Community Advocates Call for a Green Benefit District
By LeeAndrea Morton
Gardening and beautification projects seem to be sprouting up on every corner of Potrero Hill, with greening and preservation initiatives at 15th and Rhode Island, Minnesota Street, Starr King Open Space, Progress Park, the Vermont Street Enclave, Pennsylvania Street Gardens, and along many sidewalks. Financial support for these projects has come mostly from residents, who invest their own time and dollars, occasionally securing public and private grants.
In an effort to provide ongoing funding for green space maintenance and infrastructure, the Potrero Neighborhood Boosters Association is collaborating with community advocates to create a “Green Benefit District” (GBD), modeled after Community Benefit Districts (CBD). CBDs are special tax districts, authorized by state and local law, which allow property owners to tax their property while maintaining control over how the resulting revenues are spent. A nonprofit organization representing the taxed property owners, as well as other stakeholders, usually manages a CBD.
San Francisco is home to thirteen CBDs; if successful Potrero Hill will be the City’s largest such district. Under the proposed GBD, commercial and residential property owners could be taxed between $20 and $45 annually, depending on how much land they own.
“Potrero Hill is the first to try this project on such a large scale,” said Tony Kelly, who, apart from one year when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in District 10, has served as Boosters president since 2003. Kelly is leading the sizeable task of creating the GBD.
The idea for the Green Benefit District was conceived by Isabel Wade, founder of the Neighborhood Parks Council, now the San Francisco Parks Alliance. The Potrero Hill GBD was initially developed by Kelly, neighborhood park groups, and Michael Yarne, executive director at UP, Urban, a new nonprofit designed to foster public-private partnerships. The GBD Steering Committee, which meets monthly, consists of upwards of 25 community members and three chairs: Kelly, Bruce Huie and Jean Bogiages. Huie helped establish Progress Park; Bogiages is responsible for the green space revival on Utah Street. Steering committee meetings are open to the public.
CBDs typically consist of 10 to 20 parcels of land stretching over five or six blocks. Between 5,000 and 6,000 plots would be covered by Potrero Hill’s GBD. The area would span north and south from 16th Street to Cesar Chavez, and east to west from Potrero Avenue to Illinois Avenue. Other CBDs in San Francisco — such as at Civic Center, Noe Valley, and Union Square — have funded a variety of initiatives, including street cleaning and maintenance, public safety, beautification projects, and district advocacy. The Potrero Hill GBD would focus on improving neighborhood green spaces.
“The City of San Francisco has adopted plans to rezone this area, a plan that is expected to triple the population over the next twenty years. But as it is, there are not enough parks in Potrero Hill to support our current population,” explained Kelly. To assess support for the GBD, the steering committee plans on fielding a mail survey to every property on the Hill this spring. To create the district, supporters must obtain signatures from 30 percent plus one of Potrero Hill and Dogpatch property owners who’d be paying the proposed property taxes. If the petition is successful, the Board of Supervisors would have to approve a resolution to create the GBD. Then, a vote-by-mail election would be held, in which 50 percent plus one of property owners would be needed to endorse the plan.
If the election is successful, a GBD management and green master plan will be created, including a proposal for a seven to 10 year property tax assessment to fund services. According to Kelly, upwards of $200,000 is needed for the GBD campaign effort. The district would likely generate between $200,000 and $300,000 annually. Organizers hope to start providing GBD services by 2014.
“Potrero Hill is a great place to launch the Green Benefit District because the people have a history of self-determination with their green spaces and, in some ways, we may be the most organized district in the City,” Kelly claimed.
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