+ What is a Green Benefit District?
A Green Benefit District (GBD) allows residents to directly manage and invest in specific enhancements to the shared open spaces in their community. The investment provides services above and beyond baseline City services. A form of property assessment district that must be approved by property owners, a GBD creates a reliable, responsive, transparent and publicly-accountable local funding source for a community to invest in the betterment of its own neighborhood. The GBD encourages civic advocacy, brings neighbors together to address shared problems and implement solutions that help make our local area more vibrant, clean, safe and livable for all. GBDs are nearly identical to the 17 existing Community Benefit Districts in San Francisco; the difference being CBDs focus on primarily commercial areas whereas GBDs focus on primarily residential areas. Both CBDs and GBDs strive to improve the quality of life for all living, working and visiting in the district. GBDs receive oversight and compliance monitoring from the SF Public Works Department's GBD Program.
+ Why a Green Benefit District in Mission Dolores?
If you’re like us, then you may feel the neighborhoods surrounding Dolores Park are unique treasures of San Francisco. However, you may also see opportunity for improvements - whether additional community events and activities, more green spaces and stewardship efforts, or additional cleaning for our streets and sidewalks. A GBD would empower us to work together to improve our community and quality of life beyond what the City provides.
+ Are there any GBDs in existence?
Yes, there are 18 Benefit Districts across San Francisco, including one GBD in the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods. The GBD program is modeled on San Francisco’s successful Community Benefit District (CBD) program, with 17 Districts throughout the City. Whereas CBDs focus on economic development in primarily commercial areas, GBDs focus on public realm improvements in residential and mixed-use neighborhoods.
+ What is an assessment district?
Legally, a GBD is a type of assessment district authorized by state and local law (Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994 and San Francisco Business Code Article 15A).
Assessment districts, also called benefit districts, allow citizens to have local control over where their dollars are being spent, much more so than with their citywide taxes. They are geographically defined areas in which each property owner contributes annually towards community-driven solutions such as open space projects, neighborhood beautification, public safety, sustainability activities, enhanced maintenance and more. San Francisco has 17 successfully-operating Community Benefit Districts and one successfully-operating Green Benefit District. These types of districts are also common nationwide, sometimes called Business Improvement Districts.
Individually each member of a district contributes a small amount (in a GBV GBD, the average homeowner might pay only $150-300 per year), but collectively this generates a reliable, annual dedicated stream of funding that must be used within the district for neighborhood-specific public realm projects and services that have been selected and approved by the neighbors themselves via democratic voting. Moreover, assessments are different than taxes in this way: assessment funds can only be spent in the area in which they were collected, for the benefit of those paying the assessment; taxes are citywide and controlled by city government. GBDs provide local control of funds for neighborhood benefit. Oversight and compliance monitoring of GBDs is done by SF's Department of Public Works' GBD Program, to ensure the assessment dollars are being used for the highest and best public good.
+ What are the benefits of a GBD?
While we as a community get to decide how to focus the specific services and projects to best meet our collective needs, GBDs typically offer the following benefits:
Enhanced Services & Improvements: Provides a dedicated, reliable funding source to implement neighborhood open space priorities that are above and beyond the City baseline services in a timely and cost-effective manner - making the district's public spaces cleaner, safer, more accessible and vibrant for the community.
Accountability & Transparency: Provides district property owners with direct oversight in how their funds are used for open spaces, and ensures a high degree of transparency through the public engagement process of the non-profit established to manage the district. It also provides an important platform to hold the City accountable for its existing commitments to timely and satisfactory public space maintenance and improvements.
Advocacy for Open Space Issues: Additional and consistent advocacy for neighborhood open space issues, projects and ballot measures, to ensure that the neighborhood's interests are well-represented and augment existing volunteer efforts.
Leveraging Additional Funds: A GBD can leverage additional capital in two ways: (1) using a GBD matching grant line item in the budget, the district can apply for government or foundation grants that often require a match and (2) making a focused effort to solicit additional private funding for special projects that benefit the district as a whole. As an example, the Dogpatch/Potrero GBD was able to leverage $5M in outside funding for a park renovation project and an additional $1M from DPW for a streetscape improvement project, owing to the fact that the GBD is a responsible, well-organized, reliable 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Maximize Volunteer Stewardship: Provides a boost for neighborhood cohesion and existing volunteer efforts. We are lucky to have many active and passionate community groups all working to improve our neighborhood. A GBD would create synergy between these groups to enable us all to better and more effectively work together to get things done.
+ Which types of services and projects could a GBD provide?
