Six new and two returning members were empaneled on the Dogpatch & NW Potrero Hill Green Benefit District’s board last month. The eight – representing more than half the 15 board seats – were chosen by property owners within the district, according to executive director Julie Christiansen.
“Every year typically five seats are up for election,” Christiansen told the View. “This past year we had three people who had to leave … so there are eight seats up this year.”
Two of the seats were filled by incumbents. Jason Kelly Johnson will serve a full three-year term representing Dogpatch property owners. Terri McFarland will similarly engage in a three-year term as a greenspace advocate.
The GBD is the only one of the City’s 18 benefit districts that focuses on greenery: gardens, parklets, sidewalks and other open spaces.
The district is comprised of two non-contiguous areas. One in Dogpatch that’s bounded by Illinois and Pennsylvania streets, and Mariposa and Cesar Chavez streets. The other is in northwest Potrero Hill, circumscribed by 16th and 19th streets, and Potrero Avenue between Vermont and Kansas streets.
Voting rights are influenced by the size of a participating property.
“Every discrete property owner is guaranteed at least one vote,” said Christiansen. “Each assessment is divided by 3,000 and the resulting number is added to that one. Seventy-seven percent of property owners in the district pay less than $200 in assessments each year, so most people’s vote is weighted one and a small fraction.”
Christiansen didn’t give a turnout percentage for the elections but said that “turnout percentage has traditionally been low, around 15 percent.”
“The concept was designed to help commercial areas,” Christiansen said. “A community benefit district’s primary focus is cleaning, safety and business promotion. Our benefit district was created by neighbors for two circumstances. First, there’s more fallow land in the Dogpatch and Potrero Hill than other areas of the City.”
According to Christiansen, after the Second World War ended, and military production ramped down, “there came to be a lot of open lots” in the area. The building of US-101 and Interstate 280 led to “a lot of fenced-in lots under the freeways.”
What’s more, many roads in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill weren’t linked to the municipality’s original grid, nor maintained by the City until recently, if at all.
For decades “neighbors have been greening these areas,” said Christiansen. “There was a desire to make sure these green spaces went on even if the people who created them moved or got tired. Only a City can authorize the creation of a benefit district, and once it does it has to oversee it to make sure its compliant with its charter.”
Other benefit districts in San Francisco are under the umbrella of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. However, because of its special character, the GBD is overseen by San Francisco Public Works.
The GBD works to beautify land spanning 70 acres and 1,700 properties, the largest geographical area of the City’s benefit districts. The board represents 1,360 unique property owners.
“Assessments were established at the creation of the GBD,” Christiansen stated. “The board can raise them three percent per year. They have not done so to date. The GBD Board of Directors is responsible for helping to form a strategy for the organization, dealing with its finances, communicating and, conversely, bringing information about the GBD into the community.”
The district raised $650,674 from assessments in Fiscal Year 2020-2021, according to its most recent annual report.
Alongside Johnson, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, Sarah Miers won a three-year term representing property owners.
“I’m honored to be elected to the GBD Board and can’t wait to get to work in service of my neighbors in Dogpatch and NW Potrero Hill,” stated Miers, a senior investment principal at the Mulago Foundation. “The dramatic pace of change and evolving needs of our community presents an exciting opportunity to shape the future of our neighborhood for the better, and the unique civic structure of the GBD is a great way to get meaningfully involved.”
“One of the things that I hope to accomplish is to assist the Board in further engaging our neighbors in understanding the role of the GBD and all of the improvements it has already provided to our growing community and solicit their input for further improvements,” stated John Ramsbacher, an attorney, also a property owner, who is finishing the final year of a vacated term. “As you know, the GBD is funded with tax assessment dollars and private donations, so we have a fiscal responsibility.”
“I am honored that my neighbors elected me to serve a three-year term as a tenant representative on the Board of the Green Benefits District,” noted Paul Selmants, an environmental scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “I look forward to working with my local community as well as the City and County of San Francisco to create more green open space and protected bike lines within the Dogpatch and NW Potrero Hill neighborhoods.”
“I am delighted to have been elected to the GBD Board for a one-year term as a Dogpatch tenant and am excited to continue the good work of the GBD, converting under-utilized land into beautiful spaces neighbors can enjoy,” stated Erin Epperson, a real estate developer, also a tenant, who is finishing the final year of a vacated term.
“I am thrilled and honored that I was chosen to serve on the board of the Green Benefits District,” said Daphne Magnawa, managing director of programs at Renaissance Journalism, who won the NW Potrero Hill property owner seat. “I look forward to working with members and neighbors to create open spaces that help to build community and are inclusive to all.”
“It’s been wonderful to meet more of my neighbors through working with the GBD, especially during this pandemic,” stated McFarland, who has lived in Potrero Hill for more than 30 years. “As a landscape architect, I get so much satisfaction helping to transform leftover urban spaces into moments of natural beauty. I look forward to more opportunities to green and connect our community with the GBD.”
Donovan Lacy, a stay-at-home parent who is serving the final year of an uncompleted term, said “I am excited to be joining the GBD Board to help continue the GBD’s legacy of helping to make Dogpatch a greener and more livable community. I am a resident of Dogpatch, so I do live in the GBD Area.”