The number of business owners disgruntled with the three-year-old downtown district remains a point of dispute. Businesses are assessed annually, ranging from $50 to $500, depending on type of company and location. Only a weighted 8 percent of the 800-or-so members, filed a protest against the district by the May 2007 deadline.
Each year, businesses within the boundaries -- which roughly stretch from El Camino Real to Webster Street and from Lytton Avenue to Forest Avenue, with a three-block-wide extension along Emerson Avenue to Addison Street -- have the opportunity to disband the district by filing a protest. If more than 50 percent of weighted votes oppose the district, the City Council dissolves it.
The city sends businesses a letter each year notifying them of the protest opportunity, according to Sherry Bijan, president of the district, known as the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association.
Instead of filing protests, however, a group of owners have stopped paying their bills.
Satish Sandadi, of Hyderabad House, said he paid the first two years, but then grew frustrated when he didn't see the benefit of the district and filed the bill without paying it this year.
"Where is the use for us?" Sandadi said. He said he doesn't know where the BID board of directors meets and that he wasn't notified of the recent Promenade event until it was underway, too late to bring extra tables or schedule staff members.
He said business owners should volunteer for tasks rather than hire staff, a comment echoed by other BID opponents.
Several business owners haven't ever paid, Bijan said. The district has collected about $290,000 in assessments since its 2004 inception, and it's missing about $55,630, according to Bijan and district records.
Led by Susan Hsing of Jewel Ritz, Goolrukh Vakil of the boutique G.V. (formerly known as Shaska) and several other business owners, opponents recently drafted a letter and petition, faulting the district for sending missed payments to a collection agency and spending its money on salaries.
They ask for the district to disband and called for volunteer-run efforts instead.
"The same job can be done without assessing us to primarily pay yourselves," the letter states.
Hsing and Vakil are quick to turn attention away from themselves -- "this is general," Hsing said.
They say about 300 businesses stand behind them.
Bijan places the figure closer to 50 businesses. Susan Arpan, the city's manager of economic development, who has data on the businesses who haven't paid and those who have protested, is out of town until Aug. 5.
Bijan said bills don't go to collection until they are about three months overdue. Businesses receive the initial bill in early July, a reminder after 30 days, a notice with a 10 percent penalty after 60 days and a final notice giving 10 days before the debt goes to collection, Bijan said.
"They don't have a leg to stand on. A BID is not a voluntary thing, by law they have to pay it," she said.
Bijan noted that meetings are publicly noticed on the downtown association's Web site, http://www.paloaltodowntown.com . She said she's eager for feedback from downtown businesses.
"They really ought to come and become involved," Bijan said. "I'm open. Tell me how we should spend [the money]."
Some business owners don't attend because "they're not community minded," Bijan said.
"They just want to complain."
Since 2004, the district has spun off the Downtown Streets Team, which gives homeless people work cleaning streets in exchange for food and housing vouchers, and hosted several events, including the recent Palo Alto Promenade and Bryant Street Fashion Show. It also has a Web site touting downtown's businesses and has organized other marketing and outreach efforts.
The BID was formed in 2004, following several years of work by a committee of the Chamber of Commerce.