The community gets to determine the GBD's specific services and projects through a robust and transparent outreach process, and ultimately via democratic votes by the neighborhood-elected nonprofit GBD Board of Directors, which would form once the GBD is established. Please read through the community-developed Management Plan to learn the overall budget and service categories that this GBD is proposing. Types of services and projects that this budget can fund include:
- Enhanced cleaning and maintenance services for high-traffic areas
- Safety projects, for instance additional lighting, bicycle lanes, hazardous tree pruning, and path repair
- Design and planning for specialty landscape projects that leverage existing the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department's efforts
- Enhanced community programming in partnership with education and recreation providers
- Art, beautification or preservation projects working in collaboration with existing community organizations
- Environmental management and restoration projects, such as micro-green spaces, erosion control, water conservation, and carbon sequestration
- Grant writing and fundraising to advocate for local neighborhood priorities and address urgent community concerns
+ Does a GBD duplicate City services?
No. State and local legislation expressly prohibits a GBD from replacing City services and improvements. A GBD is legally required to fund services and improvements that are above and beyond the City’s existing baseline. This approach also helps ensure that the City maintains the current and future services investment in our community.
+ Why isn't the City already doing this?
Ideally, the City would be able to provide funding for all the services and projects our community desires. That said, it easy to appreciate that the City has countless priorities that are perennially underfunded. Parks and open spaces get a small slice (less than 2%) of the City’s annual budget. Our efforts seek to supplement the City's existing funding and services with additional resources that we as neighbors can allocate to our public spaces ourselves.
+ What are the boundaries of the proposed GBD?
Our proposed boundary area includes Dolores Park and the surrounding blocks. Members of the Formation Committee determined the original boundary for the GBD survey, based on local knowledge of the neighborhood. The following were criteria for creating the survey area:
- To encompass areas around the neighborhood’s two major public spaces—Dolores Park and Mission Pool & Playground, and the streets leading up to them;
- To be co-terminal with the boundary of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District to the north and west;
- To include the Dolores and Guerrero landscaped medians;
- To include other public lands such as the Dolores Heights stairways and the J-Church MUNI right-of-way;
- To encompass the Valencia commercial corridor and the east-west streets tying in to population and recreation centers to the west.
The original survey area was divided into “zones” in order to see if there were varying responses and priorities in various areas of the neighborhood. Survey results confirmed that all zones identified "enhanced cleaning" and "public safety & security" as high priorities for a potential GBD across residential and commercial areas, so all the zones remained in the boundary.
After extensive stakeholder outreach, the Formation Committee refined the boundaries to be as accurate to the needs and inclusivity of the neighborhood; the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, for example, expressed a desire to be included in the boundary and for an even higher level of service (that they would pay extra for), thus we incorporated Valencia Street as the Enhanced Service Zone.
+ What will my assessment be?
For an average residential property in the Mission Dolores GBD, an owner would pay $150-300/year, or less than $1 per day. For more details please check out the GBD Management Plan which outlines the annual budget and assessment methods. Only property owners pay assessments, and assessments are based on a combination of lot size and building size. If you are a property owner, you will receive your exact assessment amount on your mailed petition in April 2019 — if you do not receive yours, please contact us for a replacement.
+ Is this a permanent fee?
No, the assessment is not permanent. A District can exist for 5 to 15 years, as determined by local property owners. The Mission Dolores GBD is proposed to last for 10 years. If neighbors are not interested in renewing the District after this term expires, the District is disestablished. If neighbors would like to renew the District, the renewal process must follow the same process as initial District formation (petition and ballot votes by property owners).
+ Can landlords pass their assessments to tenants?
The San Francisco Rent Ordinance prohibits owners of rent-controlled rental units from passing through the increased cost of special assessments to tenants in rent-controlled units, with the exception of general obligation bonds approved by 50% of voters and with express language allowing a pass-through. Owners of rent-controlled units do have the right under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance to file a Operating & Maintenance Petition requesting right to pass-through a portion of general operating costs for their buildings (including garbage, water, etc), but not solely for increased costs associated special assessments. General tax increases may be considered as one of several cost factors. The petition must be approved by the Rent Board approval, and even if approved, low-income or fixed-income tenants may obtain a hardship exemption from the Rent Board from any pass-through approved by the Rent Board. For unregulated (post-1979) residential units and commercial buildings, the right of the landlord to pass through new assessments will depend on the terms of each individual lease.
+ What's an "assessment methodology"?
Each property owner’s annual assessment is legally required to be determined and calculated by a licensed Assessment Engineer. This Assessment Engineer creates an “assessment methodology” that is applied to all properties in the proposed District and calculates the annual assessment for each. Assessment methodologies are based on parcel characteristics, such as land use, building size, lot size, or street frontage. For example, in the Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill GBD, residential properties are assessed at a rate of $0.09 per square foot of building area owned.
