With a slew of new residents and businesses settling into Dogpatch over the last few years, the neighborhood is steadily distancing itself from its reputation as primarily a home for production, distribution and repair industries. Addition of the latest inhabitants has increased demand for safe and pleasant public spaces, and prompted the creation of the Green Benefits District (GBD).
Initially advocated for by community members in 2012, the district was approved by voters three years later. A board of directors was established in December 2015; former District 3 Supervisor Julienne Christensen was hired as GBD’s first executive director this past June.
“What the state law allows is for residents, property owners, businesses to elect to assess a small amount of money additional to their city taxes, which the city then collects, and a nonprofit is formed to then administer that money on behalf of those property owners and businesses,” Christensen explained. “Businesses often approve these benefit districts because it helps their bottom line. The very, very clever people in Dogpatch and North Potrero did something unique and very different with that opportunity. They voted to create a benefit district based around street greening, parks, street trees, sidewalk gardens, the creation of new parks, the expansion and maintenance of existing parks for the general benefit of the neighborhood.”
The GBD encompasses two noncontiguous bits of land, spanning from Mariposa Street to Cesar Chavez, Illinois to Interstate-280; and from 16th to 19th streets, including a few streets on either side of Highway 101.
Christensen, who helped create the Joe DiMaggio Playground in North Beach, and worked to increase wheelchair accessibility at Coit Tower, said her first priority is better management of existing green spaces. “It’s a challenge to create a public space, but the real challenge—and people overlook it, including those sometimes who create them—is who is going to take care of it in the long term. Any public space is only as good as that ongoing care,” she said.
To address that need, GBD hired two fulltime janitorial staff to clean and maintain existing streets and green spaces. In addition, according to Christensen, a host of projects are being planned to emulate such earlier community successes as the Fallen Bridge Mini-Park, located on Utah Street under Highway 101. Christensen said the district is noting makeovers done in other neighborhoods to potential imitate, such as development of a recreational area on Berry Street under I-280 in Mission Bay.
With an annual budget of roughly $536,000, GBD spent nearly $33,000 in its first year on “Jumpstart Programs,” in which it “pruned, cleaned and refreshed” such spots as Fallen Bridge Mini-Park, Progress Park and what’ll become The Potrero Gateway Loop, located on San Bruno Avenue between 17th and Mariposa streets, according to the district’s website.
Christensen hopes that the “jumpstart” of area parks is exactly that, a start. “The Gateway Loop in its final phases includes bicycle lanes, dog areas, gathering areas, plants. This improvement would not only soften the impact of the freeway as it slashes through the neighborhood, but it would also provide those green spaces that we need,” Christensen said. GBD is acting as the project’s fiscal sponsor, making donations to it tax-deductible, since the district has 501c3 status. Christensen said GBD is also helping with advocacy, planning and fundraising.
GBD is also focusing on Minnesota Grove, created by nearby residents and property owner Redmond Lyons about 12 years ago. “So, on Minnesota between 24th Street and 25th Street, there is a little forest that was created by neighbors,” Christensen explained. “We are looking to expand that. It is dead center to the area where Deborah and Andrew Rappaport have leased and purchased buildings to support the arts. So, we have the 1275 communal gallery that they’ve opened. They have also purchased a building up the street that is going to be divided into artist studios, and they are going to offer those at reduced rents to help support the arts community and keep them in San Francisco.”
Minnesota Grove expansion elements may include adding stadium seating adjacent to the 1275 Minnesota gallery and improvements to nearby sidewalks and intersections. “I call South Dogpatch the ‘wild east.’ Minnesota is an “unaccepted” street, meaning the adjacent property owners, not the City, have primary responsibility for its upkeep. Except for the areas around some of the newer residential complexes, there are no sidewalks, curbs, gutters. Scant street lighting is road-focused, and there are no crosswalks,” Christensen said. She added that Minnesota between 23rd and 25th streets is a particularly “fraught” area, and that the GBD is “working with City staff to sort out the unusual details and try to make it workable and safe while retaining its quirky charm.”
GBD also wants to add greenery to 22nd Street between Pennsylvania and Illinois streets, and repurpose the old Third Street Police Station, potentially for use as a community center. “We are looking at the possibility of finding donors to help us convert that into a community space. We don’t have that here; place to take tai chi or water color classes…” Christensen said.