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Is Your Biz In A Business Improvement District? City Reports Show Not All Owners Know

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By Tarryn Mento
Logo for K P B S San Diego

Along El Cajon Boulevard in the city of San Diego, you can grab ethnic cuisine at a weekly food fair, access free expertise to upgrade your bicycle and celebrate the weekend at an open-air market.

The community events are among the efforts of the El Cajon Boulevard Improvement Association, which manages a city-designated business improvement district, or BID, that collects fees from area store owners to promote and maintain the commercial area. A recent report found many businesses did not know they were part of the El Cajon BID, which spans six mid-city neighborhoods, including City Heights.

According to the city’s Economic Development Department, 52 percent of 77 surveyed entities were unaware of their membership. El Cajon Boulevard BIA President Tootie Thomas said the results from the city’s April canvassing event were actually encouraging because that means 48 percent are familiar with the association, which represents hundreds of businesses.

“It’s four and a half miles of businesses, 1,050 businesses. For our organization to be on a first-name basis with all of them…you know it’s sort of a pipe dream. But we can keep encouraging that,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the organization recently hired a new staff member to boost its presence in the community.

“And she goes out every day and meets businesses, talks with business owners,” Thomas said.

Previous surveys by the Economic Development Department show awareness was less in other districts, including the Pacific Beach BID and the Diamond Business Improvement District in southeast San Diego, which had 41 percent and 50 percent awareness respectively.

Three other districts had higher rates of awareness among surveyed entities: College Area (63 percent); Hillcrest (74 percent) and Mission Hills (87 percent).

One possible reason is because some associations have existed longer than others. According to the Economic Development Department, El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association has existed for three decades and manged the BID for the last 20 years, while the Hillcrest Business Association has been around for almost 100 years and managed its BID for 33 years.

Annual fees can range from $40 to $500, although assessments for newer BIDs may be as high as $1,200 or even up to $5,000 for “anchor businesses,” the city’s website said.

During the survey on El Cajon Boulevard, city staff and volunteers also asked businesses about issues in the community. The homeless population, infrastructure maintenance, vandalism and parking were among the top areas of concern.

This year the city will conduct two other BID surveys, during which staff and volunteers also inform proprietors about city and community programs that could boost their operations.

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