Dogpatch and Hill to Vote on Green Benefits District

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This month Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill property owners will receive ballots asking them to tax themselves, the proceeds from which would be invested in parks and public spaces, as administered by a “Green Benefit District” (GBD).  Under the GBD locals would “directly invest in the beautification and greening” of the two neighborhoods, according to the project’s formation committee, which is chaired by Bruce Huie, Jean Bogiages and Tony Kelly. Ballots will be mailed on June 12 and must be returned by voters within 45 days. 

If approved, residential and commercial property owners in the district would pay a little more than nine cents per square foot annually in assessments.  Revenues would be used to maintain and improve public spaces, including parks, gardens, sidewalks and playgrounds.  The initiative, according to Kelly, is “a way to supplement” San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department expenditures.   

“It’s an assessment on property taxes that will be voted on by residents of a corner of Potrero Hill and all of Dogpatch,” Kelly explained. “If they pass it then there will be an assessment on their property taxes that will go to maintenance and improvement of locally created open spaces.”

The steering committee partnered with Build Public, a nonprofit focused on developing urban open space, and MGM Association Management, a public space consulting firm, to develop the underlying analyses needed to create the GBD.  

The collaborative sent 1,377 petitions by certified mail to property owners in the proposed district last spring asking recipients whether or not they supported GBD creation.  In mid-May, the steering committee submitted the almost 600 petitions that were returned to the Department of Public Works. According to Jared Press, the GBD’s project manager at Build Public, 394 petitions supported the district; 154 petitions opposed it.  Those in favor represented 30 percent of the GBD’s proposed total assessment – $151,696 – just enough to trigger a formal vote by all potentially impacted property owners.  Publicly-owned property in the proposed district – which amounts to 16.5 percent of the total assessment – didn’t participate in the petition phase, but will support the GBD in the ballot phase, Press claimed.

If a simple majority of more than 50 percent of property owners approve the district it’ll be formed. The first assessments would show up on November property tax bills.  

The GBD would be the first of its kind in California.  It’s based on the Community Benefit District (CBD) model.  A CBD is similar to a condominium’s homeowner association, but for neighborhoods.  Funds for CBDs are collected from parcel owners and appear on annual property tax bills.  The GBD would use the same approach, according to the initiative’s steering committee, which is comprised of almost 20 residents, some of whom, including Ron Miguel, Charmaine Curtis, Janet Carpinelli and Don Nolte, have worked on the project since 2012. 

San Francisco has more than a dozen CBDs, including ones surrounding Civic Center and in the Fillmore District. These groups mostly focus on merchants’ needs, with fee monies used to hire off-duty police for extra security, or to help connect businesses with vacant retail spaces.  Unlike a CBD, GBD funds would be spent exclusively on green spaces.

Over the years Dogpatch and Potrero Hill residents have created a number of community green spaces without much municipal support. The Potrero Hill Community Garden, at 20th and San Bruno streets, grew from squatters’ plots planted in the early-1970s.  A little later, Starr King Open Space, on the Hill’s southern slope, was on its way to being plowed over when the U.S. Navy transferred it to a private developer to be used for subsidized mixed-use housing.  But a spirited group of grassroots organizers—with activist Gean Neblett at the helm—convinced the City to mitigate housing density by salvaging a slice of open space. Pennsylvania Garden was recently founded by guerrilla gardeners intent on beautifying a California Department of Transportation off-ramp.

Kelly believes Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero are the City’s best places to try the GBD concept because of the neighborhood’s history of creating their own green space. Many local parks, he claimed, are “ad hoc things that people either found or the neighborhood was given. With all these guerilla gardens coming up because of a desperate need for open space.”  

The GBD is focused on “local control for local open spaces,” he said.  “It’s not giving more money to Rec and Park. It’s not even going to Rec and Park spaces. It is going to spaces that we create and we’re concerned about how they will be maintained in the future.”

According to Kelly, most CBDs include 12 to 40 landowners. The Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill GBD would involve entire neighborhoods, not just slices of commercial areas.  As a result, per square foot assessments would be much lower.  The steering committee of the proposed West Portal CBD estimates that participants would pay more than $31 per foot of linear street frontage and 16 cents per building square foot annually.  However, that CBD only covers three blocks. “The idea here is to make the district larger because we all benefit from open space and parks,” Kelly said. “That way, no one individual has to pay a painful amount.”  

According to an engineer’s report prepared by Terrence Lowell, the amount each landowner would pay would be at least equal to the amount the GBD’s efforts would add to property values; a City requirement. Within the first year, the GBD estimates that it would collect almost $493,000 in assessments. 

Terrence Lowell and other consultants who provided engineering reports and organizational analysis to develop the GBD would be paid a proposed $39,400 of the first year’s assessments for their services. The GBD proposes to raise another $22,000, for a total $515,000 first year budget, from other sources, including grants and donations. The GBD’s initially proposed budget was developed based on informal neighborhood surveys and workshops, as well as expertise provided by Build Public and MJM. The GBD’s board of directors, who would be elected if the district is approved, will be able to adjust the budget, but not by more than 10 percent per fiscal year.

Spreading the costs of maintaining green spaces could ease the burden for some organizations and individuals already engaged in such efforts. The Home Owner Association (HOA) of 1310 Minnesota Street, for example, pays to upkeep green space located on Minnesota and 24th streets, according to a Nextdoor post by Jennelle Crothers.  Even water for the space comes from the building. Maintaining that green space costs the 30 owners of the HOA an average of $10,000 a year, Crothers claimed. 

“We need the GBD to help cover the costs associated with this space so the burden is shared by everyone in the neighborhood,” Crothers wrote. “Without the GBD our HOA will be forced to look at reducing maintenance, which will only lead to it looking blighted or being removed. Green spaces increase all our property values.”