Op-Ed: A Green Benefit District picks up were taxes fall short Special

Posted Mar 6, 2017 by Jonathan Farrell
In a place where the median price for an average middle-class home is close to or over $1 million, tax dollars are not able to cover the cost of basic things like maintenance and pot holes in the street.
People of the Sunset District of San Francisco gathered to hear about the forming of a Green Benefit...
People of the Sunset District of San Francisco gathered to hear about the forming of a Green Benefit District (GBD). It would require a lengthy process but once established could pay for basic things that tax dollars these days fall short of.
Jared Press, courtesy of Build:Public
One San Francisco neighborhood hopes its efforts can fill the short-fall that seems to be only getting worse instead of better in the face of this new economy. The answer some community organizers envision is that of a Green Benefit District.
The goal of forming a ‘Green Benefit District’ (GBD) for the Inner-Sunset neighborhood was proposed this past February 7 at the SF County Fair building at 9th Avenue in Golden Gate Park. This reporter while on assignment for The Sunset Beacon talked to those hoping to rally the community to this goal. The long-range objective of a ‘GBD’ would be to improve greening and maintenance of public spaces, with expanded services beyond the City baseline services.
“The point is to create funding for needed improvements in the public realm,” said Andrea Jadwin, who talked to this reporter after the meeting. Jadwin noted that about 80 people showed up. The meeting that evening was one of the first steps. The meeting was to introduce the GBD concept to the neighborhood and to request community engagement during the initial outreach process.
“GBDs are similar to Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) or Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)," said Jadwin, "... but are geared towards residential rather than commercial districts.”
Upcoming phases will include a survey to determine community needs and priorities. If there is community support to form a GBD, a robust outreach process will follow to help develop a district management plan. Then there will be a neighborhood-wide petition and vote by property owners in the proposed district. A successful petition vote will initiate a formal ballot election and vote by property owners within a proposed district.
About 80 people gathered on Feb 7  2017 to listen to the proposal of a Green Benefit District for th...
About 80 people gathered on Feb 7, 2017 to listen to the proposal of a Green Benefit District for the inner-Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. A GBD would cover the cost of things not currently paid for by tax-payer dollars.
Jared Press, courtesy of Build:Public
The Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods formed the City’s first GBD back in 2015. The initial outreach process began in the fall of 2012, and involving regularly scheduled public meetings, a survey and statistical information gathered. When asked why the proposal for a GBD was focused on just the inner-Sunset and not the entire Sunset District. Jadwin noted, “Based on the experience of the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill effort, it was recommended to start small.”
Usually the forming of a GBD takes about two to three years. “There are lots of hurdles and milestones that need to be met,” said Jonathan Goldberg. He manages the GBD program for San Francisco Public Works. In addition to The City, Public Works and others like The Inner-Sunset Merchants Association, The California Academy of Sciences, the non profit group, Build: Public and Inner-Sunset Park Neighbors are eager to sponsor and lend support for the proposal.
Longtime Sunset resident Denis Mosgofian who has served on various committees and advisory boards over the years, attended the meeting. He too mentioned that to create a GBD takes a lot of effort. “The forming of a GBD is basically an off-shoot of an existing law regarding CBDs. Authorized by state and local law (under the San Francisco Business Code Article 15A), a GBD allows individual property owners to vote to assess their own property in exchange for control over how the assessment revenues are spent within their neighborhood.”
Mosgofian noted that “efforts at forming A Community Benefit District (CBD) was tried back in 2014 for the 9th Avenue area but it didn’t make it.” Like Goldberg, he emphasized that interest in forming a GBD must come from property owners. A GBD needs to have a defined area, a management plan and a budget in place prior to being approved by stakeholders.
“This GBD effort is not about gentrification,” said Jadwin, noting that the main goal is all about preserving the Sunset. “It will take an enormous amount of time and effort." Jadwin is confident that the proposal is a feasible goal. Regarding length of time to form a GBD, she said, "Dogpatch/NWPH took three years but the Inner Sunset is hoping we can compress the timeline to two years now that a precedent exists and we have a template for the process."
Regardless of the pace, forming a BDG will require community cooperation and determination. Neighborhood groups like Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People are acquainted with the idea. But as SHARP president Dennis Minnick, said. "We discussed he GBD at the SHARP board meeting but did not take a position, due to wanting more information." SHARP and other neighborhood groups take into consideration all sides of any issue or proposal which impacts the neighborhood. In addition to a considerable effort, the community will also have to pay for the formal establishing of a BDG. “Yet once completed, said Jadwin it will empower the neighborhood and hopefully at some point will include the outer-Sunset as well. But the idea, especially in this early phase must be embraced or it will die,” she added. For more information about the proposal to create a Green Benefit District for the Inner-Sunset, visit the web site.