Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


Wayne Batchis


Quasi-governmental Business Improvement Districts ("BIDs") have proliferated in cities across the country. By compensating for the service deficiencies of under-performing city governments, BIDs have been a notable bright spot in what has otherwise been a grim half-century for America's cities. BIDs have been hailed as a remarkable practical success in the struggle to revitalize urban centers and neighborhoods throughout America. However, their constitutional roots have yet to be explored in significant depth by law and politics scholars. BIDs face constitutional challenges in courts across the country due to their innovative, yet constitutionally questionable, quasi-governmental structure. They are endowed with many of the powers traditionally possessed by urban governments, yet are arguably undemocratic, and ultimately structured to serve the interests of business, not of the people. BIDs present a range of constitutionally problematic issues-issues that have yet to be resolved by the Supreme Court. At the same time, the very need for BIDs is attributable to a larger political structure rooted in a series of flawed and contentious Supreme Court decisions. These cases prioritize localism over equality and privatization over free speech. This article assesses the constitutional and political implications of BIDs in light of Supreme Court decisions that have placed a constitutional stamp of approval on municipal fragmentation, inequality and privatization-conditions that made BIDs an essential tool for urban success.