A three-year-old business assessment district that had become controversial with some of its members was voted off the Avenue at last week’s Solano Avenue Association (SAA) board meeting.
The SAA is the nonprofit corporation that managed the Solano Avenue Business Improvement District, established by the Berkeley City Council to market businesses on Solano and to upgrade the street’s appearance.
But there had been growing opposition to the district. When a reporter informed Greymura Miller, owner of shoe shop Feet of Dreams, of the board vote, she said: “It’s probably a good thing.”
Not everyone benefits from the district, Miller said, ”It should be voluntary.”
Business assessment districts are established by city ordinance. Fees are mandatory for those whose businesses are located within the district boundaries. Solano Avenue fees ranged from $65 to $500 annually depending on the business location, size and category.
The BID raised about $29,000 annually. Albany merchants joined the Solano Avenue Association voluntarily. The difference between the voluntary and mandatory membership was problematic for some.
About 80 merchants signed petitions in December of last year opposing the district. Business owners representing more than half the total assessment value would have had to sign on to the opposition, but those opposing represented only $14,000 out of $34,000, not enough to force the district’s demise.
But the continued dissent among some of the merchants over the question pushed the board to capitulate rather than fight. “There were a few disgruntled people who objected. It was not worth the fight.” said Jan Snidow, owner of Powder Box Salon and member of the SAA and (formerly) BID boards.
“I’m very sad; it was a good idea,” Snidow said, noting the volunteer board members “worked tirelessly” to produce some of the events that bring crowds to Solano Avenue—the Halloween Party, Christmas and spring events, the Solano Stroll.
Snidow said she thinks most the Berkeley merchants will pay the fees as voluntary membership dues to the SAA.
While one of the frequent arguments against the district has been that not everyone benefits from BID services equally, Snidow pointed out that the assessment is similar to property taxes. She said she pays school taxes but has no children. “Maybe one of the children will be a future president,” she said.
Technically, the BID still lives. The board resigned and there is no assessment. That’s less complicated than demolishing the district, said Dave Fogarty, economic development manager.