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Merchants Rip Park Street Business Association

At last week’s Alameda City Council meeting, Park Street merchants raised concerns about the operation of the Park Street Business Association, and questioned if it was actually serving all members.

The occasion was Alameda City Council’s consideration of the annual business improvement area assessment for the Park Street area. The City of Alameda collects fees from all businesses with the area, which is managed by the Park Street Business Association (PSBA.) Fees increased 3.5% this year, increasing the average business fee to roughly $273. Including both restricted and unrestricted items, PSBA has a budget of over $210,000 for the 2012 to 2013 fiscal year.

Al Wright, a merchant at 1205 Park Street, wrote a six page letter to Alameda City Council for the agenda item, alleging, among other things, that the PSBA board has not been representing members, the board is not managing paid staff, and that the board takes actions not in the interest of merchants. At the City Council meeting, he addressed council saying that “PSBA is broken.” He’d like to see a plan for PSBA that provides more supervision of employees, more accountability, fiscal responsibility, and more openness in the governance of the association. Mr. Wright had not responded to requests for an interview before press time.

Michael Torres, a therapist with an office in the building at 1516 Oak Street, noted that his annual business license is $82 but his business improvement area fee is $139. Mr. Torres acknowledged that PSBA indirectly promotes his therapy practice, “but these promotions and business area improvements do not in any way impact my client referrals and never have.” He further remarked that he has seen no streetscape improvements from PSBA around his building, such as decorations, trash cans or benches.

Barbara Mooney is a retailer with a store at 1347 Park Street, and a second location in Montclair Village in Oakland, where she participates in a similar business improvement district. “The difference in transparency in the past eight months in how the two are run has been shocking and eye-opening to me,” she remarked. The value that she gets out of the Montclair business association is “shockingly” better, she said. Further, “I’m sure that the Montclair district does not get near the [financial] help that the City of Alameda has given PSBA.”

An ice cream proprietor, Kate Pryor, at 1349 Park Street, asserted that many of the PSBA board of directors have been hand-chosen by the executive director, when they should be chosen by their peers. “That’s been done by controlling the nominating committee, controlling the management of the elections, counting the ballots, preparing the treasurer’s report and writing the minutes,” she said. Ms. Pryor asked for more representation from businesses on Park Street on the PSBA board.

PSBA President Lars Hansson urged City Council to approve the organization’s financial plan for the 2012 to 2013 year, and encouraged merchants to participate in PSBA meetings.

City Attorney Janet Kern told council that it gets to choose the organization that administers the business improvement area, whether it be PSBA or another body, and that it has oversight to ensure that PSBA spends the money raised through the business improvement assessment in accordance with the municipal code that established the improvement area. However, Alameda City Council can’t order PSBA to make changes to their bylaws.

Councilmember Beverly Johnson expressed her preference that merchants take their concerns to the PSBA board. Subsequently, to much laughter from the dais, she acknowledged being a member of PSBA, paying about $138 per year, and Ms. Kern advised her to recuse herself from the vote.

City Manager John Russo told council that City staff have already made recommendations to PSBA on procedural changes to respond to the concerns expressed by some Park Street merchants, although those recommendations were not included in the city council packet. According to Mr. Russo, the recommendations included: bylaws to be readily available to members, financial statements to be readily available, meeting notices must be in hard copy as well as electronic form and elections should be supervised by the City Clerk’s office. He didn’t know, however, if the recommendations made would satisfy the discontented merchants. “If the changes happen, then everything is great,” he said.

Council approved the staff recommendation with four votes out of five; Councilmember Johnson recused herself.

PSBA has roughly 430 members. If merchants representing 50 percent or more of the total value of assessments should protest the levy, the new assessments cannot go forward.

2 comments to Merchants Rip Park Street Business Association

  • Barb Thomas

    Hmmmm, interesting. It apears that PSBA is following the example set by our City Council and City Manager. “[the]board has not been representing members, the board is not managing paid staff, and that the board takes actions not in the interest of merchants. . .. . PSBA is broken.

  • KZ

    Does anybody work in the interest of business or citizens? Sounds like every man for himself.

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