Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District Pursues Success through Partnerships

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Improvements to the 22nd Street Caltrain station are on schedule, with work to remove the asphalt walkway and replace it with a larger concrete plaza – along with additional plantings and lighting – on the facility’s southbound platform starting this month. Covered scooter and motorcycle parking opened at Iowa and 22nd streets earlier this year. A bikeshare that’d been installed on the east side of Iowa Street, south of 22nd Street, has been moved closer to the station to improve its visibility.  

Come spring, work will expand to include installation of covered, secure, LED-lit bicycle parking on Iowa Street. Public art will also be mounted.

The project was catalyzed by the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District (GBD), in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW), San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA), and Caltrain. According to Julie Christensen, GBD executive director, the effort has required more than two years of planning, along with local and state approvals. 

The University of California, San Francisco provided $250,000 for improvements related to the southbound platform entrance.  “UCSF is also working with the GBD and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department on the planned Esprit Park renovation. UCSF is providing $5 million in funding for the park renovation,” said Christine Gasparac, UCSF senior director of community relations. 

Christensen said the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD is engaged in greening and cleaning areas around the 18th Street and 23rd Street Highway 101 overpasses, the extension of Minnesota Grove, and pedestrian improvements in north and south Dogpatch. The organization is also developing water reclamation and signage projects.  

“Any…are candidates for Community Challenge Grants and other grants and contributions,” said Christensen. 

Community Challenge Grants (CCG) is a municipal funding program that supports citizen-led improvement efforts. It’s a division of the City Administrator’s Office that receives funding through voluntary business tax elections. The Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD was awarded two CCGs in 2017: $40,750 for the Progress Park Fitness Center; $37,500 for the Benches Park Renovation. It’ll likely apply for 2019 CCG funds this spring. 

“We did not want to apply for another CCG grant until those were closed out,” said Christensen. 

“All applications will go through a review and scoring process to determine eligibility and possibility of an award. Grants awarded for that cycle will be announced in August 2019,” said Lanita Hernandez, CCG program director. The CCG Spring Cycle will open in May. 

This month, the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD will vote to elect five of its 15 board members. The seats, for three-year terms, are for two Dogpatch property owners, one Dogpatch tenant or property owner, one Northwest Potrero Hill property owner, and one green space advocate.  Susan Eslick and Janet Carpinelli are running as Dogpatch property owners, Jason Kelly-Johnson as Dogpatch tenant, for Northwest Potrero Hill owner, Jean Bogiages, and for green space advocate, Terri McFarland. All but McFarland are incumbents.  Ballots have been mailed to district property owners, who each have one plus the value of their assessment, divided by 3,000, votes. The election closes on March 26; since the races aren’t competitive all candidates are expected to win. 

In fiscal year (FY) 2017-2018, which runs from July 1 to June 30, the GBD’s total revenue, including grants, donations, in-kind contributions, and volunteer work, was $560,000, with estimated revenue of $620,000 for FY 2018. So far, this fiscal year the only item that’s gone over budget has been the Progress Park Fitness Project. According to Christensen, equipment expenditures were augmented to include improved landscaping and irrigation.  

“The increase in scope and budget was made possible by a $10,000 donation from the Potrero Power Station,” said Christensen. 

The Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD’s 2018 projects included creating the Progress Park fitness area and improving safety and access to its dog run, renovating Benches Park, expanding the Minnesota Grove North Park’s main path to connect it to 24th Street, and street greening throughout Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill. 

In 2018, the GBD negotiated agreements with UCSF and Rec and Park regarding its role as fiscal sponsor for the Esprit Park renovation design phase, under which the GBD will administer about 16 percent of UCSF funds allocated for Esprit. These monies will be used to pay for a landscape designer, engineers, arborist and other professionals needed to deliver a complete set of construction documents to the City. RPD will receive the balance of the $5 million UCSF grant, which’ll be dedicated to park renovation. This type of public/private partnership, with nonprofits managing the design phase and the City in charge of construction, has been previously employed by the Parks Alliance, Trust for Public Land, and Rec and Park. 

In FY 2017, the GBD cleaned and made improvements on Tennessee Street south of 23rd Street, and enhanced Pennsylvania Street north of 23rd Street. Ongoing projects include cleaning and improving Fallen Bridge and Woods Yard parks, installing lighting in Angel Alley, enhancing 20th Street between Indiana and Tennessee streets, expanding the southern portion of Minnesota Grove, streetscape advances on Minnesota Street between 23rd and 25th streets, developing the underside of the 18th Street overpass into public space, installing GBD and park signage, and establishing two dog comfort stations, where animals can relieve themselves. 

