+ What is a GBD?
A Green Benefit District (GBD) is an innovative tool that allows residents to directly invest in specific enhancements to open spaces in their community, providing services that are 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. It is a platform for civic advocacy, bring neighbors together to address shared problems and implement collective action solutions that help make our city cleaner, safe and more livable for all.
+ Are there any GBDs in existence?
Yes, there is one in the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhoods. Currently, there are three other neighborhoods exploring formation of a GBD, including the Inner Sunset, Dolores Park, and 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 primarily residential neighborhoods.
+ 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).
+ What is an assessment district?
Assessment districts, also called benefit districts, are geographically defined areas wherein each property owner contributes annually towards collective-action solutions such as neighborhood beautification, public safety, enhanced maintenance and cleaning and more. 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). 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. In short, assessment districts are ways for citizens to have local control over where their dollars are being spent, much more so than with their citywide taxes. 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 will my assessment be?
Depending on the GBD boundaries and what residents decide they want a GBD to do, the likely average assessment will be between $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 before residents vote.
+ How much would the GBD raise annually?
We do not yet know this. The Buena Vista 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.
+ 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, which is used to calculate annual assessments. 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 are the benefits of a GBD?
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.
Open Space & Ballot Advocacy: 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.
+ 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.
+ Which types of services and projects could a GBD provide?
We as a community get to determine the GBD's specific services and projects through a robust and transparent outreach and engagement process. Types of GBD services and projects may include:
- Grant writing and fundraising to advocate for local neighborhood priorities and address urgent community concerns
- Design and planning for specialty landscape projects that leverage existing RPD efforts
- Environmental management and restoration projects, such as erosion control, water conservation, and carbon sequestration
- Safety projects, for instance perimeter lighting, hazardous tree pruning, and path repair
- Community-initiated art projects
- Enhanced community programming in partnership with education and recreation providers (i.e. Randall Museum, Nature in the City, health activity specialists) to conduct classes in the park for all
+ Why isn't the City already doing this?
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.
+ How is a GBD formed?
District property owners must vote in support of a GBD during first a Petition (need 30% weighted support) and then a special Ballot (need 50%+1 weighted support). Learn more about voting procedures and the overall formation process 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 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, governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The limits of the Board’s governance and spending authority are 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.
+ Can a GBD be dis-established?
Yes. 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