+ 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, 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.

+ Why a Green Benefit District in Mission Dolores?

If you’re like us, then you may feel Dolores Park and surrounding streets are a unique treasure of San Francisco. However, you probably also see the 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 is one GBD in the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods. Currently, there are three neighborhoods exploring the formation of GBDs, including the Inner Sunset, Dolores Park, and Greater Buena Vista. The GBD program is modeled on San Francisco’s successful Community Benefit District program, with 15 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 16 successfully-operating benefit districts, and 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.

+ 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 can also provide a platform to advocate for the delivery of the City's existing commitments to public spaces.

  • Advocacy for Open Space Issues: Additional and consistent advocacy for neighborhood open space issues and ballot measures, to ensure that 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 grants that often require a match and (2) making a focused effort to solicit additional private funding for special projects.

  • Maximize Volunteer Stewardship: Provides a boost for neighborhood cohesion and existing volunteer efforts.

+ 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. Types of services and projects may 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 RPD’s existing funding and services with additional resources controlled by neighbors.

+ What are the boundaries of the proposed GBD?

Defining the formal boundaries of our proposed GDB will be an iterative process. Our current study area includes Dolores Park and the surrounding blocks. The boundaries will be adjusted based on factors such as the stated willingness of property owners to participate (via survey results), other benefit districts under consideration (e.g. Market St Business District), etc

+ What will my assessment be?

This depends on the GBD boundaries and what residents decide they want a GBD to do. Only property owners pay assessments. Past average assessments have been $150-$300 per year. This is only an estimate; the actual assessment will be determined later in the process during development of the District Management Plan, and shared publicly before residents vote.

+ 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. 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.

+ How much would the GBD raise annually?

We do not know yet. The GBD must first go through an extensive community engagement process to identify the specific types of services and projects desired, and also to evaluate the willingness to pay among property owners. Ultimately, the District budget will depend on the number of properties within the District boundaries; the desired services and improvements identified by neighbors; and a professional assessment engineer's assessment methodology.

+ 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 a volunteer Board of Directors. 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.

+ 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.

+ 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.