A group of homeowners surrounding Dolores Park are unhappy with fellow residents’ plans to form a so-called Green Benefit District — a program that would tax those homeowners to provide additional civic services.
The Mission Dolores Green Benefit District (GBD) has been in the works since last spring, and its proponents support the extra taxes because they argue that city services are not adequately addressing what they feel are chronic problems around the park: namely, an excess of trash, “public safety” concerns, and neglected green spaces.
“We are a group of local residents and business owners who love our neighborhood and are motivated to make a difference,” said Conan McHugh, speaking on behalf of benefit-district backers.
But the idea is far from amenable for some — possibly many — homeowners in the area. They are not thrilled by the notion of paying hundreds of additional dollars in property taxes for services they argue would be duplicative.
“My question is: What are these people going to do that city agencies aren’t already doing?” said Rick Carrel, who lives on Cumberland Street, near the park.
The criticism isn’t uncommon. San Franciscans have tried to establish Green Benefit Districts on four prior occasions, but only one attempt succeeded, in 2015, in the Dogpatch. Wary homeowners scuttled attempts in the Inner Sunset, the Haight, and Golden Gate Heights.
“What most people said is, ‘those things are being done right now,’” affirmed John Hooper, an opponent of the Greater Buena Vista GBD, echoing Carrel. “The committee didn’t have a convincing argument for me.”
That GBD proposal, which would have covered parts of the Haight, died in January.
The Mission Dolores GBD still has a long way to go. A forthcoming “weighted” vote — homeowners with more property, who would be taxed more, get more sway — requires 30 percent of respondents to vote to tax themselves. That would kick off a second weighted vote that would require a majority vote to pass. It would then require the approval of the Board of Supervisors.
If the process succeeds the benefit district would be established by January 2020. A meeting regarding the GBD will take place tonight, April 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Dolores Park church (455 Dolores St.).
The proposed area is pictured below:
Residents like Peter Lewis of the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association — whose board voted to oppose the effort in Mission — questioned how the money would be used, pointing to the $126,100 the Dogpatch GBD executive director, former District 3 supervisor Julie Christiansen, earned in 2017. That GBD in 2017 had revenues of $698,605.
Lewis speculated that would-be executive director of the proposed Dolores GBD would make the same, if not more. “But they’re not talking about that,” Lewis said.
Others, like Leane Collins, who also owns a home on Cumberland, questioned the level of support the GBD actually has received so far, despite claims by its proponents that interest was “robust.” Out of the 4,338 parcels in the survey area, 612 people responded to the survey, with 36 percent of them supporting it and 46 percent wanting more information.
“I wouldn’t have interpreted those as ‘robust’ at all,” Collins said.
Collins said she’s trying to keep an open mind, “but so far I can’t see what they’re putting forward and how this benefits people who own property here.”
Like others, she rated the extant city services as adequate, even “excellent.”
She also worried about what it meant for people who are unhoused. “There’s this implication in what they write that somehow this is going to remove the homeless people,” she said.
The GBD’s powerpoint slides, indeed, show a picture of a homeless person’s tent included under the caption “things we don’t love.” In a comprehensive so-called “engineer’s report” detailing the plan, proponents call for “staff ambassadors” to do outreach to connect the homeless with “services.”
Steve Moss, who lives near Dolores Park and is the editor of the Potrero View, said the Dogpatch GBD is working well for the erstwhile industrial area with “a significant lack of green space and amenities that could come along with a residential area.”
But “this area is a significantly different kind of place,” he said, referring to the Mission Dolores neighborhood. “It doesn’t suffer from the same weakness that the Dogpatch has.”
Moss added that the influx of people using Dolores Park on weekends has created a perceived need for additional services, but a “green benefit district is a round peg for a square hole.”
“It’s unfortunate that this is looking like an internecine neighborhood war,” he added.
Many of the residents Mission Local spoke to also wondered why the city was pushing for the districts, which would provide private services supplementing its own. San Francisco Public Works, indeed, has a staffer dedicated to coordinating GBD implementations, and the Dolores GBD has received roughly $133,000 in city funds for the GBD’s promotion.
The project budget for the GBD is $1.11 million in the first year, with the vast majority paid out of homeowners’ taxes.
Responding to why San Francisco Public Works is pushing for GBDs in certain areas, spokeswoman Rachel Gordon said that GBDs pay for services above and beyond what the city provides.
“And, while property owners already are paying for services through their property taxes,” she said, “the benefit district approach allows people to assess themselves to pay for the extras they want to directly benefit their community.”
McHugh, who is in favor of the GBD, argued that, for an unsolicited study, the 12.6 percent response rate was high and indicated that it was at least worth taking a vote on the GBD. He noted that satisfaction levels of the 36 percent that support the GBD are similar to the 46 percent that wanted more information.
“Like any major policy issue, there’s going to be a wide variety of opinions,” he said.
McHugh also said that, despite the tent imagery, the GBD would not be a “homeless exclusion zone,” and the so-called ambassadors would be “going around engaging with homeless residents to make sure they know the services are out there.”