The Assessment Engineer consults with local property owners to determine an assessment methodology that is fair, representative, and proportional across all assessed property owners. Assessment rates can be decreased by any amount, but any increase is limited to a maximum of the percentage increase in the Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 3% - whichever figure is less. Changes to annual assessment rates must be voted-on and approved by the GBD Board of Directors.
+ What would the GBD's budget be?
The annual budget of the proposed Mission Dolores GBD would be $1.1M, with 86% dedicated to cleaning, safety and beautification, 7.6% for advocacy and engagement, and 6.3% for accountability and transparency. Please learn more about the budget and services in the Management Plan
+ Can the GBD's budget be increased?
Annual assessments may, but are not required to, be increased to reflect increasing costs over time; however, no built-in rate increase. An increase can only be approved by a vote of the GBD Board of Directors, and only by a maximum of the percentage increase in the Bay Area consumer price index (CPI), or 3%, whichever is less. Decisions on any increase must be made by the elected board of directors of the District.
+ Who is funding this GBD formation effort?
The funding this group of neighbors received came from District 8. A series of weekend litter disasters and public safety incidents, culminating in the August 2017 shooting in Dolores Park, prompted an urgent call to action by concerned neighbors and City agencies. In response to proposals from the City, a group of neighbors (us) successfully lobbied our local officials for assistance in identifying long-term solutions to help increase community engagement and also address the cleanliness and public safety challenges that our neighborhood was facing.
Former Supervisor Sheehy’s office worked with former Mayor Lee to secure a two Mayoral enhancements totaling over $200,000 to provide sustainable solutions to the 18th Street Corridor. After a variety of short term focused projects such as a street cleaning operation, we, the neighbors, decided to use the funds to explore the formation of a more sustainable, more predictable, more responsive, and more transparent approach to addressing the needs of our neighborhood. We believe this better approach is the creation of Green Benefit District (GBD).
The total estimated cost of forming a GBD will be ~$133,000. The San Francisco Parks Alliance is accountable to the neighbors while the Office of Economic & Workforce Development manages the contract which is payable in installments only when specific deliverables are meet. The San Francisco Parks Alliance is and always has been a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to champion, transform & activate public Parks & open spaces throughout San Francisco. Their expertise in this process has been extremely valuable and the potential positive impact will be much longer lasting than the short term projects we deprioritized.
+ How is a GBD managed?
State and local law requires that a non-profit organization, representative of the neighborhood, is established to implement the GBD’s community-derived goals. This nonprofit is accountable, transparent and responsive, thanks to local governance by an all-volunteer Board of Directors. This non-profit must be sanctioned and approved by the City before it may receive assessment revenue and begin neighborhood operations. The limits of the Board’s spending authority are clearly defined in the GBD’s Management Plan. The GBD is further subject to standard non-profit rules of governance, including ethical rules governing disclosure of conflicts of interest and prohibitions against self-dealing. Compliance is monitored and enforced by the City.
+ How do we decide who's on the GBD Board of Directors?
The GBD Board must be a representative mix of property owners and other District stakeholders, typically including non-property owning residents. During the development of the Management Plan, the community determines the general composition of the GBD's future Board of Directors. For specifics on the Mission Dolores GBD Board composition, please see Section V of the Management Plan.
+ Is there any oversight of GBDs?
There is significant City oversight of GBDs. All GBDs and CBDs must submit annual performance reports to the Public Works Department, including a transparent accounting of all income and expenses. These are reviewed by Public Works and annually presented to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in a public hearing. They will also be posted on the GBD website for added transparency and accountability.
+ Can a GBD be disestablished?
Yes. GBDs are not permanent and need to be renewed at the end of their term. Additionally, property owners have the opportunity to request disestablishment of a GBD during a 30-day period each year. A written petition must be submitted by property owners who pay 50% or more of the assessments levied in the district. The Board of Supervisors will then hold a hearing on whether to disestablish a GBD. A majority of the Board of Supervisors (6 members) can also initiate disestablishment at any time based on misappropriation of funds, malfeasance, or violation of law in connection with the management of a GBD.
+ How is a GBD formed?
The GBD formation process is in-depth and transparent. District property owners vote on the proposed District during first a Petition (need 30% weighted support) and then a special Ballot (need 50%+1 weighted support). You can learn more details about the overall formation process and voting procedures here.
+ What is a weighted vote?
Each property owner’s vote is weighted according to their property assessment as a share of the total District budget. Ex: if my assessment is $5 per year and the total District budget is $100, then I am responsible for 5% of the total vote.
+ How can I get involved?
Increased community engagement is one of our guiding principles and we readily admit that we don’t have the market cornered on ideas to improve our neighborhood. We welcome your feedback, as well as your time. Please visit the contact page to submit your suggestions and whether you might be interested in volunteering.