Santa Ana Small Business Owners Threaten Lawsuit Over Assessment

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | A group of downtown Santa Ana property and business owners who want the city to rescind a downtown assessment tax, spoke out against the tax at Tuesday’s City Council meeting and threatened a lawsuit if their demand isn’t met.

This is the same group that last month circulated a petition demanding an end to the tax, which funds Downtown Inc., the organization responsible for promoting and sprucing up Santa Ana’s urban core.

Coin laundry owner Nina Jun said she will be sending a letter to the city Wednesday that will serve as a precursor to a lawsuit.

Jun and other business owners say Downtown Inc.’s services benefit trendy restaurant-bars and other stores in an area of the downtown known as the Artists Village, but do little for smaller property owners — especially those on the heavily Latino Fourth Street — who run modest mom-and-pop style shops out of their buildings.

“This is Goliath the rich taking from David the poor,” said Thomas Jackson, who owns World Travel Bureau Inc. on Main Street, during the public comment period of the meeting.

Tuesday’s was the second council meeting in as many weeks in which property and business owners spoke to council about the tax. Last week, council members heard from other business and property owners who support the tax and Downtown Inc.

Council members were vocal in their support for Downtown Inc.

“Tell this council what you want to do, and you’ll find this council will be very supportive,” said Mayor Miguel Pulido. “We’re your friends, your cheerleaders and your partners. Your success is our success.”

But they said nothing Tuesday when confronted by the small business owners.

Jun, who is the spokeswoman for the group, showed up at the council meeting armed with facts that, she says, show that the assessment is against the law because business owners get no benefit from it.

She went on to say that the City Council undermined the democratic process when it formed the assessment district.

The city put the tax to a ballot in the summer of 2008, but couldn’t get over the 50 percent vote threshold needed to assemble the district. So the city decided to change the threshold, which already favored larger property owners because of its one-dollar, one-vote tallying method, to 30 percent, Jun said.

“You cannot reduce the right of the people at the discretion of the council,” Jun said.

City officials have tried to douse the anger and compromise with the group of property tax owners, which according to the Orange County Register includes Pulido’s family-owned car care shop, but have come up against stiff resistance.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, along with a city staffer, met with property owners last month and offered to form a task force that would evaluate adjustments in the assessment district like changing the district’s borders and unbinding the assessment tax from the property tax.

Tensions in the room ran high, and there were even reports of a near fist fight between a property owner who is for the tax and one who is against it. The property owners against the tax didn’t budge on their position — they want the assessment district completely dismantled.

Other property owners, which include larger entities and Downtown Inc. board members like S&A Properties’ Irving Chase, who owns property on Fourth Street, showed up in force at the previous council meeting to show their support for Downtown Inc. and the assessment district.

“None have any idea what economic devastation will befall Downtown Santa Ana should our current efforts to diversify the downtown fail,” Chase said.

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