Are there other GBDs? 

Yes. The Dogpatch & Northwest Potrero Hill GBD was the first GBD to be established, in 2015. San Francisco also has 15 Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) which are the model for GBDs. Both GBDs and CBDs are special assessment districts, authorized by state and local law, that allow individual property owners to vote to assess their own property in exchange for control over how assessment revenues are spent within their neighborhood. In other cities, these districts are often called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). While CBDs traditionally focus on economic development in commercial areas, GBDs focus on public realm improvements, maintenance and greening in residential or mixed residential-commercial areas. The City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) GBD legislation can be found here.

 

Does a GBD duplicate City services already provided?

No, a GBD does not and cannot, by law, pay for existing City services. It funds services above and beyond the existing baseline of City services. A GBD is a way for a neighborhood to take direct action on unmet community needs, when neighbors wish to see services and improvements that the City is not already providing.

A GBD also forces the City to clearly identify what the City is supposed to be providing, and holds the City accountable to that baseline. Let’s face it: ideally, the City would fund all the improvements and services that we as neighbors desire, in a timely fashion. But the fact is, the City is not. Take for example 7th Ave and Lincoln Way, which are designated 'high injury corridors’ by the City’s Vision Zero initiative. Despite repeated requests from neighbors for traffic studies and improvements, we are still waiting for the City to take action. The Inner Sunset GBD gives us the choice and the tools to make our own streets safe, clean and beautiful for our community and all San Franciscans.

 

Does a GBD affect existing City services? 

GBD services are provided in addition to the existing baseline of services provided by the City. By adopting the GBD Management Plan, the CCSF Board of Supervisors will confirm and guarantee a baseline level of service equivalent to that being provided in similar areas of the city. The GBD Board of Directors, authorized by the City to oversee the GBDs services and budget, will work in close partnership with CCSF agencies to ensure that the GBD’s goals are met in an efficient and fair manner, and that GBD services do not duplicate or replace baseline City services and agency responsibilities.

The GBD will also monitor and ensure that Baseline City Services are maintained at current levels, and moreover, deployed in ways that complement and leverage the GBD’s resources. The GBD will advocate for the neighborhood’s needs at City Hall to ensure that CCSF agencies fulfill their stated agency and departmental commitments to the neighborhood.

 

What can a GBD do for sidewalk greening that the City doesn't already provide?

The City does not install sidewalk greening except in new streetscape projects funded by voter-approved bonds. The City does not fund new street trees, except when replacing an existing City street tree. Installation and funding of sidewalk greening in San Francisco is initiated by and the responsibility of individual property owners. Established street trees are pruned by the City only every 3 to 5 years.

San Francisco Public Works and the Public Utilities Commission does incentivize privately-led sidewalk greening efforts by providing some technical assistance and limited financial support. Non-profit organizations and individual property owners can secure discounted permits and grants to help fund the installation of new sidewalk gardens and street trees, with property owner consent. However, maintenance, watering, and general care of these sidewalk gardens is the responsibility of the fronting property owner.

Specifically, a GBD can provide the following services not provided by the City:

  • Coordinate with property owners to partially or fully fund the installation of new street trees, sidewalk greening, and associated materials on a district-wide scale
  • Fund sidewalk greening permit costs (typically $205 to $276 per application, pending number of participating properties)
  • Water new street trees until they become established and accepted by the City for maintenance (3+ years)
  • Organize volunteers, provide informational resources, species selection, and design guidance
  • Secure additional grants and donations to leverage local resources
  • Identify and fund new neighborhood greening on existing City projects that lacked funding or foresight to install new greening opportunities

 

Don’t some merchants and commercial property owners already provide services proposed by the GBD, such as sidewalk steam cleaning?

Commercial corridor “spot treatment” is exactly what is not working well. Relying a few good Samaritan owners/merchants to carry the day is inequitable, inefficient, unreliable:

  • Inequitable: results in gaps in coverage & unduly burdens those currently paying to clean their neighbors’ sidewalk
  • Inefficient: no coordination means potential for overlapping services
  • Unreliable: only happens if/when someone volunteers to provide the service

By pooling resources and coordinating on a single service contract rather than multiple, commercial owners and merchants will save time and money. Moreover, they will receive service that is both reliable and comprehensive in coverage.

