San Mateo business group in danger of dissolution

Nine years after it was created to help local merchants, one San Mateo business association may be ending after a decline in participation from its members during the last few years.

Tonight, the San Mateo City Council will vote on the future of the 25th Avenue Business Improvement Area. The 106-member group was created in 1998 to unite merchants in contributing to the local business community.

But in two meetings last month, approximately 20 business owners expressed concerns about the direction of the improvement area and the 25th Avenue Association that oversees it.

“For the last couple of years, other than the farmers market, I haven’t seen much done on the street,” Patio Coffee Shop owner Hasan Khalil said.

Khalil said because the board of directors for the group is made up of volunteers, people have not had adequate time to devote to the overall quality of the street.

“Merchants came to the meetings, but all they did was complain about assessment fees,” 25th Avenue Association President Don Wilson said. “No one stepped up to volunteer for any positions.”

Service businesses along 25th Avenue pay $100 each year, while retail businesses — such as Khalil’s coffee shop — must pay $300. The entire annual budget for the association is approximately $14,000, used for promotions and local events.

“Because I do retail, I pay $300, but the office down the street that makes more money pays less,” Khalil said. “If they had it based on how much business is generated, I think they would even make more money and at the same time it would be more fair.”

Economic Development and Business Assistance Director Laura Snideman said the association sets the fees and the city administers them. At any time, the group could vote to have the council change the rates.

Khalil said an increase in the total budget could have been used to hire an executive director — as a chamber of commerce often does — or pay a stipend to volunteers to encourage more people to participate.

Wilson said he hopes business owners will turn out to support some continuation of the improvement area, because it provides for street cleanups, maintenance and other events. It also provides a single contact point for working with the city.

“The avenue needs it, because if they dissolve it, they’re going to sell all the assets that the association has accumulated,” Wilson said. “I think the merchants will realize that all the services that are going to be eliminated and I think they’ll change their mind.”

jgoldman@examiner.com

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