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Publication Date: Friday, June 28, 2002

Council passes new downtown measure Council passes new downtown measure (June 28, 2002)

By Bill D'Agostino

Despite strong protests from Castro Street business owners, the city council Tuesday approved a measure that increase city oversight of downtown shops and restaurants.

The measure will require downtown businesses to comply with various health and safety codes, as well as appearance guidelines, when business owners makes changes to their business type, switch the ownership of a business, or make renovations.

Hoping to give time to phase in the change, the council agreed to have the law not take effect until December.

Business owners -- many still reeling from an ordinance last year that forced them to comply with guidelines for how their downtown storefronts look -- worried the measure would lower profits in an already tight business environment while putting a financial pinch on "mom and pop" shops.

"People are losing a lot of money right now and it seems like nobody in the city cares," an emotional Ron Ikebe, a downtown realtor, told the council.

"It's not the time to pit city staff against downtown business owners," agreed Nick Chaput, the owner of Dana Street Roasting Company and president of the Central Business Association (CBA), a downtown advocacy group.

But Council member Rosemary Stasek said the law would not affect any businesses that complies with laws already on the books, or any business not planning to make changes to its company or building.

The current situation, Stasek added, is unfair to businesses which have upgraded their buildings as well as to the city -- which spent more than $10 million dollars of taxpayer money over the last ten years redeveloping downtown.

Tim Sandis, the retired founder of an engineering firm who has served on various downtown committees over the years, concurred with Stasek, saying that he was "frustrated by the lack of private investment in the downtown despite the large public investment."

Business groups such as the CBA wanted the council to put off voting for the measure for six months to see if businesses could effectively influence each other to make the needed changes.

However, Vice Mayor Michael Kasperzak mentioned the possibility of revoking the law sometime over the next six months, before it takes effect, if downtown businesses were effective in working among themselves to clean up downtown.

Only Council member Matt Pear voted against the measure. He felt that some of the design guidelines the law imposed on businesses when they applied for a change would be subjective. Pear also said there was not enough community support for the measure to get his vote.

The new law takes effect December 31.


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