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Greatly reduced Business Improvement District limps ahead

Independent Coast Observer of Gualala, California

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Mendocino County

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted renewal of the Business Improvement District (BID) for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, despite losing lodging owners in both Fort Bragg and Point Arena as members after more than half of them protested.

Tuesday's renewal of the BID allows the district to continue running business as usual until the new governance board takes over, sometime after July 1, according to Supervisor John McCowen.

McCowen and Supervisor Dan Gjerde spent the last 10 months steering an ad hoc committee to reimagine the BID from a five board, 56-member web to an 11-member entity and one board. The lengthy process had just received approval from both the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance (MCPA) and the Mendocino County Lodging Association (MCLA) and gone to the Board for renewal when the protest arose.

In fact, protest letters from Fort Bragg and Point Arena were received in such strength, and took the Board of Supervisors by such surprise, that the Board extended public comment for two weeks to figure out how to handle the situation.

One question was whether or not lodging operators needed to be good standing with their BID dues for their protest letters to count. Because the number of protest letters from Fort Bragg hovered right around 50 percent of the total lodging operators for the city, Mendocino County Counsel Doug Losak last week said he wanted to "be certain of the law before continuing."

After recessing during last week's board meeting, Losak deemed that lodging operators did not have to be in good standing, overall. The hotel owner had to be in good standing based on what they paid in the 2013-2014 year, meaning Fort Bragg stood at 52 percent protest.

Many individuals representing restaurants and wineries from Fort Bragg spoke during the June 9 and June 16 Board meetings to question the motives behind the protesters. Cynthia Ariosta, a restaurant owner called the protest "selfish and misinformed." However, many lodging operators in Fort Bragg said they are feeling burdened by an increased city tax and believe an additional one percent BID increase is "too much."

Christine Churchill of the Country Inn Bed and Breakfast in Fort Bragg said, "We're dying from taxes. I can't afford pay any more."

During the June 9 meeting McCowen said he spoke with many lodging operators in Fort Bragg and that "they have their reasons."

"We may disagree on them, but they can articulate them clearly," McCowen added.

The loss of the two cities represents approximately a 25 percent reduction in BID funds, or about $160,000 as Hal Wagenet of MCLA pointed out during public comment.

Wagenet urged the Board, during public comment, to "support the BID governance of the next year" financially from the Board's discretionary funds.

"Support your shining light of economic development," Wagenet said.

McCowen responded, saying it was "premature for the county to allocate any funds at this step in the process," but said the BID could be "an appropriate use of the reserve."

Supervisor Dan Hamburg agreed, saying an "investment of $160,000 is money well spent."

No decisions were made regarding the Board's reserve funds and the BID.

The renewal comes after public comment during last week's board meeting urged the Board to consider killing the BID altogether. Jim Hurst of Harbor Lite Lodge and Anchor Lodge in Fort Bragg questioned the value of a BID without Fort Bragg and Point Arena.

Wendy Roberts predicted the BID "will be killed in a year from now" and that the Board should raise the county's transient occupancy tax to gain lost funds.

"I predict it'll serve you well," Roberts said. told the Board on June 9 to consider stopping the BID as well.

The Board also approved all interim contracts between the County and MCLA, MCPA and Visit Mendocino, the marketing agency that carries out all the work contracted out through the BID. The contracts will be in place until the new BID governance structure comes to fruition. The new BID Board will then decide whether to keep those existing contracts or seek out new contractors.

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Original Publication Date: June 19, 2015

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