Last month, District 10 residents cast votes to decide how to spend $250,000 to improve their neighborhoods. Proposals were compiled by residents at three brainstorming sessions held in 2017 and submitted online as part of a Participatory Budgeting initiative.
Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process in which locals identify and vote on community projects for funding. It first emerged in 1989 in the Brazilian City of Porto Alegre. The process quickly spread throughout that country, and has been adopted by several United States cities, including New York, Boston, San Francisco and Oakland.
The concept was first introduced to the City as a District 3 pilot program in 2012 by then Supervisor David Chiu, with $100,000 in funding. The following year, District 7 expanded the process online to increase participation. This month’s Participatory Budgeting is limited to Districts 7, 8 and 10.
“I want to introduce participatry budgeting in San Francisco because a deeper level of civic participation will improve our community investments in our neighborhoods,” Chiu said.
District 10 Supervisor and California Board of Equalization candidate, Malia Cohen, invited residents to three informational meetings last year to discuss ways to invest a quarter-million-dollars within the categories of neighborhood community services, transportation and pedestrian safety, beautification and open space, education and youth, and culture and arts. Fall gatherings were held at the Potrero Branch Library and Bayview YMCA; a winter assembly took place at the Visitacion Valley Branch Library. According to a District 10 Supervisor staff member, the meetings were attended by 30, 40 and 100 residents respectively.
“Participatory Budgeting … provides a public forum for constituents to weigh in on their spending priorities,” Cohen stated in an email to media outlet, Hoodline.” It is a form of direct democracy that positively impacts our community.”
Potential projects had to meet certain guidelines. In addition to benefiting District 10 residents, schemes needed to cost between $5,000 and $25,000, and be a one-time, non-recurring, non-operating expense. District 10 residents had until Christmas to submit proposals, after which Cohen’s staff worked with the Controller’s Office to determine each proposal’s feasibility, and to merge redundant ones. Other City departments, such as Recreation and Parks, supported the effort.
This year’s ballot was first available online, followed by a paper version distributed at District 10 public libraries, as well as at Cohen’s City Hall office and the Samoan Community Development Center. District residents 16 years and older were permitted to cast votes.
“Voting was publicized through the newsletter and through Supervisor Cohen’s facebook page,” offered Sophia Kittler, legislative aide. “We intend to tweet and post on facebook several times before the announcement of winners by the end of May at the latest and will be announced by newsletter and social media. From there, we have an RFP process after the Budget is passed to identify vendors and distribute funds where appropriate.”
The supervisor’s office did not proactively notify the View of the voting at anytime during the process.
Voters could select up to eight projects from 30 options. Ballot items included a mini-park equipped with security cameras, safety lighting and a pathway connecting Arkansas, Connecticut and Missouri streets; a Bayview emergency power generation program for use during a disaster, such as an earthquake; and free computer and coding classes.
“The nice thing about Participatory Budgeting is that you don’t have to just vote for one item,” said Katherine Doumani, Dogpatch resident. “I think it’s a really great idea and hope it continues. There are an amazing number of community support and greening proposals. It’s wonderful to see the list and I’m happy to see the great work being done in the community.”
Doumani helped craft a project to provide $10,000 for neighborhood outreach to support creation of a Dogpatch community center. The “Dogpatch Hub” would feature multi-purpose spaces aimed at engendering community cohesion and providing neighborhood services. Doumani is part of Friends of Dogpatch Hub, a nonprofit organization working to establish the Hub, including identifying surplus municipal properties that could be repurposed. One such site is the long-derelict Potrero Police Station and hospital, located at the corner of Third and 20th streets. Friends secured City funding for Neighborhood Asset Activation of the property, a program that targets “vacant or underutilized buildings of cultural or historical significance and implement creative short- and long-term activation to enable identified buildings to become assets to their surrounding communities.”
“The building has defied everyone’s attempts to solve the ongoing deterioration,” said Doumani. “Right now we’re working with the City and Police Department to find out the ideal outcome for everyone.”
According to Doumani, locating the Hub at the building would provide an effective facility from which to tell the story of Dogpatch and give new residents a link to the neighborhood’s history. She added that the 6,000 square foot building would be insufficient to meet the demands of a growing residential population, and that a larger recreation center is also needed for the formally industrial community.
Last year, more than 1,100 District 10 residents voted during the Participatory Budgeting process. Eleven winning projects spent $250,000, including a public recreation and open space initiative at the Enola Maxwell public school campus, five movie nights in District parks, a youth gardening program, and crosswalks at Cesar Chavez and Third streets.