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In response to a recent letter endorsing the mayor’s downtown strategy ... “strat·e·gy” is a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

One thing for certain -- a strategy is more than a 3-2 vote on a tasting room.

What downtown strategy does Mayor Galbraith support? In February 2017, shortly after that 3-2 tasting room vote, at the council goal-setting session, the Mayor supported moving forward with the PBID (“Property Based Improvement District”).

PBID was a Chamber of Commerce proposal to assess every business property in St. Helena and beyond, in order to raise $690,000 initially (increasing to $775,000 over the first five-year term).

In fact, the PBID included $93,000 in assessments on all city-owned properties, plus the likelihood of the city having to fund an additional $64,000 to cover general benefits.

The highest PBID assessment rates fell on our downtown! More than half of the money -- a whopping $377,000 – would be shouldered by downtown business and property owners! Downtown parcels would be assessed on their linage frontage and square footage. The Kosmont report (see below) validated how high our downtown rents already are.

What was wrong with this downtown strategy besides the hike in the cost of doing business in downtown?

In short, the mayor was willing to outsource the city’s obligations and give the Chamber $700,000 a year because he failed to understand that the city has the fundamental role in maintaining the downtown viability, and holds the power to revise zoning, improve processes, and create incentives; programs like fixing our sidewalks and streets and maintaining them. PBID dollars cannot be used to replace government programs. He was willing to outsource our economic development to the tune of over $175,000 a year to the chamber who then was going to outsource it to someone else.

Well, it didn’t add up to a good idea. At least that was the opinion of Geoff Ellsworth and he voted against the PBID proposal going forward. Mayor Galbraith voted to continue going forward with the PBID. It lost.

What city strategy replaced the PBID? This strategy came about in large part from the council’s rejection of the PBID. Mayor Galbraith did not initiate this work plan; in fact, others on the council proposed it.

Together, Council Members Dohring and Koberstein were appointed to serve as Council liaisons with Mark Prestwich and Kosmont Companies to developed outline of a Downtown Retail Market Analysis. Again, not the Mayor.

On July 24, 2018, Kosmont Companies presented their analysis. Their well-received report recommended that the city take a more proactive approach in term of capital investments in sidewalks, parking signage, and administrative actions that relate to our review and revamp of our zoning ordinances.

Recently, the City Council prioritize work on these Downtown Economic Strategy options. Mark Prestwich conducted morning meetings with business owners at the Cameo.

Things are starting to happen. The impetus is not coming from the mayor.

Susan Kenward

St. Helena

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