A Fresh Approach to Florin Road

Acuity with Verna Sulpizio

Back Q&A Feb 23, 2015 By Christine Calvin

After managing the development of property and business improvement districts across California, in January Verna Sulpizio became the new executive director of the Florin Road Partnership, a PBID that spans Florin Road from Chandler Drive to Tamoshanter Way. The Partnership provides service and programs to improve the image and economic vitality of the Florin Road Business District. Sulpizio also chairs the Urban Land Institute Young Leaders Group, with a mission to increase the involvement and influence of young land-use development professionals in the Sacramento region.

The Florin Road Partnership is a property and business improvement district formed in the late ’ 90s to enhance and promote commerce along that corridor. What are the primary services it provides?

It’s actually the second-oldest PBID in the Sacramento area and includes all of the commercial businesses along the Florin Road corridor, everything from nail shops to Walmart and Paratransit to auto dealerships. Our budget is about $300,000 a year, and a large part of that goes to our Clean & Safe Program, which pays for private security and our maintenance program. I would like to leverage more of our funds for capital improvements, but the big thing we’re working on right now is a project to underground our power lines. We’re working on a feasibility study, which will take about a year, to figure out if we can actually underground the lines and then identify funding sources. It will be several million dollars, but would transform the area. Just think, the sky would open up, and it would be easier to walk down the street.

Your PBID operates on a 10-year term, and the fee property owners assess themselves has not increased since 2008. If your members renew the PBID and increase the assessment in 2018, how might Florin Road benefit?

The actual PBID boundaries are surrounded by great residential neighborhoods with active homeowner associations and passionate community members. So we’ve got this great boundary of people with great houses. I would love to have a beautiful entry sign that says Welcome to Florin Road. We’d have gorgeous landscaping, and the power lines would be underground. In a perfect world, I would love to see Christmas lights that cover the entire area so it looks like a little downtown. There are things we can start doing to make the aesthetics of the area feel as good as they can.

What are some of the primary issues currently facing your member businesses?

The issues property owners are having are very simple. It’s the perception of the area. South Sacramento unfortunately has a terrible reputation, when its actually one of the safest areas. If we’re going to have a healthy, robust retail and commercial area where people want to spend money, we have to improve the image. We have an issue with panhandling. Unfortunately, these panhandlers are running a business. They’re not there because they’re homeless and need services, they’re there because that’s their job. It’s a very organized ring; they have cell phones and they have corners and they have a manager. They work different shifts. So other than bringing in security to constantly push them away, I have not yet determined a better way to deal with it. I would like to step up our security services, but that costs money, and our budget is only so big. If we can come up with creative ways to deal with it, I think there are opportunities for a long-term solution.

You’ve assisted dozens of PBIDs through your previous role as a project manager with Civitas. What innovative solutions have you seen some of these PBIDs produce?

Civitas specializes in forming and renewing special improvement districts. We formed a PBID in Walnut Creek that struggled with transportation access. So they’re going to take $150,000 of their assessment to develop a shuttle service between BART and the business park. That’s the way they are going to bring in and maintain millennials and people who want to work in this area. Now the PBID can attract employers to its business complex by saying, “we have an easy way to get the right kind of employees to your space.”

How does your involvement with the ULI Young Leaders Group connect to your involvement with PBIDs?

The Urban Land Institute is an incredible organization that deals with all things having to do with the built environment. I’m learning more about how design can impact the way people live. If you just shape something a bit differently or add a feature, the people around it are just a little happier. Because I can think about that in the context of what we’re doing on Florin Road, I can say, ‘Let’s not just add park benches. Let’s create sitting areas where people want to actually sit down and grab a cup of coffee and have a conversation. Or crime prevention through environmental design — the tools and techniques we can share with our property owners about simple ways to reduce crime: lighting, removing posters from front windows, trimming back trees. ULI is the only organization in the region that takes all the elements of the built environment — from low-impact development and engineering to landscape design and architecture — and brings these folks into the same room to talk about what we can do in Sacramento to make this the best place for people to live and build their businesses.

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