DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It has been eight months since a judge ordered the dissolution of the Arts District Business Improvement District. In that time, property crime, trash piles and graffiti all spiked in the bustling neighborhood.

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Perhaps more problematic has been the ongoing battle between two neighborhood groups competing to create a successor BID. In late December, one group, Arts District Los Angeles, received city approval to bring its plan to area property owners. Last week ADLA’s assessment ballots — the approval of those who own a majority of area property is required to launch the BID — began hitting mailboxes in the proposed BID boundary: the 101 Freeway to the north, Seventh Street to the south, Alameda Street to the west and the L.A. River to the east. 

Several properties within that area, however, are not included in the ADLA’s BID plan. Their absence is one of several  “defects” that the rival group, the Arts District Community Council Los Angeles, claims should have stopped the city from approving the plan.

Because the first plan forged on, the ADCCLA has accused the city of showing favoritism. So, if property owners approve it and the City Council ratifies the ADLA’s BID in February, opponents indicated litigation may ensue. Again. 

“It looks like the city is adamant on forcing us to use the legal system again,” said Yuval Bar-Zemer, a founding board member of ADCCLA.

Bar-Zemer is a principal in the firm Linear City, which developed several large housing properties in the Arts District. He was one of the landowners who filed the lawsuit against the city that led to Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien’s ruling to dissolve the BID. O’Brien found that the former entity’s practice of using assessment dollars to pay for economic development-related services that benefited the general public, and not just the property owners, violated state law.

Problematic Petitions

In order to form a BID, organizations need to create a management plan, have it approved by the city, then send it out for a public vote. Only those who own land or condominiums — and not renters — get to cast a ballot. People are taxed according to how much property they own.

The city has not approved the management district plan for Bar-Zemer’s group, said Interim City Clerk Holly Wolcott. She said the petitions the group mailed out for signatures last fall will have to be revised and re-sent. Even Wolcott’s involvement marks a point of contention: She took over for Miranda Paster, a City Clerk division chief who was bumped from the case after ADCCLA representatives accused her of having a conflict of interest. Wolcott said Paster has been removed from the case while the city attorney reviews the allegations. 

 The old Arts District BID had an annual budget of $1.3 million, with 72% of that money funding clean and safe efforts. Safety officers patrolled the neighborhood on bikes and service crews cleaned up graffiti and trash. 

The trouble began in 2011, when the BID expanded to encompass the area that held, among other new parcels, the condominium complexes developed by Linear City. Bar-Zemer and others launched their challenge, leading to O’Brien’s May 10 ruling. The BID ceased operating within days.

According to statistics from the Los Angeles Police Department, there was a dramatic increase in violent and property crime in the Arts District in the fourth quarter of 2013 over the third quarter. The number of reported incidents jumped from 45 to 59, a 31% spike. Grand theft auto increased from three to eight reported incidents, a 166% increase, and thefts doubled from eight to 16. 

Still, Lt. Armando Munoz said the Arts District has been relatively quiet since a rash of thefts from cars in late spring and early summer. Most importantly, he said, “It is almost completely void of any real serious violent crime.”

Excluded Businesses

Both groups have essentially the same aim, hoping to form an organization that restores clean and safe services to the neighborhood. The biggest difference in agenda may be the ADCCLA’s plan to include a program that also beautifies public spaces in a way that reflects the artistic culture of the community.

Despite the general similarities and calls for compromise, the groups have been unable to work together and have traded accusations. ADLA Steering Committee Member Dilip Bhavnani said his group has not been shown any favoritism by city officials.

“In fact we have been slowed down [in the] process repeatedly because of allegations put forth by the other side, all of which are baseless,” Bhavnani said.

In a Dec. 16 letter, ADCCLA’s Bar-Zemer called the boundary lines submitted by the rival group and approved by the city “blatant gerrymandering.” He said it errs by not including properties such as Urban Radish, Bread Lounge and the coffee roaster Stumptown.  

Those businesses are a vital part of the Arts District that would benefit from BID services, he said.

Bhavnani said his group purposely left out Linear City properties such as Urban Radish and Bread Lounge because Bar-Zemer has repeatedly requested that his holdings not be included in the BID proposal.

“We’ve been through a lawsuit and we don’t want to go through another one,” he said. “If they have the ability to litigate and stall the process, we’re going to be left without any security and maintenance in the neighborhood.” 

The City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the ADLA BID application on Feb. 25. The following day, the City Clerk will certify the results of the assessment vote. At that point, the council will consider ratifying the BID.

donna@downtownnews.com

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014