As California's planning practice escalates toward a regulatory function increasingly detached from life on the street, the question presents itself: Who's minding the store? In the case of central business districts and outlying commercial precincts, the answer may lie with a collection of loosely organized and highly local affinity groups called BIDs - Business Improvement Districts. On the one hand, the growing power of the BIDs around California might threaten traditional city hall-based planning practitioners. But viewed from a different perspective, BIDs may represent the greatest triumph yet of planning theories spawned in the 1960s: grassroots bottom-up decision-making, local control of spending details, broad community involvement, and direct reinvestment of locally-generated revenues. BIDs are property-owner associations whose members agree to contribute an increment of business license fees or property taxes to fund a variety of efforts that collectively promote the district. Their formation must be approved by the local government entity, and must have a majority of support of the property owners that control 50% or more of the assessed land valuation in the district. From there, rules governing decision-making and funding are developed by the BID membership and the partnering land use agency. Typically, funds are spent on physical and urban design improvements, basic maintenance, promotional activities, and joint marketing - all with the express intent of improving the economic condition of the delineated district. Though poorly understood and sporadically applied, the BID tool is not exactly new. State enabling legislation was passed back in the 1970s. But as retail and entertainment activity continues to return to older downtown and neighborhood commercial areas, BIDs have moved to the front and center of community-based planning. The National Center for Policy Analysis estimates that there are over 1000 BIDs in operation nationwide. San Diego is the epicenter of California's BID action. One of the first BIDs in the state, the Downtown San Diego Partnership, was formed in the 1970s. There is no denying that the revival of the Gaslamp District in the southern port city has tracked along with the with the Partnership's history. Since then, BIDs have cropped up all over town. Currently, there are 16 BIDs in San Diego, with two more on the drawing boards. And, San Diego has logged another BID movement first: the city is home to the first consortium of BIDs, called the Business Improvement District Council. To date, San Diego BIDs have collected over $1.3 billion dollars for direct reinvestment back into the districts. Meanwhile, San Francisco is set to activate its first BID in Union Square at the first of the year. The BID activities in San Diego have been responsible for everything from an explosion in neighborhood street fairs and festivals to pricey urban design improvements. "Before," says the San Diego BID Council's Program Director Gary Weber, "one would wonder if the City would ever get around to streetscape improvements. Now, within the BIDs, the question is not if, but when." Though it is widely assumed that the BID movement has improved San Diego, there are no real numerical success measurements yet. "We are in the early stages of establishing a data collection system and GIS. This would allow us to make year-to-year comparisons like private shopping centers and retailers would." Steve Russell, executive director of the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, sees success at an empirical level. "We have seen a gradual accumulation of physical improvements- median landscaping, special pavement, and pedestrian-scaled street lighting - along the three-mile corridor." Russell, whose BID encompasses 1,200 members, has also noticed "an improvement in attitude and pride amongst the business owners." The role BIDs play in community planning is bound to grow. "Our BID sits at the intersection of four of San Diego's community planning area" says Russell "Increasingly, we are realizing we can play a pivotal role as a catalyst for a variety of planning endeavors." In addition to working with city departments, BIDs coordinate with county, state, and even federal agencies to leverage grant programs and represent the small business community agenda for planning programs. Broadly considered, BIDs may really represent the success of planning principles. Perhaps the best embodiment of the private-public partnership ballyhooed for over a decade, BIDs seem to thrive on their extra-governmental knack at building relationships between interest-connected small businesses, and focussing resources that would otherwise be dissipated across the bureaucratic spectrum. So from Main Street to midtown, we can rest assured: someone's minding the store.