Balboa Village facades are one step closer to being a bit more appealing.
Newport Beach City Council voted Tuesday to appropriate $98,500 from the Balboa Village Parking Management District Fund to the Balboa Village Commercial Façade Improvement Program. The Council approved the item 6-1, with Councilman Kevin Muldoon dissenting.
The façade program offers grant funding to incentivize exterior improvements to commercial buildings in the Village.
“I’m very proud to have inherited this project from my predecessors,” said Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon, whose district covers the Balboa Village.
Staff estimates the initial cost of the program to be approximately $220,000.
On Tuesday, staff requested $98,500 to be earmarked for the program from the newly formed Balboa Village Parking Management District fund.
At a later date, staff will request that the remainder come from Community Development Block Grant fund reserve as part of the fiscal year 2015-16 budget.
The program is meant to encourage property owners to invest in their buildings, explained Community Development Director Kim Brandt.
The program is a component of the Balboa Village Master Plan, which has been under development since 2011, she noted.
There are about 55 different commercial properties within Balboa Village, she said.
The suggested two-tiered structure for the façade improvements based on the amount of improvements proposed and the location within the overall commercial district, Brandt said.
Brandt displayed a few possible examples of minor and major façade improvements, which could include new awnings, fresh paint, better lighting, improved signage, and more.
“These are just conceptuals,” she emphasized. “They aren’t something that has been proposed, just something that was put together to show what could possibly happen.”
Only two audience members spoke during public comment, one on each side of the issue.
In support of the item was resident Jim Bailey, who said he has been involved with the Balboa Village Advisory Committee for many years.
A lot of other improvements, like landscaping and sidewalks, have previously been approved by council, he said.
“This is just a continuation of that,” Bailey noted.
It’s a small amount of money and a smart investment, he said. The public-private partnership will incentivize property owners to improve their property, which will, in turn, improve the entire village.
“The village down there has been tired for many years,” he said.
It has wide community support and is worthy of approval, Bailey added.
On the other side of the issue, community watchdog Jim Mosher had some concerns.
“I think there is a fundamental difference between public landscaping and streetscapes and private buildings,” he said. “I just have a fundamental philosophical problem with taking the money that goes into parking meters, which is publicly collected money – it’s the public’s money being collected by the public’s government – and then it being given to private entities. I have a problem with that.”
It’s not all coming from parking meter money, he added. The bulk of it is suggested to come from Community Development Block Grant funds.
“Balboa Village has historically sucked up all or the great bulk, of the Community Development Block Grant money that the city gets from the federal government,” Mosher noted. “I don’t think it’s proper or appropriate of the city to be devoting so much of it to one small area.”
It’s unusual for Newport Beach or similar cities to be recipients of Community Development Block Grants, Dixon responded later.
It’s because Balboa Village has been determined, according to our federal government, to be blighted, she explained, and is in need of those CDBG funds. Not every community in Newport Beach qualifies for them, she added.
“The concept for improving Balboa Village has been… going on for a long time,” Dixon said. “These ideas didn’t just drop out of the sky.”
Some of them have been in the works since 1997, she explained.
The façade improvements will help the businesses be successful, Dixon noted, and they will become positive contributors to the city’s sales tax revenue base and increase property values.
“This isn’t just for the businesses, it’s a continuous cycle of how cities invest and help their businesses grow,” she said.
She named several other cities that have used a façade improvement program to help revitalize their community.
Councilman Scott Peotter was a little torn on the issue.
“I’ve got real heartburn over this,” Peotter said.
“We are taking public money,” he said. “Even though it is coming out of the parking fund area, it still short cuts the general fund, putting it toward private enterprise.”
A lot of money has been spent down there, street and landscaping improvements, which haven’t been done in other parts of the city, Peotter noted.
But, after talking with members of Balboa Village Advisory Committee, he looks at it as more of a “trail situation,” Peotter continued. It has been successful in other cities, he noted, “government money has primed the pump and encouraged property owners to improve their own property.”
Because of the limited amount of money involved, it’s worth a try.
“Hopefully it will be successful and it will encourage a lot of investment by the private property owners down there,” Peotter said.
Mayor Ed Selich commented that several of the properties need basic maintenance.
He was near the ferry and Balboa Pavilion area recently and was “taken aback” by the condition of a lot of the areas that just needed painting.
Selich also noted that the boardwalk was “filthy” and said something needed to be done to keep it clean.
Most of the boardwalk is in private ownership with a public easement across it, Brandt explained. Code enforcement and gentle nuisance abatement could be used to help on that issue, City Manager Dave Kiff added.
“It seems to me, if we’re going to be spending this kind of money down there we at least ought to take care of the stuff we have on the ground,” Selich said.