Petaluma merchants question downtown business tax

  • Holly Wick, owner of Athletic Soles in downtown Petaluma, is unhappy with issues, such as dirty sidewalks and entranceways, that she feels should be taken care of with the funds from the downtown business district tax. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Several downtown Petaluma business owners are challenging a 13-year-old, self-imposed taxing district meant to promote a safe, vibrant shopping area and encourage visitors to spend money in the historic heart of town.

The tax, actually a "business improvement district" levy between $41 and $500 a year depending on size, location and type of business, has raised only about three-quarters as much as was expected.

And, more importantly, several business owners complain that the revenue isn't being spent wisely, transparently or in a way that helps downtown retailers.

The Petaluma Downtown Association, which administers the annual proceeds of about $55,000, says it welcomes any unhappy merchants to become active in the association's committees and share their ideas about how the fund should be handled.

"Downtown Petaluma should look as good as Healdsburg, Windsor and Santa Rosa," said Holly Wick of Athletic Soles at Petaluma Boulevard North and Western Avenue. "It shouldn't be a drunkfest. We shouldn't have our streets closed five days a year.

About 20 business owners have signed a letter to the city outlining their concerns and asking the City Council to delay reauthorizing the annual assessment until their questions are answered.

Wick is threatening to gather enough support to dissolve the entire program. To do so she'll need endorsement from members whose levies equal a majority of the total assessment. She wants the city to take over the tax program.

"The very people it's meant to protect are almost bullied. And we never get any answers."

Jeff Mayne, elected president of the Petaluma Downtown Association, expressed surprise this week about the unhappiness of those who signed the letter. He said no one had contacted the PDA to discuss their concerns.

He said he will meet "anytime, anyplace, anywhere" with them and resolve the problems, saying the district's spending is public record.

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