According to Christensen, comfort stations will be about the size of a sidewalk garden plot, with a dog waste bag dispenser, boulders, pipes, or other objects for dogs to mark, and a permeable surface for good drainage. The first station, located near San Bruno and 18th streets, adjacent to Benches Park, will “be on automatic irrigation, to clean it regularly,” said Christensen. The station’s goal is to draw as many animals as possible away from adjacent sidewalk gardens and Benches Park. 

The second station will likely be located near Irving Murray Scott Primary School, the City’s oldest surviving public schoolhouse, on Minnesota Street south of 22nd Street. 

The GBD emerged to address land use changes in Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill. “When the industry went away, the City needed to figure out what to do with this area. The City rezoned the whole place, and developers built a lot of housing,” said Bogiages, Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD vice president, who is running for another term. 

According to Bogiages, the organization has many tasks ahead of it, including increasing renters’ and property owners’ awareness of the GBD’s activities and how they can get involved.  “Whatever we do has to be something that comes from the ground up. It is important to make the agenda known a certain amount of time ahead of the meeting. We want to be very transparent and follow rules. We hope to make our goals clear so more people have a chance to control,” said Bogiages. 

J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president, said the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD has been beneficial for northwest Potrero Hill. “The GBD has helped with several of our larger projects. It’s participated in the planning of the Potrero Gateway Park under the freeway at 17th Street and led significant improvements at Benches Park. The part of northwest Potrero Hill that is served is a much smaller area than Dogpatch,” said Eppler.

According to Eppler, the Boosters want to see spaces near freeways and bridges “cleaned, greened, and activated. We want to see them designed in a way that prevents them from falling into disrepair. A lot of work has been done in the southern part of Dogpatch. We’re now looking at opportunities for the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD in the northern half of Dogpatch, particularly under and around the bridges that connect Potrero Hill and Dogpatch over Interstate 280.”

The Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD is the country’s first such entity, chartered by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2015. Christensen said it operates under contract with the City, overseen by the Department of Public Works, which monitors its practices and finances. The GBD has a goal of improving parks, increasing green space, and making public realm improvements in residential areas of Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill. The GBD covers about 200 acres, or 70 blocks, mostly in Dogpatch. 

The City’s 16 Community Benefit District (CBDs) – including the Castro Community Benefit District and Union Square Business Improvement District – take on a variety of responsibilities, including supporting local enterprises and marketing them to visitors and investors. CBDs are organized by property and business owners, funded by levying assessments on themselves.  Many CBDs focus on increasing accessibility to retail consumers by cleaning sidewalks and public spaces, providing security for events, and managing holiday decorations. Some CBDs, like Japantown, want to nurture a more connected business community. 

The areas covered by CBDs and their lifespans differ. The Japantown CBD encompasses seven whole and partial blocks, and is scheduled to last 10 years. The Castro CBD covers 270 parcels, with a 15-year term. Like GBDs, CBDs hold elections.  The Japantown CBD is governed by the Owners’ Association Board of Directors, a cross section of district property owners. The City requires that 60 percent of board members be property owners that pay the district’s assessment, 20 percent business owners within the district boundary. 

According to Jonathan Goldberg, Green Benefit District program manager for San Francisco Public Works, GBD creation requires multiple steps. First, residents and property owners in the proposed area are surveyed to gauge their interest. If there’s sufficient support, a management plan, detailing the proposed slate of services, improvements, annual budget, governance structure, and district term is developed. The term cannot be longer than 15 years. District proponents are required to produce an Engineer’s Report, drafted by a licensed assessment engineer, which provides the legal justification for the assessment levy and method by which proposed assessments will be calculated. 

Next the Management Plan must undergo City review. Then the plan and Engineer’s Report must be finalized and approved by the City Attorney’s Office. Both documents, which’re required by state code, become legislative documents if the GBD is endorsed through a petition process and ballot vote. 

After the City Attorney’s Office has approved the documents, a petition must demonstrate support from more than 30 percent of all property owners, followed by a ballot vote endorsed by a majority of voting property owners, which isn’t square footage adjusted. 

