Photo by David. Taken 3/17 at 9:30 a.m. 2014

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.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. Not every homeowners in the neighborhood of Dolores Park are wealthy and why single out wealth?. #2 not all home owners utilize Dolores Park. #3 most homeowners are already dealing with the expense of cleaning graffiti, urine and trash. #4 how about charging the local stores a large assessment for selling alcohol to many in which bottles and cans are left scattered. The city needs to step up and collect taxes from all…then use the funds where needed.

  2. A homeless woman with a skateboard attack my family and I as we were changing our baby’s diaper in Dolores park just a couple weeks ago. Police were called and wouldn’t do anything. Maybe the additional homeless assistance could assist them out of attacking or intimidating members of the community. We were terrified. Or are we too wealthy to be protected?

  3. (1) The legal difference between an assessment and a tax is that, according to the California Constitution, an assessment can only be used for “Special benefits” to those assessed (and in proportion to their assessment amount) while a tax can be used for purposes that do not benefit those who are taxed.

    In the “Legal Concerns” section of Berkeley study the article cites, there is mention that courts have dissolved two BIDs because their funds were not providing “Special benefits” to property owners.

    The legal logic behind GBDs is that their services such as enhanced sidewalk cleaning and improvements made to parks only benefit property owners – not the public at large.

    See the California Constitution Article XIII D Section 4:
    https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=CONS&division=&title=&part=&chapter=&article=XIII%20D

    Per the Constitution, the burden of proof that a benefit district provides special benefits to property owners is with the agency (once established a benefit district is legally a government agency).

    San Francisco is the only city in California permits residential properties to be assessed for benefit districts. With only one GBD established in California, there are no legal precedents for GBDs yet. Will the courts blow up this program? It is wise to think about the end game before you sit down to play.

    (2) You can view the voting results from SF’s one established GBD here:

    https://sfelections.sfgov.org/dogpatch-northwest-potrero-hill-green-benefit-district-dnphgbd

    Click on “Final Results Report.” Notice that City properties voted, and that eight properties comprised 23% of the vote. I did not expect SF to exceed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in distorting democracy. Citizens United only equates money and speech. The City and County of San Francisco ups the ante. The City now delivers voting power – the real power in a democracy – to property-based wealth. Including its own.

  4. Greater Buena VIsta GBD proponents, of whom
    there’s were never more than a handful, have given up their push in the face of strong opposition to creating an expensive and redundant new bureaucracy in the Haight. Residents here were appalled that DPW is using our tax dollars to enter into politics and help promote new taxes and special elections? The failed GBD effort in the Haight has been called a secretive, misleading and coercive effort to privatize our CIty parks.

    Dolores neighbors: keep your hands on your wallets and study this idea closely!
    John Hooper Buena VIsta PArk neighbor.

  5. Greetings from Greater Buena Vista area…where we just defeated a proposed GBD. That’s right: Only one GBD has been created, in Dogpatch an area undergoing $$ millions in development, unlike our developed neighborhoods. The 2nd & 3rd proposed GBDs in Inner Sunset and Greater Buena Vista were defeated, and Golden Gates heights will be the third (http://www.sfexaminer.com/green-benefit-districts-really-worth-money/ ). Why? A GBD must have its own administration, which eats up 1/3 of taxes collected (greenbenefit.org/financial), redundant to the Depts of Park & Rec & Public Works for which we already pay taxes. Carolyn Thomas’s neighbors lament that the City is not responsive? So instead of demanding better City accountability of how it spends our $11 billion budget, we should create new layers of government funded with new taxes? The City (DPW) is spending thousands of $$ to convince you that Mission Dolores needs a GBD. We defeated it by voting NO on their survey.

