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September 9, 2018: SF Examiner columnist offers opinion on Green Benefit Districts

San Francisco Examiner columnist Sally Stephens offers her opinion on Green Benefit Districts in her September 9, 2018 column titled Are Green Benefit Districts really worth the money?

The short version of her answer: For most of San Francisco, "No!"

Her article explains how she reached this conclusion.

Inner Sunset GBD Formation - In their own words

Public Records requests lift the curtain

All City documents, including emails, are available through public records requests. We have reviewed many of these documents regarding Inner Sunset GBD formation and offer some of the more revealing comments made by formation insiders, with links to the source documents.

The City wants leverage in GBD formation

 SF wants leverage over Green Benefit District (GBD) formation
Jonathan Goldberg, email November 16, 2016:

"The point of using City funding earlier in the GBD formation process is to enter into a contract with all parties - community, consultant, and City - that lays out a firm set of deadlines, schedules, and deliverables. The contract is generally like a challenge grant, requiring the community to leverage the City's investment in their efforts.

Otherwise, the community could fundraise as much as they'd like, hire a consultant to guide them through this process, and " the City wouldn't have any leverage to direct or guide the formation process."

Green Benefit District (GBD) formation fundingIn the same email thread Goldberg suggests funding options for GBD formation:

"The Agenda will touch-on how much GBD formation funding can be provided from the community, on-loan from a larger property developer, or with assistance from the City."

Handwaving and unsupported assumptions: The "Go-To" GBD formation strategy

Hand waving - A Green Benefit District (GBD) formation strategy?This January 2017 email thread between Jonathan Goldberg and Brooke Ray Rivera of Build Public shows that they are getting around to considering whether "Greening" should be part of the Inner Sunset GBD plan. By this date they had determined they are going forward with the Inner Sunset GBD formation effort. Now they have to figure out why.

Brooke wrote:

"Inner Sunset seems do-able but would be a shoe-horn effort, since we don't yet know if their priorities will include a major greening effort. Would mean a lot of hand-waving and unsupported assumptions on my part."

Inner Sunset property owners will foot some of the GBD formation bill

Who foots the bill for Green Benefit District (GBD) formation costs? Memo from Jonathan Goldberg August 18, 2017

"Remaining funding needs to complete [Inner Sunset] GBD formation effort for Petition & Ballot Phases would be borrowed against the future collection of assessments"

Money is becoming an issue and the GBD formation team hunts for more

In this September 2017 memo from Jonathan Goldberg it is apparent that the Inner Sunset GBD effort needs more funding. According to Jonathan, Supervisor Breed spoke with DPW Director Mohammed Nuru about the Inner Sunset GBD and he pledged, "additional support to finish the Inner Sunset GBD effort."

Consultant Build Public unclear on the concepts (of assessments and taxes)

In her Q & A document prepared for the December 2017 GBD meeting Toral Patel of Build Public demonstrates that she is unclear on the difference between a tax and an assessment. Per the State Constitution, property assessments must provide "Special benefits" solely to the properties assessed, and in proportion to the assessment amount.

The State Constitution goes further: If legally challenged, the burden of proof that assessments solely benefit the assessed properties lies with the assessing agency.

Green Benefit District (GBD) benefits: To property owners or the public?Toral wrote:

"The purpose of a GBD assessment is to be able to provide public benefit services that otherwise would not exist to all members of the district."

If the GBD formed and followed her guide, it would be in violation of the State Constitution, Article XIII D Sec.4(f). A legal challenge to the GBD could get messy.

Reality sinks in - not enough money to print campaign brochures

This document itemizes expected expenses for printing outreach brochures to support the anticipated March 2018 petition and shows there is not enough money for printing. The document includes samples of the extravagant outreach brochures.

The brochures tout "Professional Management" for the GBD. Will this be the same management that runs out of money for campaign brochures as the petition drive heats up?

ISAC gets their attention

Our March 2018 letter to property owners encouraged some of them to contact their supervisor's office. Jonathan Goldberg comments on our letter in a memo to London Breed aide Kayleigh Lloyd.

"Hi Kayleigh –

Do you have time to chat tomorrow? There was a mass-mailer that distributed grossly false information to all proposed property owners in the proposed district. This mailer, in tandem with some non-committal large property owners, has made the co-chairs wary of pursuing the Petition drive at this time.

They’re interested in waiting until they feel 100% confident that the vote will be successful."

We believed and still believe our letter was accurate, based on the January 2018 Management Plan. We would cheerfully acknowledge errors and make corrections if informed of specifics. None have been forthcoming. Jonathan has not refuted our claims.

Summer hiatus

Follow-up emails to Jonathan Goldberg in July 2018 informed us that the Inner Sunset GBD is on "Summer hiatus." Will this GBD formation effort resume? We don't know, but we will be watching.

Government Schizophrenia - GBDs and SF Park Policies
San Francisco General Plan: Social Equity demands that all parks be equal!

The primary purpose of a GBD is to improve local parks; to make "your parks" better than the rest.

San Francisco park public policy requires social equity - to provide all neighborhoods with equal recreational and park opportunities.


Recreation and Open Space - An Element of the San Francisco General Plan

A review of San Francisco's park policies makes it clear that funding park improvements via a GBD makes it more difficult for that park to obtain City funding.

The document
Recreation and Open Space - An Element of the San Francisco General Plan, published by the SF Planning Department describes the "Guiding Principles for Open Space and Recreation" on page 7. Among these:

Open space and recreational programs should be equitably distributed. They should provide access for all residents, workers and visitors, and work towards a democratic network that includes all neighborhoods.

Our Rec and Park Department has a method for making this evaluation: park scores.

Park Scores

It is San Francisco policy to make sure that parks in all parts of the city are well maintained. The City has been evaluating the condition of its parks regularly since 2005. SF Proposition B in 2016, which created set-asides for parks, included this description in the voter pamphlet:

[The proposition] requires the Department to determine whether low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged communities are receiving the same level of Department services and resources as the City as a whole. If the levels are not the same, the Department would have to develop a plan to correct these imbalances."

The results of park evaluations are available from the Park Scores web site. This policy makes clear that the more park improvement a GBD makes, the more difficult it will be for that park to obtain City funding until other parks have their "imbalances corrected." Either that, or perhaps the City cynically ignores its own policies.

San Francisco Mayor's Fix-It Team
Where the fix-it team goes, the camera follows.
This year's budget includes $970,000 for the Mayor's" Fix-It Team. This program is intended to address issues that might otherwise "Slip through the cracks."

The Mayor's commitment to clean streets is evidenced by the addition of forty-four additional sidewalk cleaning employees in this year's budget. This new spending calls into question the need for GBD funded "enhanced" sidewalk cleaning.

Re-design proposed for the Ninth Avenue Entrance to Golden Gate Park

Landscape architect Nicholas A. Ancel at Ninth Ave Park Entrance meeting
Camera ready? Yes. Shovel ready? Not quite.
July 2, 2018 - The Richmond Review/Sunset Beacon published an account of the community meeting describing concepts for a new design for the Ninth Avenue entrance to Golden Gate Park. Per the article, funding has not been secured for the actual construction. Construction costs are estimated at between $1 and $2 million.

Not everyone is excited by the design.

Mayor Farrell advocates big boost for parks projects

June 1, 2018 - The SF Chronicle reported that a proposed $545 million park bond is scheduled to go before the voters in 2019.

Voters approved a $185 million parks bond in 2008, and a $195 million parks bond in 2012. The $545 million bond is in addition to the annual Rec and Park budget, currently $231 million.