A successful election triggers the Board of Supervisors to formally vote to approve and legislate GBD formation. After the Board endorses the district, it must organize itself as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, purchase insurance, elect a board of directors, and accomplish a number of other tasks to establish its relationship with the City and receive municipally-collected special assessment funds. 

A Green Benefit District funds its activities through an annual property assessment, which can vary by land use type.  The assessment base for the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD is 1,403 properties, with 1,150 property owners. Assessment fees are determined by the parcel’s primary use and square footage. According to the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD’s FY 2017 annual report, a commercial, industrial, or residential parcel is charged the assessment rate multiplied by the building square footage.  A parking or vacant lot and open space area is assessed the lot square footage multiplied by the rate. For a commercial, residential, parking or vacant lot the rate is $0.0951 per square foot; for an industrial area, $0.0475; for a park or greenspace, $0.0238; and for an inaccessible area, 0. A 10,000 square foot commercial building would pay an annual assessment of $951; 10,000 multiplied by 0.0951.  

Christensen said the average assessment for a residence is about $100 a year. The lowest is roughly $23 annually. Large commercial properties pay a significant portion of the District’s total revenues. 

According to Susan Eslick, Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD treasurer, the organization picks its projects carefully. 

“As per the GBD Management Plan, only a certain percentage of the GBD’s budget can go towards maintenance. With regard to the 22nd Street greening, the City planned and installed all of the improvements on 22nd Street. The agreement the GBD had with the City was that after three years, the GBD would assume maintenance for 22nd Street. Currently, the City is maintaining 22nd Street,” said Eslick. 

According to Eslick, developments in Dogpatch have resulted in new revenues for that area.  “Assessment funds received from Dogpatch must stay within the Dogpatch zone,” said Eslick. 

The landscaping company, Lianez, Inc., and janitorial company, Aim To Please, contract with the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD, adhering to a weekly maintenance schedule for GBD projects. Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) has an agreement with the GBD to engage in tasks like street greening. 

“In 2017, we removed as much sidewalk for the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD as possible. We help them plant trees and create sidewalk gardens. We hope to come back and help them plant more trees in July 2019,” said Dan Flanagan, executive director of FUF. 

The Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD works with a number of government entities, including the California Department of Transportation and the San Francisco Unified School District. DPW ultimately assumes financial responsibility for GBD projects that involve greening streets, as guaranteed by the passage, with 79 percent approval, of Proposition E in 2016, which amended the City Charter to transfer responsibility for care of the City’s more than 124,000 “street” trees from property owners to DPW. 

Goldberg said DPW’s programmatic staff provide oversight and counseling to neighborhood groups interested in forming a GBD, and receives funding from District Supervisors to support GBD formation efforts.  Bruce Huie, a co-founder of the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District, said it received no funds from the District 10 Supervisor’s office over the past four fiscal years. 

According to Goldberg, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) allocates funding annually to promote Community Benefit Districts. OEWD has periodically allowed potential GBDs to apply for benefit district formation assistance grants.

The San Francisco Parks Alliance, a nonprofit with the goal of promoting civic engagement and philanthropy, advises the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD and residents of other neighborhoods who want to create GBDs. Of SF Parks Alliance’s 23 staffers, five are dedicated to Place Lab, which’d operated as an independent nonprofit organization from 2014 to 2018 when the two organizations merged. 

According to Gloria Chan, OEWD director of communications, the department awarded to Place Lab $66,000 in FY 2017 for GBD formation assistance, and $104,700 in FY 2018. 

 “SF Parks Alliance had a goal to improve existing public parks, community gardens, street parks, and new spaces planned in collaboration with partners such as Rec and Parks, DPW, Planning, and 200-plus community groups. Place Lab…focused on the interstitial spaces between buildings and roadways, the alleys, sidewalks and other public spaces not traditionally counted as open space,” said Brooke Rivera, Place Lab director. 

Rivera said that while the SF Parks Alliance supports the Dogpatch/Northwest Potrero Hill GBD it doesn’t have a formal arrangement with it. She added that in 2013, Place Lab helped create the entity.  

“We were invited in by neighborhood leaders to help address concerns they had about making sure the rapid population growth in the Dogpatch area could be matched by commensurate creation and care of green spaces to serve all the new and existing residents,” said Rivera. “SF Parks Alliance is committed to supporting community-driven efforts which directly reflect our mission to champion, transform and activate parks and public spaces throughout the City. As such, Parks Alliance supports GBDs, CBDs, and other many other types of funding and financing ideas that support parks and public space.”