  6. I was at the meeting. Here are a few things to consider.

    1. After a self appointed “Dolores GBD Committee” gave a presentation full of misinformation, there was a short question and answer period.
    2. There were in fact plenty of people at the meeting that were and continue to be strongly opposed to a so-called Dolores GBD. Their concerns are included the following. (I’ve added more points, since we had very little time at the meeting to speak or counter their arguments.)
    3. Why have a double taxation for city services, when they’re finally being delivered after many years of activism on the part of the neighborhood and from groups like MDNA, EVNA, DHIC, and NVPA?
    4. Do you seriously want a bunch of rookies taking over with an inflated budget from an additional property tax assessment? (As a reference, the executive director of the Dog Patch GBD (the only current San Francisco GBD) is being paid $125,000 a year (confirmed at the meeting) and that doesn’t include their additional administration costs. Furthermore, since this proposed area is far better, the costs would be much more. )
    5. The huge proposed boundaries omit any acknowledgement of the important history in the area, including the Mission Dolores Neighborhood, as sub-area of the Mission District, Eureka Valley/Castro, and Noe Valley.
    6. DPW (Jonathan Goldberg, GBD Manager) is spending a lot of tax payer money promoting this GBD before the neighborhood has even agreed to it. This includes his salary and funds for mailers, fliers, and additional promotion. I find this highly unethical.
    7. If the city wants to help create more GBDs, they should put their proposal on the ballot.
    8. The residents in Buena Vista and the Inner Sunset have recently rejected GBDs in their neighborhoods for some of the reasons mentioned above.
    9. The Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association (MDNA) voted against a GBD in the neighborhood 2 years ago for the same reasons and continue to do so. (Michael Yarne and his company made the failed presentation. This time Place Lab is hoping to get the contract.)
    10. The promoters are claiming that this will add to the city’s baseline services. Yet they’re already doing that with taxpayer money and can and have expanded those at the ballot box. (San Francisco already spends more than any other city in the country on street cleaning and has a huge Rec & Park and homeless outreach budget .) Reference: SF’s filthy streets: We’re spending far more on cleaning than other cities, SF Chronicle, 9-10-18.
    11. If you live within the boundaries, please vote against this. It’s obviously an attempt to privatize services that the city should be providing.

    Thanks for reading.

  7. A completely one-sided article from Mission Local! No mentioned of any opposition at the meeting when there definitely was and is. This is overt double taxation that gives a small group of residents power over a property assessment that will add up to a large sum of money from the combined properties.

    Please note that it was announced at the meeting that the executive director of the Dog Patch GBD is being paid $125,000 for that small area and that doesn’t include additional administration fees. You can only imagine how much they would get paid for this huge proposed area. Their map also ignores the established neighborhoods, associations (MDNA, NVPA, & EVNA, and others), and the important history in the area.

    Mission Local: I thought you were supported to support the Mission District? The Mission Dolores Neighborhood is a sub-area of the Mission District with it’s name sake being Mission Dolores Church. These boundaries completely ignore that history.

    Also, Johnathan Goldberg and the DPW is helping to promote this GBD, which unethical, since no one has agreed to it yet. They’re also using at least half a $66,000 grant from the MOEWD to pay for their fliers and additional promotion.

    If the city plans to continue to promote GBDs in San Francisco, don’t you think that this should be a ballot measure? I certainly do.

    Finally, the GBD in Dog Patch was established because they didn’t have a residential infrastructure. This area does and the city needs to continue to do their job, a job that we’re already paying for.

  8. Its interesting to look at the type of trash in the photo under the headline above: whole foods paper bag, blue moon beer, sierra nevada six pack container, nike box, etc. etc—–just your usual homeless trash, eh?
    Just who are we picking up after???

  9. How do you know all property owners are wealthy? Some are long time owner/occupiers and some could have inherited family property. Just because their property would sell for millions doesn’t mean they have millions in cash.

  10. Btw that picture of trash is from the many people partying on a Saturday or Sunday! Certainly not trash of homeless they cant afford beer!!!

  11. You say that “No map has yet been drawn marking the boundaries of a proposed Dolores Park district” but include a map with the title “Survey area and a potential mockup for the GBD’s boarders” in the article.

  12. I am 100% for taxing the incredibly wealthy property owners, and while a clean, pretty neighborhood would be enjoyable, I fear it will also be used to fund a gentrification police force. :-\ to harass poors, non-white, etc.

    1. I rent in the city, not own, but “incredibly wealthy” is really just anyone who happens to have a house. That’s who will be taxed. It’s not like you’re mostly talking about out of town slumlords with 50+ apartments. Not for the most part.

    2. Glad we moved out of SF and Calif. 6 months ago! I lived in city 20+ yrs.
      SF is the playground for uber rich, insane homeless, and druggies…

    3. This sounds like a great idea, we should build a walls around the weathy neighborhoods and make the homeless pay for it, or at least build it.

      Make San Francisco Great Again!!!

      MSFGA Hats!!!

      This is San Francisco people not some suburban gated community, we can do better than this.

      1. Sorry, assessments cannot be passed to tenants in rent controlled units.

        HOWEVER, assessments can be passed to merchants and other tenants with “Net” leases (leases that permit pass through of taxes and assessments). These merchants CANNOT vote – only property owners have that privilege.