Residential areas would receive steam cleaning on an as needed basis, likely less frequently than in the commercial corridor. In turn, residential areas may receive more greening and other services less needed in commercial areas.

 

Is the GBD a tax?

No, a GBD is a property-based assessment. The California State Supreme Court has routinely affirmed that benefit assessments are unique and distinct from taxes.

Taxes are proposed by a legislative body, through a voter Petition, or by a special district. Funds are controlled by government departments and agencies (a bit more info here). Taxes require 2/3 majority vote of registered voters (in some instances, a majority vote of registered voters) to be approved. Most notably, taxpayers do not need to receive any benefit from a tax proposed or enacted by a legislative body, voters, or a special district.

Assessments pay for specific services and improvements for the benefit of assessed properties. The services and improvements are determined by property owners, with additional input from local stakeholders. GBD assessment funds can only be spent in the neighborhood where they are collected. For context, the average GBD assessment for an Inner Sunset residential property would be around $250/yr. 

 

Will the GBD compete with other city-wide measures, such as the proposed teacher salary parcel tax?

GBD assessments are quite different than parcel taxes. GBD funds can only be spent in the neighborhood where they are collected, and are managed by our very own neighbor-elected Board, whereas parcel taxes get spread across the City and we have no control how or where the funds are spent.

GBD funds and parcel taxes can work together to bring additional investments to our children and our community. The GBD would make the streets and sidewalks around our public schools and parks safer and cleaner for students, teachers and residents.

We all recognize that California’s once stellar public education system deserves more attention. The property tax inequities perpetrated by Prop 13 continue to plague our schools. Property owners have the ability to step up and be a part of the solution — both for improving our schools and improving our neighborhood.

 

Who’s leading the Inner Sunset GBD formation effort?

The Inner Sunset GBD Co-Chairs are: Al Minvielle (5th Ave neighbor), Andrea Jadwin (6th Ave neighbor), Craig Dawson (local merchant and ISMA VP), Naomi Porat (4th Ave neighbor), and Ike Kwon (COO of Cal Academy of Sciences). The broader Formation Committee consists of approximately 40 neighborhood stakeholders including residents and merchants, renters and property owners.

We live or work in the Inner Sunset, some of us for many years, are raising or have raised children here and have many long-term friends in the neighborhood. Many of the us have been actively involved in neighborhood projects like the initial undergrounding of overhead wires from Arguello to 6th Avenue, worked to establish the farmers market, planted trees along Irving and 9th, worked with SFMTA on the new transit stops, provided the volunteer labor to improve the Lincoln Way dog run and are working with Golden Gate Park to upgrade the 9th Ave entrance.

We spend much of our personal time trying to stay tuned into City politics and projects that can help improve our neighborhood. We are not mysterious developers or gentrifiers. We are folks like you who see a great opportunity in this GBD concept for ensuring we get the services we pay for, adding to those services to meet our neighborhood standards and securing the advocacy we need to improve our chances for the Inner Sunset to be considered for projects like future under-grounding west of 7th Avenue, to safer crosswalks and lights for pedestrians and traffic calming.

 

Who is helping these neighborhood leaders with the GBD formation effort?

The GBD Formation Committee Co-Chairs have enlisted formation assistance from SF Public Works’ GBD Program and from local nonprofit Place Lab. Place Lab helped form the first ever GBD in Dogpatch/Potrero, and with Public Works grant support is now providing guidance on the lengthy and multi-stage GBD formation process here in Inner Sunset.

 

Who’s supporting the Inner Sunset GBD formation effort?

