Residents Voting on Green Benefit District

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On June 12 ballots were sent to property owners in Dogpatch and the northwest corner of Potrero Hill asking them if they’d be willing to pay an annual assessment, the revenues from which would go towards building, improving and maintaining public green spaces in the area. If the measure passes, the state’s first ever Green Benefit District (GBD) will be created.

Under the Dogpatch-Potrero GBD, residential property owners would pay $0.0951 per square foot of building area; industrial property owners would be charged $0.0475. Owners of greenspace areas would owe $0.0238 per square foot of land. An average two-bedroom house in the GBD area measures roughly 1,170 square feet, according to figures posted this year by the Bay Area-based Paragon Real Estate Group, triggering $111.45 in average annual GBD assessments. The fee would appear on property tax bills, but it isn’t a tax; the money wouldn’t end up in the City’s General Fund, or the coffers of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Instead, it would fund local green spaces, such as gardens, parks, playgrounds, miniature sidewalk-adjacent “parklets,” and the like.  

The GBD’s steering committee, which has been developing the project since 2012, is led by co-chairs Jean Bogiages, Bruce Huie, and Tony Kelly.  The committee modeled the GBD after Community Business Districts (CBD).  Property owners in a CBD pay an assessment that goes towards hiring off-duty police for extra security or connecting businesses with vacant retail spaces. The proposed GBD, however, would exclusively focus on public green space. 

“I was not part of the beginning of the GBD solution, but when I found out about it I thought it would help the northwest Potrero Hill neighborhood,” Bogiages said. “I could see how using the CBD model to improve our green open spaces would help solve our problems.” 

According to Bogaiges, one neighborhood challenge is the recent increase in residential development in the area, without similar growth in the amount of open space. Bogiages said the patches surrounding freeway on-ramps are magnets for illegal activities when they could be used for parks, such as Pennsylvania Street Gardens, which was founded by guerrilla gardeners tobeautify an Interstate-280 off-ramp. Bogiages also pointed to other independently created parks, including Progress Park, the Muni playground, Angel Alley and Minnesota Grove. “These improvements are initiated by the neighborhood and neighbors can do some maintenance, but to really keep the areas well-maintained, remove graffiti, add lighting, we need a locally managed source like the GBD,” she claimed. 

The steering committee sees the GBD model as a potential defense against California’s crushing drought. The district can develop water conserving projects, such as capturing and conserving groundwater before it flows into storm drains, or collecting rainwater to use for green spaces. 

As to the criticism that the GBD would essentially be charging more money for services the City should already provide, Bogiages believes the district is worth the extra charge because of the hyperlocal control it provides.  “Folks are used to paying taxes and expecting the City to provide services, and often being dissatisfied with the services,” she noted. “This is a different model and many people are not familiar with it. It is a model of local control.”

The proposal has faced detractors during its evolution. Retired State Senator John Burton, a Hill resident since 1964, wrote an open letter to the community following a GBD survey in 2013, claiming that the steering committee’s efforts haven’t been transparent and questioning why only property owners, rather than tenants, should be forced to pay fees.   

A petition drive that concluded in May secured GBD support from 394 of 548 valid returned petitions, out of 1,377 petitions sent out in total.  District boosters are now trying to get the word out about the ballot drive.

“Neighbors can provide some maintenance and accomplish small capital projects,” Bogiages explained, “but in order to sustain and develop these areas we need a funding source that is consistent, for the long term and that is managed by local democracy.”

Property owners have until July 28 to return their ballots. If a simple majority vote in support of the GBD the first assessments will appear on November property tax bills.