CALEXICO — Although just a fraction of Calexico’s retailers remain open as “essential” businesses, the council moved forward with plans to collect tens of thousands of dollars in Business Improvement District (BID) fees, just not right away.
The Calexico City Council on April 1 unanimously approved an option that allowed “businesses to get some oxygen in them again, and get up and running,” Assistant City Manager Miguel Figueroa said when presenting the council with an alternative that moved the assessments forward, but on a slower timeline.
In a single decision, the council approved a 2019 report on the BID and approved its intention to collect BID fees from the roughly 445 businesses in the district for the 2020 calendar year after staging a public hearing to determine if there was ample opposition to levying the assessments.
Public Hearing Elicits Single Comment
The hearing was initially opened at the city’s March 25 meeting but continued so that any opposition comments could be sent in from the public. April 1 was the second meeting closed to the public since social distancing was instituted to limit the spread of COVID-19, and comments were to be received via email to the city clerk.
Only one member of the community emailed any statement against the assessments. No one emailed in favor.
“How can we at this time when businesses are closed think about levying the calendar year 2020 assessment for the Calexico Business Improvement District?” asked citizen Ben Horton through City Clerk Gabby Garcia, who read Horton’s comment into the record. “Where’s the documentation and transparency to justify levying of the whole calendar year 2020 assessment?”
To implement mandated social distancing and stay-at-home orders, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and local Public Health Officer, Dr. Stephen Munday, ordered all “nonessential businesses” in Imperial County closed March 20 and 21. The closures have been extended until further notice.
For the commercial locations that make up the BID, which are predominantly located in the beleaguered downtown shopping district and along Imperial Avenue, that has meant they have been forced to cease operations or face fines of up to $10,000 a day or 90 days in jail, the city’s police chief has said.
With the exception of those businesses that provide vital services to local residents, such as grocery stores, takeout or drive-through restaurants, gas stations, banks and other businesses that have been deemed essential to living, other businesses like clothing stores, nail salons, bars, fitness clubs and dine-in portions of eating establishments are temporarily shuttered.
Figueroa Justifies Moving Forward
With the April 1 hearing still open, Figueroa, the city’s staff member who counsels the five-member BID advisory board, explained the city has not collected fees from the businesses in the district for two to four years.
“Considering the current conditions, one of the things I want to be clear is, that we’ve been playing catch-up to make sure that, one, the BID is fulfilling its mission to assist the businesses it covers in both zones.” Figueroa said. “Not actually being active as it should, the actual levy was not assessed those years.”
When the BID was brought back last year, it still had a substantial war chest from its previous operation, somewhere around $45,000, according to the 2019 report.
Assessing the fees at a rate of $100 from the yearly renewal of business licenses for merchants in the district, the assessment is expected to bring in $44,500 for 2020.
Option Meant to Help Shuttered Shops
Under the option presented to the council, Figueroa suggested the hearing be closed, the council accept the 2019 report and plan to collect the 2020 fees after the businesses open again, “which we anticipate is going to happen before the end of the year,” the assistant city manager added.
The council agreed.
The fees, for the most part, are used for the staging of events promoting the downtown, for other marketing efforts and for business retention. Some council members have said they would like to see the BID fees also be used to help beautify the district and chip in for security.
Often referred to as a downtown district by its critics, the BID is divided into two zones. Zone one includes the businesses from First to Fourth streets and from Mary Avenue west to Paulin Avenue. Zone two is Paulin Avenue west to Emerson Avenue (with Imperial Avenue located between) and from the border north to Highway 98/Birch Avenue.
An additional point of contention brought up by Calexico City Council Member Lewis Pacheco was ensuring that not all the money spent on marketing continue to go to one individual. While he didn’t name him, Pacheco was clearly referring to Tony Dominguez, owner of the publication, El Lechugon/Hechos Y Opinion, who according to the 2019 BID report, was paid $29,910 of $45,114 in 2019 promotional expenses.
Figueroa told Pacheco that part of what city staff has been helping the advisory board to do was develop a request-for-proposals process to take effect in 2021.
“By fall of 2020, we would know who would win that bid” for promotional services, Figueroa said, which would increase transparency.
Calexico Buys a New Pothole Truck
During the only other action item at the April 1 meeting, the council approved unanimously spending $213,000 to buy a new asphalt patch truck for the Public Works Department’s streets division.
The purchase replaced an asphalt patch truck the city bought in 1991 that had been broken down, Public Works Manager Liliana Falomir told the council. The truck had been used to help fill potholes around the city.
Rather than go through a competitive bidding process, the truck will be purchased through a “cooperative purchase agreement” with PB Loader Corp. of Fresno. The total cost of the truck is $213,984 and will be paid for by city’s voter-approved Measure D gas-tax fund. The purchase was already part of the city’s fiscal 2019-2020 budget and did not come out of the general fund.