Committee seeks to spruce up downtown

Thirty years ago, the City of Auburn and business owners created the downtown Business Improvement Area to help stir economic activity in the downtown and ancillary areas by providing security for public spaces and sponsoring public events.

Moribund for years, the BIA’s Rate Payers’ Committee has not only stirred to life over the last year, but is also brimming with ideas to make the downtown more attractive to customers.

Especially, it turns out, after sunset, when too many potential customers flat-out refuse to set foot in an area beset by panhandlers and the sort of unsavory characters who come out only after dark.

On Monday, members of the Ratepayers’ Committee shared some of their ideas with the Auburn City Council.

Like adding security lighting to some of the more infamous dark spots.

Like lighting up trees.

Like hanging plants in front of stores outside the downtown core but still in the BIA, for instance on side-streets.

And providing daily trash pickup to the garbage can-Dumpster areas on the northwest side of the Safeway parking lot, thereby eliminating the need for enclosures that too often provide cover for illegal activities.

“For us and our area,” said Giovanni Di Quattro, owner of the Rainbow Café, north of Safeway, and chair man of the Rate Payers’ Committee, “everybody was using the trash, and I was finding people living in there, so I keep it under lock and key. And still, sometimes they would pull down the boards and go around and get in. Part of that is because it’s a semi-secure area – they’re out of everybody’s eyesight, and they can do what they want inside there.”

To turn their ideas into reality, committee members conceded, they’ll need the City’s help.

“We’re not really saying we’ll pay for all of these things. We’re just telling you what our wish list is. We want to spend most of our money where it is supposed to go, to the Auburn Downtown Association, so it can provide support to the downtown,” said Bill Cowart, vice chair of the Ratepayers’ Committee.

“We’re willing to help, we have a little bit of a surplus, but … we need help from some of your departments, the utilities department, the parks department. We need to know what they can help us with and what we need to do. We want access to them to find solutions for some of these problems,” Cowart said.

In 1988, the City levied a special assessment against businesses inside the BIA, with some exemptions. At the time, the City Council created a committee of ratepayers composed of representatives of businesses within the geographic boundary of the BIA to make recommendations to the council for the use of the special assessment funds.

In the last 29 years, however, the ordinance and its exemptions grew outdated, resulting in years of inactivity.

Late last year, the City proposed an ordinance that creates a chapter within the city code for the BIA that updates and changes the provisions governing it, including modifications to exemptions to the special assessment.

By changing exemptions to the special assessment, City leaders hope to address itinerant businesses, home occupations, large scale nonprofit organizations and nested businesses and make the rate of the special assessment uniform.

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