Santa Rosa forms special district to spruce up downtown

Downtown Santa Rosa property owners voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to pay a little extra to clean up and promote the city core.

The question of whether to form a special downtown taxing district passed in weighted voting with 80.3 percent in favor and 19.7 percent against, surpassing the majority threshold needed for approval.

The decision means that downtown property owners will pay about $534,000 per year to fund initiatives such as cleaning up sidewalks, beautifying area landscaping and promoting events in Old Courthouse Square. Residential parcels ?are exempt.

Downtown business leaders have long expressed concern that the city hasn’t done enough to promote the downtown, maintain the reunified square or address the homeless problem.

The money will be directed to the Downtown Action Organization, a nonprofit formed by a board made up of many of the same interests that pushed for reunification of the square, including the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber and developer Hugh Futrell, who with partners is turning the iconic Empire Building into a boutique hotel.

Property owners’ votes were weighted based on a number of factors, including the zone in which their property is located.

The district would create four zones, with property owners in each paying higher rates the closer they are to Old Courthouse Square.

The rate is then applied to each parcel based on a formula that combines the square footage of buildings, lot and street frontage.

A special zone was created for the nearly 700,000-square-foot Santa Rosa Plaza mall, which enjoys the lowest rate but will pay one of the highest total contributions to the district because of its size. The mall’s owner, ?Indianapolis-based Simon Properties, abstained from the voting, said Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development manager.

The city of Santa Rosa is a major downtown property owner and would be contributing more than a quarter of the budget for what is known as a Community Benefits District. That’s just over $137,000.

Those who stood to pay more into the district, either because of the size of their parcel or its location, had their votes weighted more heavily toward the final tally, de la Rosa said.

On a strict vote tally, the owners of 71 parcels voted yes and 30 voted no, but when their share of the revenue they represent was accounted for, support for the district was 80.3 percent.

The voting took place in a room near the council chambers, and the public was allowed to observe. Several members of the downtown business community watched as city staff opened ballots, read off parcel numbers and declared how they voted.

Those voters were then entered into a spreadsheet that calculated the weight each vote would have based on all the factors.

“I’m told that we use paper ballots so the Russians can’t interfere,” quipped Vice Mayor Chris Rogers.

The voting hit a minor hitch when a city employee’s laptop froze, and she lost the vote data she had entered into a spreadsheet, forcing the count to be restarted.

One of those who spoke in support of the measure was Sue Kade, co-owner of Le Vera Pizza on Fourth Street.

“It’s time for the building and property owners to put some money into our streets,” Kade said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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