La Jolla Business Improvement District holds first meeting

Tables were turned on the directors of Promote La Jolla last week, when two city officials led the first meeting of the La Jolla Business Improvement District.

Following the regular monthly PLJ meeting, the board moved into the audience seats, and Beth Murray of the city’s Economic Development Department and Meredith Dibden-Brown of the small business office worked their way through an agenda and some explanations about how the interim business district will work.

“This is an opportunity for the businesses to hear what’s going on,” Dibden-Brown said, noting that the purpose of the separate meeting was because Promote La Jolla — which lost its contract as the Village business district after a city audit alleged that it had misused funds or double-billed for some parts of its operation — is a separate legal entity.

Although her office had sent out letters to the more than 1,000 businesses in the Village district, only a couple of people came — and they sat through the PLJ meeting and left before the five board members present took their seats in the audience. Four of those five (Rick Wildman, Jennifer Clark, Glen Rasmussen and Daisy Fitzgerald) are now designated advisers to the new business district.

Wildman suggested in January that the La Jolla Town Council look into becoming the city-sanctioned business district at some point. On Feb. 11, he was announced (along with Clark and Rasmussen) as one of the 12 candidates for the 13 open spots on the council.

As it stands now, there is a distinct line between PLJ and the city-directed group, but Dibden-Brown and Murray are looking to the advisers who will carry PLJ’s recommendations forward and recommend activities and projects. Once recommendations are presented and approved by the city staff, all contracts and payments must be approved and paid by the city, Dibden-Brown stressed.

The only exceptions are rent, utilities and payment to Maryam Bakhsh for her work, which Dibden-Brown said cannot be paid because of city regulations. She also cited the fact that the city doesn’t have a contract with the landlord so it can’t pay the rent.

Instead, they are working on a contract with the La Jolla Town Council Foundation to serve as an intermediary on those bills, she said, with the city possibly advancing money to the foundation to cover those costs.

The matter has also complicated Bakhsh’s employment because the city cannot hire her and neither can the foundation. Instead, she has to be employed through a temporary agency, meaning the district must pay their administrative fees.

PLJ Vice President Clark, who sat through both meetings, called the process “very difficult.”

Murray, one of those who has been involved in finding a way to get some money back to assist the local business community with promotional events and things such as street cleanup, responded: “This has never been done before ... we’re all struggling through it.”

She noted that because of a lawsuit against the city, accounting procedures had been tightened dramatically and added that previously “we could walk down the hall” to expedite a project. “Now everything has to have a purchase order.”

While Promote La Jolla itself is essentially insolvent with bills outstanding, some fees collected while the group was still an officially sanctioned city organization are in an account that is untouchable until the “audit investigation” is completed, Dibden-Brown said.

The city auditor referred the matter to the city attorney’s office. On Feb. 10, the city attorney’s communications director, Gina Coburn, wrote in an e-mail that “we are not able to discuss the matter at this time.”