Business spotlight

What are Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Why Should Venice Community Members Be Concerned?

What is a BID?

Business Improvement Districts (“BIDs”) are public-private partnerships, established under State and local laws that give Cities the power to form districts in which all businesses in the district pay assessments to supplement municipal expenditures. More recent statutes greatly expanded the power of BIDs, including authorizing expenditures on private security and sanitation services. Since 1994, BIDs have grown into a powerful force in urban regions that most often has prioritized the interests of commercial property owners over those of low-income and homeless people, and other community residents and stakeholders.
California BIDs are established under state laws, none of which authorizes expenditures on lobbying or policy advocacy. Los Angeles-based Bl Os have promoted policies that escalate gentrification, advocated for increased criminalization of poverty, and vehemently opposed State homeless rights legislation over the past three years.

What Do BIDs Do?

BIDs are supposed to provide services above and beyond what the City provides. The Venice Beach BID proposes to spend 73 percent of its annual budget of $1,875,628 on Safe & Clean Programs, with 7 percent on District Identity & Special Projects, and 20 percent on Administration and Management. While the Venice Beach BID Clean and Safe Program has not been described in detail in public documents, in other BIDs this generally is comprised of street cleaning services and private security forces in public spaces.
BID security teams often collaborate closely with local police departments. In a public records request of LAPD’s Central Station, hundreds of pages of emails were released with communications between police and BID representatives, many of which focus on homelessness, reports about specific homeless people engaged in the “crime” of sitting on the sidewalk, and complaints about community organizers who were promoting the civil rights of homeless residents. In fact, BIDs in the City of Los Angeles, and particularly the security forces they hire, also have a history of hostility toward homeless and low-income residents, resulting in several lawsuits against both the City and local BIDs since their inception in the 1990s regarding unconstitutional or illegal practices.

“What was once an emergency measure by business owners in cities with a diminished tax base has become a power play for the future of urban space. By removing the interests of small business owners as well as community members from the equation, property owners can remake a neighborhood as they see fit. Already these actors wield enormous power, but have had to deal with democratic mechanisms that would temper their vision. If the BID model continues to proliferate, the commons that make a city great could be completely at the disposal of a single class, one that’s inherently opposed to discourse and organizing.”
BY MAX RIVLIN-NADLER, Article in New Republic: Why Business Improvement Districts Ruin Neighborhoods, Feb 19, 2016