La Jolla merchants to redouble outreach in 2014, encourage businesses to pay BID fees

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The Merchants Association’s new board president, architect Claude-Anthony Marengo (left), said he envisions the group as an advocate to help business owners find ‘loopholes’ allowing them to navigate more rapidly through the city permitting process. Board vice-president Mark Krasner looks on.

By Pat Sherman

Following a year of grand plans — albeit lagging revenues — the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) discussed ways to further engage merchants in its mission to improve the business climate in La Jolla.

During a strategic planning session held during the group’s regular monthly meeting on Jan. 8 at the Cuvier Club, the LJVMA’s new board president, Claude-Anthony Marengo, and its executive director, Sheila Fortune, put out an all-hands-on-deck call for board members to pay regular visits to member businesses — a task formerly handled primarily by LJVMA’s “Block Captains” committee.

Block Captains are tasked with visiting local merchants to educate them on the association and its activities, and to assure they are paying the appropriate fees.

Of more than 1,060 registered business owners in La Jolla’s business improvement district (BID), past president Phil Coller said the association has only been able to engage about 50 or so in the group’s improvement objectives, which most recently included the push to rid La Jolla Cove of its acrid, business-deterring odor.

“If they all became enthusiastic and engaged … it would help enhance their business experience (so they could) sell more (products) or more services,” Coller said.

Each business falling within La Jolla’s business improvement district is assessed a fee of $45-$350 to fund the LJVMA. The fee is based on the size and type of business, and in which of the Village’s three commercial zones it falls. La Jolla’s is one of the largest of San Diego’s 18 such districts.

A BID fee is assessed annually when a business owner pays their business tax certificate (formerly business license) fee. However, BID fees are billed separately, and many business owners become delinquent on their BID fees or fail to pay them entirely, resulting in a loss of revenue for BID groups, such as the LJVMA, to promote their district.

Several business owners contacted by the LJVMA said they were not operating with a business tax certificate (and thus not assessed a BID fee).

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La Jolla Village Merchants Association past board president Phil Coller (center) outlines difficulties the association faced in realizing its mission during his three-year tenure. Board members, including James Niebling (left) and secretary Krista Baroudi, listen in.

During visits to businesses on their block or in their designated area, board members will also be responsible for informing merchants about fees they are required to pay the LJVMA for placing signage, merchandise or promotional items within the public right-of-way (PROW) — another source of income for the LJVMA.

An initial permit for outdoor dining tables (sans alcohol) is $500, with a $250 renewal fee. An initial fee of $250 is required for other approved PROW uses, with a $100 annual renewal fee.

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The city’s business improvement district advocate, Elizabeth Studebaker, said BID groups such as the La Jolla Village Merchants Association are the city treasurer’s ‘eyes and ears on the street.’

“That is a lot of money sitting on the table that we’re not getting,” Fortune said, noting that businesses not paying PROW fees will be sent a violation letter and invoice. Signage is not allowed in the PROW.

The city generates a monthly spreadsheet of businesses within each BID that have filed their business tax certificate, though the information is often outdated or incomplete, Fortune said.

Though it was suggested that board members remind each business that they must file a business tax certificate and pay BID fees, Marengo advised, “Let’s look at it as a fact-finding mission (and) take the words ‘policing’ out of the picture. … Let’s collect the information tactfully and put it together so that we can get the proper information to the city and make everybody equal in terms of paying their BID (fees).”

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