It seems that Marco Li Mandri, a San Diego-based consultant for two downtown Oakland districts, had suggested that volunteers from one of the districts put up Christmas decorations on light standards near Lake Merritt.
The idea didn’t go far at Oakland City Hall, however. The folks there said a ruling by the city attorney mandated that any decorations attached to city property be placed there by the city’s union employees.
The folks at the city attorney’s office, when contacted, said that such a ruling was a mystery to them. I don’t know the outcome, but the issue tells us a lot about how Oakland is governed.
Anyway, I don’t believe Marco’s idea would have much of a problem in Tracy. For years, volunteers from the Tracy Chamber of Commerce placed the Yuletide décor on downtown streetlight standards. Later, the Downtown Tracy Business Improvement Area sponsored the lights illuminating downtown trees.
The contrast between Oakland’s and Tracy’s volunteer Christmas-decorating efforts will no doubt be apparent for Marco. He is also the consultant putting together the new Downtown Tracy Community Benefit District.
His relations with the folks at Tracy’s City Hall appear much more cooperative than those in Oakland. Tracy’s economic development department has been pushing the formation of the new district, and the city has even agreed to pay for Marco to help set up the district as a nonprofit with its own board of directors and to help recruit its director, easing the initial financial strain until annual fees are first collected from property owners a year from now.
When Marco first started meeting with downtown property owners about the district, he proposed that a good deal of the projected revenue — then more than the $200,000-per-year level — be spent on physical improvements, including cleaning sidewalks and adding to streetscape facilities.
He later agreed to place more emphasis on marketing the downtown business district — both to Tracy business customers and also to potential businesses interested in locating in the downtown area.
In the meantime, properties on 11th Street were taken out of the district, eliminating some opposition and reducing the annual budget to $135,000.
At the outset, I had seen the logic of forming such a district, but felt the timing wasn’t right. Too many downtown businesses have been barely hanging on and didn’t need any increase in rent passed on by the property owners paying the district’s annual assessments.
Later, I could see that the potential benefits of the district would outweigh the costs to the property owners and businesses. Conversations with Dan Schack and Russ Kagehiro, two active supporters of the new district, confirmed this.
The existing Downtown Tracy Business Improvement Area, which would be replaced by the new district, has been generating only $30,000 per year, and that wasn’t sufficient to hire a full-time director and launch major marketing initiatives. Since Cindy Petrig Jimenez resigned, the DTBIA has had no staff, and city employees have had to step in to keep programs alive.
Over the years, the DTBIA did have successes, though, especially in sponsoring the annual Wine Stroll, facilitating the farmers market, promoting monthly nighttime openings and sponsoring downtown parades.
The downtown parking district, which combined and redesigned several downtown parking lots, also will be folded into the new district. But the boundaries of the parking district and new Tracy Community Benefit District are as yet not identical. That will have to be ironed out.
Over the past half century, Tracy’s city government has focused a great deal of attention on the downtown. Since 1959, several major redevelopment projects have been proposed. The most recent, in the 1970s, would have created a downtown shopping center on 10th Street east of Central Avenue. It was stopped by a suit filed by California Rural Legal Assistance, which claimed elements in the plan to relocate some downtown residents weren’t sufficient. The city won the case in San Joaquin County Superior Court, but in the wake of changes in redevelopment laws, it decided not to wage battles on state appellate and Supreme Court levels.
Originally, in the 1940s and ’50s, it was the Merchants Division of the Tracy Chamber of Commerce that boosted the downtown and sponsored sales events. Formation of the Downtown Improvement District (D.I.D.) — later to become the DTBIA — in the 1970s stepped up efforts to revive the downtown area by sponsoring retail sales and community events, including arts and crafts fairs, sidewalk sales and food bazaars. In the 1980s, the Main Street Tracy program focused continuing public attention on the downtown before fading from sight.
More recently, the city has invested heavily in the downtown’s physical facilities. The reconstructed Grand Theatre Center of the Arts, the refurbished 1917 City Hall and fire station, the streetscape improvements and now the Tracy Transit Station all are having a positive impact on the downtown.
As we all know, the downtown is no longer the major center of retail activity in Tracy. The openings of the mall and big-box stores have moved the emphasis to the northwest part of town along Interstate 205.
But Tracy’s central business district still retains the historically rich ambiance of a real downtown and continues to be a business hub for smaller retailers, eateries, banks and service businesses.
Let’s hope the new district, which appears headed for approval at next month’s vote among downtown property owners, lives up to expectations to be an important tool in breathing additional life into Tracy’s traditional core.
It won’t be the first effort to do so, but its more solid funding base and greater involvement of property owners give it the best chance to succeed in the ever-changing business climate of today and the years ahead.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at email@example.com.