Move cautiously on business district plan


La Jolla’s downtown merchants finally have some action from the city in terms of getting a seemingly immovable rock called the Business Improvement District rolling again.

With efforts by Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, the city’s assistant chief operating officer and the head of the city’s small business office, there’s hope that the things that Promote La Jolla did around the Village will get done again. But is the solution what’s right for La Jolla, we wonder?

The deal proposed by the city for its own staff to run the business improvement district and its finances — with Promote La Jolla in an advisory role — won’t come to fruition until after the first of the year. And it’s still dependent on City Council approval.

While the idea seems workable in concept, we must question whether this means once again that La Jolla loses control of its destiny if the city controls the purse strings.

Since June when PLJ, the group that had been contracted to run the business district — and the city’s processes — ran into the city auditor’s cross hairs, the overall cleanliness of the shopping district and the ability to advertise and plan events have suffered. With no money coming to the district, no one could be paid.

The landscape company hung on for a while until they couldn’t give their services any more; the Urban Corps quit coming to supplement street cleanup. The La Jolla Motorcar Classic moved to the La Jolla Historical Society and the community has had to raise funds to pay for holiday decorations.

Even ConVis has looked at, but apparently given up on, the idea of shutting the Visitor Information Center that was a joint effort with PLJ.

Now it looks like some of these activities could have new life by early next year, but at what cost to local control.

Will the city trust the Promote La Jolla board to represent merchants’ interests or will they look to a handful of representatives.

And what if the city staffers “managing” the district don’t like the advice the local representatives give? Does the city council have to break the ties? Or will it fall to someone in the mayor’s office?

Who at City Hall will handle the workload, considering the prospects of budget cuts ahead? Will they pluck an administrative fee out of the 18 or so business improvement district budgets to pay for more bureaucracy?

Will Promote La Jolla be allowed to hire an executive director or will the city staff take over those day-to-day responsibilities that Tiffany Sherer handled?

What if the people overseeing the business districts decide to come up with some plan that they think will work throughout the city and the locals don’t think it applies to La Jolla?

Conceptually, this plan should set new standards for training business improvement district leaders and staff and for keeping track of city monies that are being spent in a diverse mix of neighborhoods with a common purpose: to bring shoppers, diners and visitors to the city.

We’re not quite ready to jump on board. Let’s get some answers to the details to assure everyone this won’t be another layer of bureaucracy that takes local control out of La Jollans’ hands.