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Business Improvement Districts

San Diego's Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are City-designated geographic-based areas where the business owners are assessed annually to fund activities and improvements to promote the business district. The City of San Diego supports BIDs as a tool for strengthening small business communities, creating new jobs, attracting new businesses, and revitalizing older commercial neighborhoods across the city. The City partners with merchants associations, representing the assessed business owners, to implement the BID program.

San Diego's BID Program

The City of San Diego's BID program, the largest tenant-based program in the state of California, is administered by the City's Office of Small Business. San Diego's program dates back to 1970 with the creation of the Downtown Improvement Area, California's first metropolitan downtown district. Since that time, the small business community and the City of San Diego have created 18 active districts. More than 11,000 small businesses participate in these self-assessment districts, raising more than $1.3 million annually.

Benefits

A BID provides business area merchants with the resources to develop marketing campaigns, increase awareness, and enhance public improvement projects in partnership with the City. An organized business community can work more effectively to create positive change and increase support for businesses in the area. In San Diego, BID associations work closely with elected officials and city staff to voice collective concerns, monitor business regulations and obtain funding and support for their business development projects.

Marketing Activities

The BID associations have developed a variety of successful marketing activities that generate business for the districts. These activities range from special events such as restaurant tours, block parties, weekly farmers markets and holiday festivals to developing public relations and marketing materials. BID associations promote businesses through the Internet, social media and cooperative advertising campaigns; they develop and distribute business directories, coupon books, and other district brochures. BID associations coordinate some of San Diego's most popular, large-scale street festivals, including the Adams Avenue Street Fair, Gaslamp's Mardi Gras, and Hillcrest's CityFest. BID associations also market the districts to potential businesses in an effort to reduce vacancies, provide a good mix of businesses and strengthen the BID. All of these activities help to further market the districts to customers.

Other City Assistance

The City has grant programs which provide opportunities for additional funding for the merchant associations. There are also programs geared toward assisting individual businesses. For instance, the City's Office of Small Business offers the Storefront Improvement Program, which provides small businesses with design assistance and incentive payments to assist with storefront renovations.

The City also supports the San Diego Business Improvement District Council, a non-profit whose membership includes the BID associations, which disseminates information and provides resources and expertise to its members to assist small businesses.

Forming a BID

Typically, a BID is initiated by local business owners petitioning the City to establish a BID on their behalf. Once the City Council has approved a resolution of intention, a copy of the BID proposal and resolution is sent to all affected businesses. After the City Council conducts two public hearings it may approve the BID establishment by ordinance, provided written protests are not received from business owners who will represent 50 percent or more of the total assessments to be collected.

Assessment Fees

The methodology for determining assessment amounts is formulated by the business association that initiates the BID process. The respective business group takes into account the type, size, and location of the businesses and the activities and improvements to be funded. In San Diego, the fees generally range from $40 to $500 per business each year. A few of the newer BIDs have higher fees, ranging from $90 to $1,200 per year, with some anchor businesses paying up to $5,000 to support BID-related projects.

The fees help fund activities and improvements ranging from farmers' markets to business promotions to installing banners and removing graffiti. By pooling private resources, business owners in BIDs collectively pay for activities which they could not afford on an individual basis. Further, since a BID fee is a benefit assessment and not a tax, BIDs can consistently enact programs and activities without relying on scarce public funding. BIDs are one of the most valuable and effective finance tools available to the small business community.

The City collects the fee on an annual basis. The BID assessment is included as a separate charge on the business tax certificate bill that every business receives. All assessment funds are returned to the BIDs through annual contract agreements with the respective BID associations. The City of San Diego does not charge for the City staff or administrative costs associated with the BID program.

BID Locations

BID Governance and Meeting Information

The City of San Diego requires BID associations to post the following documents on their websites: all regular meeting agendas; approved meeting minutes; Contractor’s bylaws; any annual audits or financial disclosures; the Annual Report; and contracts awarded using any BID assessments which are $5,000 or more, including a notation of the number of bidders for such contracts in the top right hand corner of the contract posted.