The front of Vida's condos. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Picking up trash is an apolitical action says permit expediter and power broker, Phillip Lesser.

Or, so he thought until Tuesday, when District Supervisor David Campos declined to ask the Board of Supervisors – as he had five years ago – to renew a Business Improvement District on Mission between 21st and 22nd Streets.

The designation means businesses there pay extra taxes to keep the block clean. Lesser wanted renewal, but he also sought to extend the district to include Bartlett Street, from 21st and 22nd Streets.

Campos, however, declined to put the proposal forward saying he wanted to see a more inclusive business district that stretched the entire length of Mission Street (within the Mission District).

“We want to see a business improvement district that includes all these other players,” Campos said. “To make that happen it wouldn’t make sense to approve a smaller business district and then to have to nullify it to make it larger.”

The opposition to the special district appears to be a split between some old-line, less lucrative businesses and other long-term businesses and new comers.  Lesser said Campos’s stance was political and reflected anxiety from Campos and activists about gentrification. But some landlords who currently pay the tax, which cost $61 per linear foot of street footage for each parcel on the block, said it was an added a burden in an already difficult business climate for retail stores.

The Mission Miracle Mile Business Improvement District is the non-profit authorized by the city since 2005 to collect taxes and keep the street clean.  It has collected some $800,000 over ten years from property owners from the 2500 block of Mission Street where such businesses as Foreign Cinema, Stamper Optometry and Vanguard Properties remain.  Recent arrivals include, VIDA, a condominium project is one unit away from being sold out on the block and the Alamo Drafthouse cinema , which plans to open in the fall.

The money from the tax was used to pay such extras as security cameras, graffiti removal within 24 hours and flower arrangements on light posts.

Lesser ran into opposition from Campos after he tried to include the street west of the improvement block –  Bartlett Street, from 21st and 22nd street – and the north end of 22nd Streets, from Mission to Bartlett streets.

“You can’t increase a geographic area and not allow other people to be involved,” Campos said. “And so, as a supervisor I have a responsibility that everyone has a seat.”

Campos said he’s unsure if he would have supported the improvement district had it included the original parameters.

Additionally, he told Lesser to bring in the Mission Economic Development Agency at 19th and any others who want to become involved.

Lesser said it made no sense to bring MEDA onboard because it is not on the same block.

“They are not in the business improvement,” he said. “We are voting on something on California why go to Rhode Island.”

MEDA, however, wants to be part of the process because they want a business improvement district that covers the Mission District stretch of Mission Street and provides additional services to older businesses that are trying to stay alive, said Gabriel Medina of MEDA.

A survey by the Planning Department in 2012 found that 40 percent of all respondents to its focus groups want to create a Mission-wide business improvement district.

But it’s not that easy, said Lesser. The goal of the business district has always been to expand, but Lesser and his group failed to get enough support from other businesses. He attributed its success on the 2500 block of Mission Street to a situation in which a handful of landlords own large parts of the block. The district is the smallest improvement district out of the 11 business improvements districts in the city.

“You have a vacant lot, the Vida building, a building that exceeds the height limit and then business that have been there for 20 years,” Medina said. “Seems like you have a lot of resources for big business but what about the ones that have been longer?”

Lesser got strong support from the owners of the buildings that include Vida development, Alamo Drafthouse, Lolinda, Wells Fargo Bank, Vanguard Properties, Balancoire, the Dr. Stamper Family Optometry and Evergreen Supermarket.

Those who did not support the renewal, but have to pay the tax or risk getting a tax lien, included longtime retail businesses such as the owner of Lipstick Salon Beauty Shop and many of the stores that sell clothing and luggage, such as Kings of Fashion.

Pradeep Patel, who owns and runs the building of Kings of Fashion within the business improvement district, said he didn’t support the renewal because the services he gets in return are not worth it.

“If I look at this block compared to other blocks and I don’t see the difference,” he said.

Kai Yeung of Bonita Trading, which was also part of the business improvement district, signed Lesser’s petition that asked the board to extend the business improvement district.

However, he changed his tune when a reporter showed up.

“The only thing that has changed is that there are more dogs on the street that come in and pee inside,” he said. “Nothing has improved for me.”

However Quang Ly of Evergreen Market, a produce store with flags of Latin American countries,  said he likes the services, but is more concerned about his customers being priced out of the neighborhood.

Despite some of the opposition, Lesser got enough support to move the business district forward, but Campos said they needed to go back to the drawing board and create an improvement district that would include all of the Mission District stretch of Mission Street.

Campos, Lesser and MEDA said they are willing to down sit down and talk, but so far the parties have not talked to each other.

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Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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