More than 500 owners of commercial and residential properties in a bustling North Park business district will pay a new tax in the new year to help improve the neighborhood.
The new tax was approved by property owners in the district earlier this year and will take effect after a similar tax sunsets at the end of December. Under the new tax, property owners will pay an average of 29% more per parcel of land than they previously paid, according to an inewsource analysis of tax projections provided by the city.
The new tax will impact 604 parcels, including 116 new parcels that were not affected by the previous tax.
The district spans North Park, running east-west along University Avenue between Florida and 32nd streets, and north-south along 30th Street, which intersects with University. The area is home to many restaurants, bars, niche retail shops, houses and multifamily homes.
While some neighbors welcome the additional money to clean up the district, many property owners don’t want to pay the extra tax, designed to pay for services above and beyond what the city already provides. Of the 223 property owners who voted on whether to create the new tax district, 40% voted against it.
Property owners’ votes were weighted based on the value of the property they owned in the district.
The North Park neighborhood also is unique in San Diego in terms of how much it’s taxed. It is the only community where some of its property owners pay three separate taxes for upkeep and other improvements.
Opponents include condo owner Danielle Grassi, who says she and other property owners are “not seeing returns” on the services they’ve been paying for through taxes.
Grassi, who rents out her condo long term, says she’s paid a special tax for sanitation for the past five years but still finds human excrement outside her condo building “that doesn’t get cleaned up.” Most recently, that tax cost her $180 for the year, but when it sunsets and is replaced by the new one, Grassi will pay about $229 for the year.
“I’m just infuriated,” Grassi said.
More than half of the new tax revenue will be spent on sanitation services including cleaning streets, sidewalks and gutters, removing graffiti, trimming trees, emptying trash containers and collecting litter, according to the management plan for the recently approved North Park Special Enhancement District. Funds will also go to pay for economic development improvements, landscaping and safety programs such as hiring private security.
Kim Lemire, an employee at Nuclear Comics on University Avenue and near Ohio Street, says vandalism and dirty streets come with the territory of running a business in a heavily trafficked area.
While only property owners were allowed to vote for the tax, Lemire says the new tax might hurt small businesses if property owners decide to pass on costs to them.
“There’s not gonna be people that can afford their businesses, and then you’re just gonna have a bunch of vacancies,” she said. “You’re gonna create an even bigger problem in my eyes.”
Citywide, San Diego has 64 maintenance assessment districts and 18 business improvement districts. These two types of districts perform very similar services in that they collect a tax from property owners in order to pay for extra upkeep of the taxpayers’ areas.
North Park’s existing districts already pay for this upkeep, and the new district tax will ensure the work continues to be done, advocates have said.
Property owners in a handful of other popular San Diego communities, including La Jolla and Hillcrest, have taxed themselves twice for upkeep and other neighborhood services, but North Park is the only community that has approved a third tax, according to inewsource analysis of city mapping data.
Funds raised through taxes in the city’s maintenance and improvement districts vary widely. For example, the North Park district’s revenue totals fall between the $1.2 million collected from Torrey Hills and the $19,000 collected from Hillcrest.
According to the most recent annual reports, the three tax districts in North Park collected a combined $896,000 from property owners. Next year, the new district alone is expected to collect nearly $480,000.
And property owners could see that amount — along with their tax bills for the new district — go up each year by as much as 5%, according to city documents.
North Park special tax districts
City property owners can vote to approve special taxes to fund upkeep and improvements to neighborhoods. Here’s a look at what North Park property owners have approved.
- North Park Maintenance Assessment District: Established in 1996 and won’t sunset without action from the city or neighbors. Pays for landscaping improvements, streetlights, planting street trees, sidewalk repairs, and a streetscape and art project along 30th Street at Switzer Canyon. Collected about $482,000 from property owners in fiscal year 2022.
- North Park Property and Business Improvement District: Established in 2018 and expires Dec. 31. Pays for services including sanitation, graffiti and sticker removal, landscaping, holiday decorations and tourism promotion. Collected about $309,000 in fiscal year 2022.
- North Park Business Improvement District: The city began partnering with North Park Main Street in 1996 to run this district. The infrastructure services this one pays for include lighting, planting trees along the street, installing sidewalks, bike racks and refuse cans. Collected more than $104,000 in fiscal year 2021.
North Park Special Enhancement District: Approved this year and will take effect in January. Will pay for sanitation, security, installing signs and/or banners, decorating and lighting. Expected to collect nearly $480,000 next fiscal year.
Some property owners believe paying the new fee is worth it.
“I think we need to make things beautiful here,” said Jason Hotchkiss, owner of Encontro North Park, a restaurant that leases its space.
Hotchkiss said that tagging is a common issue he sees outside of his restaurant. He values the ongoing pressure-washing, graffiti removal and tree trimming.
Joe Wombacher, who owns a house on 30th Street, said that such an increase on a property tax bill is “modest.” While he did not vote on the tax and wasn’t engaged in the debate, he said property owners like himself should be paying for cleaner streets.
His neighborhood streets have been getting dirtier with garbage, mud and dirt in the gutters, he said, adding, “Anything we can do to keep ‘em cleaner and looking better would be a positive.”
Property owners who wish to eliminate the district— and the tax that comes with it — can petition for its removal. The San Diego City Council can also move to eliminate the district.
In the meantime, district advocates say businesses and residents in the new district should expect to see upkeep of storefronts and streets. Sean Hale, a North Park resident and tasting room manager at the Rouleur Brewing Company, said North Park businesses will have to wait and see if the new maintenance district will help draw more customers.
“Clearly, whatever the state of things are currently, people are still coming out,” Hale said.