Redrawing the Battle Lines Over Santa Ana’s Downtown Tax

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Leaders of a downtown Santa Ana property tax district are mulling over shrinking the district’s borders, a move that many see as an attempt to placate its toughest critics.

Irving Chase, who serves as secretary on the executive committee of Downtown Inc., said the group is considering trimming its borders because the businesses on the fringes of the property tax district don’t get the same marketing and promotional benefit that properties closer to the Artists Village do.

“They can make the argument — and I can make the argument — that some properties don’t get 100 percent of the benefit,” Chase said.

A battle over the special property tax first erupted last December when 34 property owners signed a petition requesting an end to the assessment district, which funds the organization responsible for promoting and sprucing up the city’s downtown core, called Downtown Inc.

The list of property owners against the tax has since grown to 60.

In recent months, they’ve cried foul over what they call undemocratic language in the city’s assessment district law. Some have refused to pay their property tax bill because it is tied to the assessment tax. Even Mayor Miguel Pulido’s own brother, Jose, has spoken out against the tax.

It’s not clear that this latest peace offering will mollify opponents. Property owners against the tax have repeatedly said they would reject anything less than a total dissolution of the district.

“We don’t want partial disestablishment,” said Nina Jun, owner of a Coin Laundry on French street. “We want full disestablishment.”

Property owners against the district have long complained that the district is illegitimate because the city and a few large property owners essentially pushed it through.

Many property owners have said they didn’t know there was going to be a ballot vote to establish the district, prompting a majority to not return their ballots.

Indeed, public records show the city only sent a total of two letters regarding the assessment district before it was formed.

One was a notification that two community workshops were going to be held on the issue, and the other was a 4-page letter describing the benefits of community management districts. Neither notifications were sent in Spanish.

Marco Li Mandri, a consultant who worked with Santa Ana city officials early on to establish such districts, says there is usually a minimum of four or five mailings informing property owners about a potential assessment district.

Any correspondence should have been in Spanish as well, said Li Mandri, who is president of the community management district consulting firm, New City America.

“By the time the process gets to a ballot, they [property owners] know what’s going on,” Li Mandri said. “Normally there’s a lot of news coverage on it too.”

Property owners on both sides expect City Council to discuss the fate of the district at an upcoming council meeting.


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