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Westwood Business Improvement District seeks renewal

By Fiona Kirby

May 17, 2013 1:35 a.m.

The Westwood Business Improvement District, a non-profit organization created to carry out basic maintenance and safety functions in Westwood, is looking to stay intact for another two years as its charter heads into the renewal process.

Westwood residents created the BID in August 2011 to address the maintenance and public safety functions that the city could no longer fulfill on its budget. Since then, the BID has worked with local police, organizations that assist the homeless and maintenance teams in order to make the city seem safer and more beautiful, said Andrew Thomas, the executive director of the Westwood BID.

Fourteen property owners and merchants sit on the organization’s board of directors, overseeing 120 properties valued at just under $1.3 million, Thomas said.

The BID’s current charter will expire on Dec. 31. By the end of the year, commercial property owners in the area will vote on whether to extend the BID’s charter through 2016. The renewal process is comprised of three main steps.

Fifty percent of Westwood business property owners must first support the renewal through a petition that has been circulating in the area since March.

The petition is then reviewed by the Los Angeles Council for the 5th District, which has to verify the petition.

Once verified, the city council puts the renewal as a motion on a ballot, Thomas said.

The ballot motion would collect a tax from business property owners, proportional to their property size, which would go to the BID’s budget. The weight of every business property owner’s vote is proportional to the size of their property, with larger properties bearing more influence, Thomas said.

The petition to keep the Westwood BID reached its 50 percent threshold for property owner support on April 30, and has since been sent to the city council for review.

One of the BID’s programs is an ambassador program, in which groups of volunteers help Westwood visitors and “challenge negative behavior.”

Thomas said the BID works with the Los Angeles and UCLA Police Departments through the ambassador program to increase safety.

The BID also hired maintenance teams seven days a week to do things like clean sidewalks, pull weeds and pick up trash, Thomas said.

The BID’s contract with People Assisting the Homeless provides social service outreach and has currently moved 12 people to temporary or permanent housing.

Many property owners in Westwood said they support the BID’s renewal.

Kelly Rezzo, one of the managers of a property on Westwood Boulevard, said her father-in-law made the original decision to not support the BID because he did not want to pay more taxes.

However, when Rezzo and her husband took management of the property in January 2012, she said they could see the efforts of the BID in improving parking signage and repairing sidewalks.

“In a perfect world our taxes would be enough to do these things, but they’re not,” she said. “So (you can) either spend more money to get what you need, or you won’t.”

The main reason people chose not to support the BID renewal was that they did not want to spend the extra money and felt their city’s taxes should cover the services that the BID offers, said Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council.

Sann added that Westwood cannot currently fund the maintenance and safety features the BID provides because of the city’s budget deficit is “broke.”

But 20 property owners have changed their vote in the past year, from their initial rejection of the Westwood BID to supporting it, Thomas said.

In the coming months, Thomas said one of the BID’s current goals is to address the parking problem in Westwood by establishing a flat Westwood parking rate.

Another project, which is currrently in the design stage, is the “Way Finding Program.” The program would direct vistors toward places of interest in the Village, Thomas said.

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