Potrero Hill; Dogpatch Adopt Nation’s First Green Benefit District

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After roughly three years of community advocates’ organizing, petitioning and planning, on July 31 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the establishment of a Greens Benefit District (GBD) in the northwest corner of Potrero Hill and Dogpatch, a first-of-its-kind experiment in funding the creation and maintenance of public green space.

The GBD will be split into two zones. The Northwest Potrero Hill zone stretches from 16th Street and Potrero Avenue to 19th and Kansas streets. Several blocks away, the Dogpatch zone includes the area between the corner of Mariposa and Iowa streets and the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Illinois streets.

Under the GBD an assessment will be placed on property located in the designated zones, the revenues from which will be used develop and maintain green spaces, such as parks and gardens. The funds won’t go into the coffers of the City’s Recreation and Parks Department (RPD), the district’s steering committee claimed. By adopting the GBD’s management plan, the City has agreed to provide a baseline level of RPD services that’s equal to similar San Francisco areas. GBD-funded maintenance and improvements will be in addition to municipally-provided baseline services. The assessments can also be dedicated to non-City-maintained spaces, such as The Potrero Hill Community Garden, at 20th and San Bruno streets, an ad hoc space that grew from squatters’ plots planted in the early-1970s.

According to the Board of Supervisor’s resolution, residential property owners will be assessed $0.0951 per square foot of building area; industrial property owners $0.0475 per square foot. The assessment on greenspace will be $0.0238 a square foot of land area.  Owners of parking and vacant lots will pay the same rate as residential property owners. Assessments will appear on this November’s property tax bills.  The district’s first year budget will total $514, 852, of which $492,859 will come from assessments, according to the resolution’s estimates. The remaining amount will be raised through grants, donations and other sources. 

Before being considered by the Board of Supervisors the resolution needed to be approved by a simple majority – more than 50 percent – of GBD property owners, with votes weighted based on the proportional share of the total proposed assessment, as directed by state law. Ballots were mailed in June after a petitioning phase conducted earlier this year showed that property owners who would be responsible for paying at least 30 percent of the assessment supported the measure.  The GBD was approved by 76 percent of the votes.

“I support any initiative to empower neighborhoods to invest in their immediate surroundings,” said Mark Dwight, chief executive officer of Dogpatch-based Rickshaw Bagworks. “The collective effort strengthens our community and makes our neighborhoods safer and more attractive for residents and visitors alike.”

The GBD concept is based on Commercial Benefit Districts (CBD) and Business Improvement Districts (BID), which have emerged throughout San Francisco over the past decade. Approved by an ordinance passed in 2004, these districts raise funds through property assessments, the proceeds of which are dedicated to neighborhood improvement activities. Most services provided by CBDs and BIDs cater to merchants, including hiring off-duty police officers for extra security. The GBD is the first district in which all fees will be dedicated to community beautification. 

“This is a creative strategy where both the City and neighbors are taking up the challenge to create and maintain desperately needed public realm and park improvements,” said District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, who authored the legislation authorizing the GBD last year. “I commend the Green Benefit District Formation Committee and our community partners for their utmost commitment to this process.”

The GBD has been in development since 2012, spearheaded by a steering committee of roughly 20 locals chaired by Bruce Huie – who helped create Progress Park on land owned by the California Department of Transportation off Indiana Street – Jean Bogiages – who has led efforts to create green space on Utah Street – and Tony Kelly, former Potrero Boosters president. As the concept took shape the committee partnered with Build Public, a nonprofit that focuses on developing urban open space, to help organize the effort.   

“Build Public is proud to have played an integral role in the creation of the first-ever GBD, from securing over $200,000 in grants and donations to jumpstart the GBD, to designing and implementing a state-of-the-art community survey, to conducting over 15 different community outreach meetings and workshops over the past several years,” Brooke Ray Smith, executive director of Build Public, noted in a release.  “From the start, the GBD is intended to be a prototype that can be replicated in other neighborhoods.”

The GBD’s formation committee will manage the district as an Interim Board of Directors until a nonprofit structure is established, including obtaining business registration and necessary insurance and adopting by-laws. Interim Board meetings will be open to the public. After the nonprofit is created, citizens will elect a director and board to manage the district and its funds. The Interim Board claims that elections will take place no later than early next year.  It’s currently studying how best to implement the election so that GBD leadership represents property owners, tenants and those who work in the area.

Nominations for positions with GBD will be accepted in person at a scheduled Interim Board meeting, the date of which will be published on the GBD’s website at least three weeks prior. Ballots will be mailed to property owners, and will need to be returned within three weeks. A Good Governance Committee selected by the Interim Board will count ballots; final results will be posted at the next meeting. The Board will consist of 10 to 14 members.  Sixty percent will be property owners in the district; the rest will be non-owners.

The resolution for the GBD was discussed at the July 28 Board of Supervisors meeting, where CBDs in Yerba Buena and Rincon Hill were also under debate. Yerba Buena residents voted to renew its CBD, founded in 2009, for another 15 years. The Rincon Hill CBD was voted in with overwhelming support.  It’ll tentatively begin operations in January.