CITYWIDE — The outlook for small businesses in Santa Monica is improving, but there’s more that City Hall and the City Council can do to help spur on the economic engine.
That’s the message leaders of Santa Monica’s four business improvement districts (BIDs) will try to impart to the City Council in a special study session scheduled for Tuesday.
The four BIDs — Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the Main Street Business Improvement Association, the Montana Avenue Merchants Association and the Pico Improvement Organization — were created by ordinance of the City Council to improve the economic condition of their respective areas.
They represent 20 percent of Santa Monica’s 6,500 businesses, largely consisting of small retail shops and restaurants.
Each BID pays for marketing, supplemental services and promotional events for their area, funded either through assessments on property owners, businesses or both.
All four BIDs were hard-hit by the downturn in the economy, and despite the extra support, with the exception of the Third Street Promenade, BIDs are recovering more slowly than the city as a whole, according to the staff report.
The Montana Avenue Merchants Association reported two years of dramatic losses, a 12.6 percent decrease in 2007-08 and a 15.7 percent decrease the next year.
“We obviously went through a fairly rough period during the height of the global financial crisis,” said Mark Wain, head of the organization.
That’s part of the reason that the BIDs are coming together formally for what many believe to be the first time to tell the City Council what they need to be successful.
A survey of the BIDs by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce laid out a simple message — City Hall needs to make sure it either supports businesses, or gets out of the way.
BIDs want an ombudsman at City Hall to deal with their problems, more joint events with City Hall, quarterly walk-throughs with City Hall liaisons, consistency in enforcement for new businesses and remodels and a shuttle to get future light rail riders into the various districts.
The last person at City Hall charged with the responsibility to help businesses, David Martin, was elevated to the position of planning director.
Now, each department will have one go-to person for businesses, staff reported, and those lead contacts will meet on a quarterly basis with chamber staff and representatives of the local business community.
It’s about time, said Robert Kronovet, chair of the Pico Improvement Organization.
“They’re quite good at collecting business licenses, but they need to be better at treating businesses with the respect they deserve,” Kronovet said.
Getting the BID leadership together has been a valuable experience, Wain said.
“The other BIDs are great,” Wain said. “I really enjoyed meeting other people from [Downtown Santa Monica Inc.], Pico, Main Street and getting to bounce ideas off of them and getting to discuss the shared issues that we have.”
The BID leadership will also get an opportunity to present the concerns of their specific areas, which vary greatly between the districts.
While nearly every organization is seeking parking relief, Pico will specifically request more flexibility in the use of outdoor signs, while Downtown Santa Monica Inc. will ask for help with charitable organizations that choose Downtown to host meals for the homeless.
BID leadership have hope that the council will listen to their reports and move expeditiously to help support small business and the Santa Monica economy, Wain said.
“We love Santa Monica, and we love that the City Council is taking this step in what we feel is the right direction to work with the business community,” Wain said.