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Media Coverage
Added Hilltop Maintenance May Take Tax Raise
March 24, 1998


Tuesday, March 24, 1998
Section: news
Page: A 3
Shawn Masten
Caption: Photo. Landscaping and maintenance in the Hilltop area including the mall may receive a boost if Richmond approves an increase in a property assessment, subject to a public vote in April. (Herman Bustamante Jr./Times).

RICHMOND Capitalizing on the Richmond Parkway and an expected development boom, the city may raise the ante for upkeep in Hilltop.

City officials are considering doubling the amount they spend for landscape maintenance and other amenities in a 12-year-old assessment district covering much of the area around Hilltop mall. To pay for it, they may ask property owners in the district for a tax increase.

The hike was proposed in the wake of the area's growth and an increasing need for maintenance, including graffiti abatement. The proposal has been coupled with a plan to increase the size of the assessment district from 119 to 148 parcels.

City leaders say the plans will help pay for upkeep on an area vital to the economy, but at least one major business Berlex Laboratories Inc. objects to the costs.

The affected property owners will get a chance to vote on the proposed assessment via a ballot to be mailed by the city in April. The mail ballot is a requirement of Proposition 218, approved by state voters last year to curb abuse of assessments by cities.

An outside contractor performs the work for the city at a cost of about $263,000 a year. The city wants to increase the maintenance budget to $486,000 in the next budget year, which begins July 1.

The assessment district was formed in response to a demand for work that the city couldn't afford to perform after the passage of property-tax slashing Prop. 13 in 1978. City officials said the area, which includes Hilltop mall and the areas along the Richmond Parkway to Giant Road, must look good to attract business.

"We want the entire Hilltop area to be as inviting as possible," said Michael Fenley, general manager of mall. "The services that the landscaping assessment district provides are an important part of that effort."

The council approved adding the new parcels to the district March 17. The territory to be annexed includes land along the newly reconstructed Atlas Road and the Point Pinole area north of the parkway.

At that meeting, Berlex argued that the increased costs were unfair because the company had just completed more than $200,000 in landscaping on its property near San Pablo Avenue just south of the Richmond Parkway. Under the proposals, Berlex is facing an increased assessment of $2,000.

"Berlex has contributed to the city in many ways. ... We just can't justify going along with this annexation," Terry Grimmer told the council.

Berlex's objection irked Councilman Tom Butt.

"It strikes me as strange that they're coming in here quibbling over an assessment that we need to help keep our city nice," Butt said.