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Telegraph’s Koreatown generates both pride & grumbling

on September 16, 2009

What is a business improvement district?

Business improvement districts are areas of cities managed by a group of business and property owners who they collect taxes in order to provide services that will generate more business. These taxes are collected from both the area’s homeowners and businesses.

Business improvement districts, also known as “community benefit districts” or “special benefit districts,” originated in Canada in 1965 but have since caught on worldwide. In recent decades, small business owners in urban areas have increasingly turned to pooling their money or finding private investors to pay for repairs and upgrades that city budgets no longer cover.

Although business improvement districts vary, in many cases cities will match private funds with public money in order to underwrite projects such as building renovation and tree planting.

Often the management corporation of the district provides street cleaning and graffiti cleanup services in addition to what the city provides, as well as hire private security guards, install surveillance cameras, and spearhead marketing campaigns to promote the district. These changes are meant to make the area feel more inviting to customers and also bring in new businesses.

Koreatown – Northgate Community Benefit District

The Koreatown-Northgate Community Benefit District spans Telegraph Avenue from 20th Street to 35th Street. It was approved by the city of Oakland in 2007. The district collects approximately $278,460 in property taxes per year from 143 property owners who are responsible for roughly 167 business, office and residential units.

Allowing for an annual five percent tax increase, the district is expected to collect more than $3 million by 2017, according to a City of Oakland report on the district’s formation

Koreatown – Northgate provides graffiti removal to district property owners, employs street sweeping crews, puts on festivals, and according to its website, meets regularly with the Oakland Police Department “to eradicate drug dealing, prostitution and other quality of life crimes from the area.”

Where are the other Oakland business improvement districts?

There are nine Community Benefit Districts in Oakland:






Lakeshore/Lake Park

Koreatown/ North Gate

Lake Merritt/ Uptown


What are some responses to these districts?

Supporters say that business improvement districts upgrade neighborhoods by ridding streets of trash and vandalism and hiring private security guards who make area patrons and residents feel safer. Some say that having a business improvement district board that is constantly in touch with city officials makes it easier to ensure that the city is providing services to the district. Other cite increased advertising and marketing for the district, which can increase foot traffic to stores.

Opponents say they object to being taxed for services they do not want. Some say they’re concerned that the district boards will push for zoning changes that favor business and industry over the interests of residents. Some also say that the formula used to determine the “weight” of property owners’ votes unfairly gives large businesses more power than small businesses or residents.

In Oakland, opponents of the Koreatown-North Gate district include small business owners who say that the area’s new name does not accurately represent the ethnic makeup of the area’s residents.

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