Four New Faces Elected to Green Benefits District Board

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Voters in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill’s Northwest blocks elected four new members, and re-elected three incumbents, to the Green Benefit District (GBD) board last month.

The first of its kind in California, GBD it is modeled on Commercial Benefit Districts, a popular undertaking in San Francisco in which business owners in a commercial corridor agree to an additional tax in exchange for having a say in how the money is spent.  The District launched two years ago.

Elected to the 15-member board for the first time are Alex Goretsky, Kate Eppler, Nicky Jacobson and Kristel Craven. Jesse Herzog, Kat Sawyer and Alison Sullivan return as incumbents. All will serve three-year terms except Eppler, who will be up for election next year, and Jacobson, who will serve two years.

To fund the GBD, residential property owners in Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill are assessed $0.0951 per square foot of building area; industrial property owners are charged $0.0475; greenspace, $0.0238. Owners of parking and vacant lots pay the residential rate. As of February, the GBD had balanced a budget of $603,100, of which $544,600 was collected or anticipated from taxes; the remainder raised from donations.

According to Executive Director Julie Christenson, much of the District’s first year was spent on organizational tasks. The board initially expected to spend a majority its additional efforts identifying possible expenditures on small maintenance projects.  Continuing rapid growth in the area changed that approach.

“We have spent more time than we have anticipated looking at long range planning,” Christenson said. As the amount of land set aside for open space hasn’t kept pace with new building, she’s hoping the GBD can tap into the anticipated millions of dollars expected from the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center for softening the impact of its expansion. “I want to make sure some of it goes to perks,” she said. “Some dessert, not all vegetables.”

As of February, the board had budgeted $193,300 for maintenance, about half of which has been spent on things like bush and tree pruning, plantings, cleaning sidewalks and graffiti removal. Herzog explained that GBD contracted janitorial and landscape services, which over six months removed 8,000 pounds of garbage.

Herzog, who is chief investment officer for AGI Avant, which developed 1201 Tennessee, is overseeing construction of the Tubbs Boardwalk in Dogpatch, which will feature 10,000 square feet of open space and a homage to the Tubbs Cordage Company, the first commercial rope manufacturer on the Pacific Coast. Herzog’s family roots extend 150 years, when his relatives pastured cattle on the Hill.  “I’m passionate about the continuing renewal and beautification of San Francisco,” he said.

GBD allocated $189,400 for capital improvements – benches, lighting, playground equipment and irrigation systems – 35 percent of which has been spent.  Christenson is trying to coordinate with the City on larger improvements, such as installing crosswalks and pedestrian lighting along the southern segment of Minnesota Street; and Department of Public Works improvements to the entrance to Caltrains and Woods Yard, along 22nd Street. The latter is going out to bid in the next few months, with construction expected next year. “Public Works will be able to design the street so it will be nicer, with more street plantings, because the GBD will be able to maintain it,” she said.

Goretsky, who lives on Pennsylvania at 22nd, has been involved in studies of the Caltrain station entrance, and spearheaded recent sidewalk garden additions on Pennsylvania. “I worked with the GBD in landscaping improvement in front of my property and thought that was a positive thing,” he said. He ran for the board because he felt that Dogpatch’s westernmost edge hasn’t been well represented by other neighborhood organizations.

Herzog and Goretsky fill two of nine property owner positions on the board, which also consists of two residential tenants, one commercial tenant and three green space advocates.

Jacobson, who lives at Tennessee Street at 18th, occupies one of the residential tenant seats. A dog advocate, she’s a member of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, Potrero Boosters and Friends of Jackson Park, and is on the citizen advisory committee for the upcoming renovation of the Potrero Recreation Center. Efficiency, transparency and accountability, she said, are the three main things she’ll advocate for on the GBD board. “I want more money going to serve the neighborhood in terms of fixing stuff rather than it does to administrative costs,” she said.

The other residential tenant seat is filled by Eppler, who lives “in an apartment with small rooms” on Utah Street near 17th. Parks and open space are something she and her two-year old son need for balance. “I want to take him places that are well maintained and thoughtfully designed,” she said. While elected for the first time, she’s been on the board since January after being appointed to fill a vacated slot.

Kraven fills the board’s sole commercial tenant seat. Although a Bayview resident, she worked at Esprit 20 years ago, and is presently vice president of operations at Triple Aught Design, which is located in the American Industrial Center. For a longtime she felt Dogpatch was neglected, an unused space on the Bay. She said she’s seen how green space can change a neighborhood. “Having a place where people can stop and pause and have some quiet time really makes a huge difference,” she said. “It’s what makes a livable city.”

Sullivan, re-elected as a property owner who lives on Tennessee Street near 22nd, worked on creating a children’s play area at Woods Yards and is an advocate for improving pedestrian access and safety.

Sawyer, re-elected as a green advocate, is the director of Tap the Sky, a program that’s constructed 20 rainwater harvesting systems at San Francisco schools.

Other board members include property owners Jean Bogiages, Robert Broucaret, Janet Carpinelli, Michele Davis, Susan Eslick and James Naylor. The two other green space advocates are Philip Pierce, of Friends of the Urban Forest, and Michael Yarne of Build Public.