A group of residents that live near Dolores Park are beginning the process for establishing a so-called “Green Benefit District” – a sort of neighborhood homeowners association that would charge homeowners within its borders and use the revenue for services such as “neighborhood beautification, public safety, and enhanced maintenance.”

These “green” benefit districts, known as GBDs, are similar to the 16  “community” benefit districts that already exist along San Francisco corridors, including one in the Castro. Green districts focus on residential areas instead of commercial corridors.

San Francisco’s one green benefit district is in Dogpatch, but six more — in the Sunset, Buena Vista, Bayview, Marina, Sunnyside, and Dolores — are currently being proposed.

No map has yet been drawn marking the boundaries of a proposed Dolores Park district and, to form one, organizers would have to get buy-in from at least 30 percent of the homeowners during an initial petition, and a subsequent majority vote.

At a community meeting Monday, some 20 residents around the park heard some of the arguments in favor of a district.

“The most satisfying thing about the GBD is leveraging assessment dollars, and then you can work with city agencies, which is more effective than sending out emails to the city,” said Susan Eslick, the treasurer of the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill GBD.

In 2017/18 fiscal year, Eslick’s GBD raised $266,204 from two assessments, which are paid at the same time homeowners pay their property taxes.

What exactly would need improving around the affluent and, on some days, apparently utopian Dolores area?

“Homeless assistance,” “Additional Trash Clean-Up/Street Sweeping,” and preventing auto burglaries made the top of the list of a survey conducted by the Dolores GBD founding committee of about 11 residents.

Some 87 percent of the residents surveyed said “increased homeless assistance” is how the area’s “spaces, streets and sidewalks could be improved.”

The funds could pay for private services to supplement those provided by the city.

“I got tired of listening to my neighbors saying they didn’t get a response from city officials,” said Carolyn Thomas, one of the founding committee members.

But Green Benefit Districts are, to say the least, complicated: they take years to form and require widespread community buy-in to establish — and they are often criticized for privatizing public services most appropriately funded by the city.  

In other words, wealthier neighborhoods and commercial corridors can improve their districts with private resources, while poorer neighborhoods are left in the dust, further deepening the city’s inequality.

Survey area and a potential mockup for the GBD’s boarders. Courtesy of the Dolores GBD

A report released Tuesday by the Policy Advocacy Clinic of UC Berkeley’s School of Law, linked commercial benefit districts — which are very similar to GBDs — to the displacement and harassment of the city’s homeless population.

The report, titled “Homeless Exclusion Districts” found that the business districts “exclude homeless people from public spaces in their districts through policy advocacy and policing practices.” They promote more “policing, surveillance, and harassment,” the report found.  

Private security guards hired with extra funds, the report found, push homeless individuals out of a benefit district’s borders.

“We don’t have homelessness in our neighborhood, no encampments,” Eslick of the Dogpatch GBD said, noting that the Dogpatch Navigation Center has also had an effect.

A potential Dolores green district would take a long time to come to fruition — and that’s if it receives signatures from 30 percent of the residents in the district area.

“We’re way in the beginning of the process,” said Thomas, the committee member, noting that they are simply trying to see if enough people are interested.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who attended the meeting and whose district would encompass the potential GBD said that, in the past, he has been a “skeptic” of community benefit districts.

“It seemed to me that the kinds of the services community benefit districts provide ought to be provided by the public sector, and it was odd to be creating these private associations to do it,” he said.

But he has since noticed the success of the Castro Commercial Benefit District. “There are services being provided by the CBD that the city, on its own, would never get around to providing,” he said. “Whether you want to do something similar around Dolores Park is a decision for neighbors and people who are going to have to pay the additional assessment.”