Friday, February 11, 2011

Downtown Tiburon's problems? It's the economy, stupid.

A front page article in the IJ today reports from last night's City of Tiburon meeting to discuss the poor state of Tiburon's downtown. As we noted last year, Tiburon's sales tax revenues have declined by over 30% since 2008, by far the worst performance in Marin County. With businesses closing and others struggling to survive, the City has been looking for answers and has reached the view that the downtown is tired and needs some revitalization. A design consultant noted "challenges to the physical framework" and recommended several measures including improvements to walkways, landscaping and signs, and more aggressive marketing.

It's good to see everyone getting motivated to do something about it, but you can't just change the physical layout of downtown. Tiburon has constraints, particularly the lack of free parking, that it shares with many other downtowns. While it's good policy for the City to make whatever improvements are necessary to keep the downtown area attractive, don't expect such measures to have a dramatic impact.

Tiburon's problem is actually quite simple (and temporary): it's the recession. Tiburon may be the wealthiest city in Marin, but it's also been hit the hardest by the economic downturn. Look at the personal income tax data, from the CA Franchise Tax Board:
  • Total Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for zip code 94920 (Belvedere/Tiburon) in 2008 was $2.82 Billion. In 2010 it was $1.51 Billion, a decline of -47%. 
  • Over the same period, AGI for Novato fell by -11%, Corte Madera by -3% and Mill Valley by -31%.
I confidently predict a strong recovery for Tiburon over the next year or two. The City may take the credit for implementing their decisive action plan, but I suspect it will have more to do with the improved balance sheets of the citizens of 94920.

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