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PLJ to make case to City Council

Unless the City Council reinstates Promote La Jolla as a business improvement district, the merchant group could be out of business by October, its president said last week.

But the board is not willing to give up without a fight and is encouraging members to send letters of support to all city council members and planning director William Anderson, whose office oversees the small-business programs.

“I think we’re making a lot of progress,” President Rick Wildman said at the Sept. 9 board meeting.

He said he has requested that the matter of their operating agreement with the city on the Sept. 22 City Council agenda so they can describe what they’ve done to resolve issues raised by city auditor. At the end of June, the auditor reported that the organization had misused or double-billed for city funds to the tune of more than $112,000.

Wildman and PLJ vice president Jennifer Clark and secretary Glen Rasmussen all said they will speak to the council when the matter comes up.

Rasmussen noted that PLJ, which used to supplement street cleaning and trash pickup, “can’t even provide the basic services. If this has done anything, it’s made everyone aware of what the BID did … in terms of the appearance of the streets.”

Board member Shannon Turnner added, “This needs to end so we can do what we need to do.”

In June, the city froze reimbursements for all of of PLJ’s expenses and quit collecting fees from merchants in the 30-block Village area.

As of last week’s treasurer’s report, PLJ has $10,462 in its accounts and about $14,000 in outstanding bills. Treasurer Daisy Fitzgerald reported that August expenses totaled $$6,100 and income was $1,600, in part from fees paid to hang street banners.

The group has only been paying rent, phone bills and a fee to Maryam Bakhsh. She is a part-time employee who had helped administer the reduced-rate parking and bus pass program PLJ coordinated for the Coastal Access & Parking Board.

After the departure of former executive director Tiffany Sherer, Bakhsh was hired to pore over the organization’s books in an effort to justify reimbursements and hopefully clear up the $46,747 that the city auditor said was either double-billed or inappropriately spent.

The remaining money is money that PLJ was holding for the parking board. First Republic took the CD and used it to clear PLJ’s debt for a line of credit that was overdue. The city auditor’s report noted the money belongs to the city and will have to be repaid by PLJ.

Bakhsh said she’s close to completing that task and has already submitted two years’ documentation to the city’s small business office, which has been working with PLJ to try and clear up the problems. She has one more to go, she said last week.

Meanwhile, Wildman sent a letter to First Republic asking if they could reconstitute the certificate of deposit. If they can’t, he added, they’ll have to “work out another alternative.”

City officials have said before PLJ can be reinstated, it must complete an independent audit, which Wildman said should be completed soon; clear up the $47,000 discrepancies, and resolve the CD with the bank.

With two out of the three matters nearing resolution, he said, they need to convince the city to allow them to operate and receive funds again.

Meanwhile, PLJ’s board will hold off on elections, which normally would be held in October, move forward with plans for the Nov. 5 Gallery & Wine Walk & Taste of Village restaurants, and continue to seek volunteers to support the efforts of the combined PLJ-La Jolla Town Council Streetscape Committee.