Downtown SLO scraps property tax initiative following outcry

The organization pushing for a downtown San Luis Obispo property tax measure has scrapped the initiative following protest from some property owners and businesses.

Downtown SLO, a nonprofit that organizes Farmers’ Market and other events in the downtown area, was advocating for the formation of a Property Based Improvement District (PBID). The district would have been funded by a tax that was expected to generate about $400,000 a year initially. 

The funds would go toward hiring at least four “Downtown SLO Ambassadors”,  who would assist tourists and homeless people, as well as clean streets and provide other services in the area. Downtown SLO currently employs one such ambassador.

On July 1, after circulating petitions for the tax initiative, Downtown SLO sent a memorandum to the city indicating the petition received support from more than 50 percent of property owners, the threshold required in order for a ballot measure of its kind to pass. The San Luis Obispo City Council was expected to decide at its July 16 meeting on sending the initiative to affected property owners for a formal vote.

But on Tuesday, Downtown SLO’s board of directors decided to withdraw its request for the election. In a letter to the city explaining its decision, Downtown SLO stated the issue had become divisive.

“While PBIDs have been successfully implemented in more than 100 cities across the state, and more than 1,000 exist in North America, questions have surfaced in our community and this issue has become divisive,” Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger stated in the letter to the city. “Our goal as an organization has always been and must remain to present a unified voice for the businesses in the downtown.”

Opponents of the initiative to form a PBID argued it would create an unnecessary tax and layer of bureaucracy. Critics also argued the election would be unfair because the city could sway the vote by having the city manager cast ballots allotted to city-owned parcels.

At its July 16 meeting, the city council will now hold a hearing on Downtown SLO’s request to scrap the proposed election.