, crime, and homelessness. Knies and the PBID board has proposed allocating funding for additional police foot patrols, homeless outreach, and assisting restaurants, shops, and other small businesses seeking permits and city approvals.
We hope their future performance will mirror their past success. As vacancies begin to fill and new high-rise construction resumes in the coming year, we will have Knies and many community-minded business people to thank for our sparkling Downtown.