By Ken Williams | Editor
More homeless people, more trash and dirty sidewalks.
Citing these reasons and more, the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) is proposing to expand the maintenance assessment district (MAD) that serves the eastern side of the neighborhood between the state Route 163 overpass and Park Boulevard.
HBA executive director Benjamin Nicholls explained the proposal to an audience of stakeholders gathered April 11 at the second and final public meeting about expansion plans. After the steps in the process are completed, stakeholders — business and property owners — must vote on the proposal by mail-in ballot, possibly as soon as this summer.
The east side of Hillcrest is being overrun by homeless people and beset by grimy sidewalks, litter and a perceived security problem, Nicholls said.
“This end of town struggles with trash and the homeless,” he said.
The area is currently served by the Hillcrest Boulevard Maintenance Assessment District, created in 2001 and managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The current district boundaries include University Avenue, from 10th Avenue to Herbert Street, as well as the HUB shopping center.
With an annual budget of about $30,000, the Parks and Recreation Department maintains three landscaped medians on University Avenue between 10th Avenue and Normal Street,, and one on Normal Street, between University Avenue and Harvey Milk Street, which includes the Hillcrest Pride Flag and memorial.
The HBA proposes to expand the MAD and take over the management of the district. By assessing property and business owners within the MAD, the new district would raise $278,000 annually.
Nicholls said “homeless abatement” was the top priority of owners, who were mailed a survey that was designed to identify the area’s most serious problems. About 30 percent of the surveys were returned to the HBA, which Nicholls said was a higher-than-normal rate. He added that 27 percent of the responses were in support of the proposal, 3 percent were in opposition, and 70 percent did not respond.
Cleaning services — “gum everywhere, trash everywhere,” Nicholls said — and gardening and landscaping also ranked high.
Litter and graffiti would be removed, curbs and gutters cleaned, and sidewalks power washed. Trees and shrubs would be trimmed, trees planted or replaced, and sidewalks and medians would get landscaping.
Two zones proposed
Zone A would essentially retain the boundaries of the existing district — mostly business properties — and is called a “special landscaping zone.” This zone is expected to have a budget of $206,000.
Zone B would include properties on Park Boulevard between University and Robinson avenues; properties on Normal Street between University Avenue and Lincoln Street; properties on Centre Street south of Harvey Milk Street, including the San Diego LGBT Community Center; and properties on Harvey Milk Street between Cleveland Avenue and Centre Street. This zone anticipates a budget of $72,000, but doesn’t include landscaping and gardening.
Both zones would get homeless-outreach and sidewalk-cleaning services.
Two full-time “security ambassadors” would be contracted to patrol the area for eight hours per day, Monday through Sunday; engage with the homeless, and offer to connect them with services to get them help; and aid visitors who may seek assistance. Stakeholders would get an “on-call number” to call the contracted workers 24/7, any day of the week.
Cleaning services would include sidewalk litter pickup five days per week, pressure washing once a month, and weekly dumpster removal.
Zone A would only get gardening services for the four existing medians, three pop-out gardens and street trees. The landscaping would be watered and cared for on a weekly basis.
Nicholls said administrative costs would amount to 12 percent of the budget, including $25,000 for a program manager.
According to Nicholls, the proposal essentially reproduces the services provided by the Hillcrest Commercial MAD on the west side of Hillcrest, which is maintained by the HBA.
A consultant told stakeholders how he was calculating rates for the proposed tax, and estimated that condominium owners would pay around $345 annually and owners of larger businesses would pay up to $3,000 a year.
Mat Wahlstrom, a businessman who lives in Hillcrest and is a member of the HBA, questioned the need to expand the MAD when it is already the mission of the HBA to provide similar services. He said it would duplicate the services the HBA is supposed to offer already.
Nicholls said the problems have worsened in the years that have passed, and it is necessary to raise additional money to tackle all the issues.
The proposal peers into the future and sees three factors that could impact the proposed MAD: the Normal Street Greenway; the SANDAG bike plan; and the Uptown Community Plan Update (CPU) that encourages density along Park Boulevard and University Avenue.
The HBA acknowledges that it supports efforts to repurpose part of Normal Street, between University Avenue and Lincoln Street, into an enhanced pedestrian and gathering space. This area hosts the weekly Hillcrest Farmers Market and civic events centered around the Hillcrest Pride Flag. The proposal notes the additional maintenance demands that would come if the Greenway project reaches fruition.
SANDAG, the regional transportation authority, plans to install protected bicycle lanes in Hillcrest — including on University Avenue and Normal Street — where the proposed new MAD would be located. SANDAG proposes to modify the medians in Zone A to create enough space for the protected bike lanes, but will not maintain the lanes or medians. That means the MAD and SANDAG would have to sign an agreement to maintain the improvements.
Lastly, the CPU offers growth incentives along transit routes, and the HBA said it anticipates that the MAD would need to grow as the neighborhood changes.
The consultant will complete an Engineering Report to city officials, and the City Council must approve the proposal. Then the City Clerk would then mail ballots to stakeholders, who would have to approve the proposal. If it passes, the assessment would be added to the property tax bill of those who are affected.