The Inner Sunset GBD is endorsed by Inner Sunset Park Neighbors, Inner Sunset Merchant Association, Sutro Stewards, California Academy of Sciences, District 5 Supervisor London Breed, SF Public Works Department, Walk SF, San Francisco Parks Alliance, Friends of the Urban Forest and others. The GBD provides the resources we need to strengthen partnerships with these groups to increase the level of the good work they do in our neighborhood. We have spent over a year, with the help of neighbors, attempting to design a program that will give us a voice in our own future and provide the resources to accomplish projects the neighborhood identifies as priorities.

 

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.

 

Can you explain the weighted voting process?

For the petition and ballot, property owners’ votes are weighted by their proportional share of the total proposed assessment for the entire district. For example: assume the total annual budget for a GBD is $1,000 per year. If an individual property owner’s proposed assessment is $100 per year, then the property owner’s share would be equal to 10% of the vote during the Petition and Ballot phases. 

 

How will the Petition & Ballot be handled? 

Both petition and ballot are standardized processes common to all benefit district formation in San Francisco, and both receive oversight from city government. You can find details on voting procedures here, and the full text of the city's legislation here on CBDs and GBDs. Only property owners within the proposed district vote in the Petition and Ballot. The Petition is overseen by Public Works and the Board of Supervisors. If sufficient support is achieved through the Petition process, the Board of Supervisors is authorized to introduce legislation to initiate a special Ballot for property owners within the proposed District.

The Ballot is administered by the SF Department of Elections. If sufficient support is achieved through the Ballot vote, the ultimate authority to approve of establishing a GBD rests with the SF Board of Supervisors.  Both Petition and Ballot must be mailed to every property owner in the proposed District, based on City Assessor's records. 

 

What if only my block votes for the GBD, but not the blocks on either side?

A GBD requires a majority (50% + 1) of returning ballots to be in favor, with votes weighted by proportional share of the total proposed assessment. If it does not have sufficient votes in favor - regardless of the location of blocks in support or against - a GBD will not be established.

Earlier in the formation process, the Formation Committee conducted a survey and outreach to determine the boundaries of the proposed GBD. Delineating these boundaries is a necessarily strategic endeavor: areas in the neighborhood in which there is not strong support for the GBD will not be included in the proposed boundaries. 

 

Is there a process to disestablish a GBD?

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 are GBD boundaries defined?

In Spring 2017, the Formation Committee conducted a professional online survey to develop a more nuanced understanding of the neighborhood’s priorities, concerns, and willingness to support a GBD. The survey results helped to determine where the boundaries of the proposed GBD would be most effective. The boundary has been further refined within continued community outreach during the development of the Management Plan in Fall 2017.

Some areas of the neighborhood had higher survey response rates and more positive responses than others — this helped define the proposed GBD boundary. Low response from some areas led to the narrowing of the GBD boundaries to areas with high response and high support. This is a common practice, given that a GBD should only be formed in an area where neighbors want the benefits a GBD would bring.

All property owners within the boundaries of the GBD will have the opportunity to weigh in twice: once in the petition phase and again in the ballot phase.

 

How is a GBD funded?

Each property owner in a GBD pays an assessment proportional to the benefits provided by GBD-funded services and improvements in the neighborhood. Assessments show up on residential property tax bills and are collected twice a year.  

 

How are assessment rates determined?

Special assessments can be determined by one or several factors, such as building size, lot square footage, street frontage, and property uses, like residential or commercial zoning.

Assessment rates are calculated by an Assessment Engineer during the "Plan Development" phase of the formation process. The Assessment Engineer helps district stakeholders and community members to determine an assessment methodology that is fair, representative, and proportional across all assessed property owners. The assessment methodology must be reviewed, vetted and approved by a proposed district’s stakeholders and property owners.

The assessment formula for the Inner Sunset GBD is defined in the Management Plan. 

 

What’s the annual assessment for the average Inner Sunset property owner?

Each property in the Inner Sunset GBD will be assessed on its building square footage, lot square footage, and street frontage. The annual assessment is modest: the average Inner Sunset single family home would pay around $250 per year. (2,500 sq ft building, 3,000 sq ft lot, 25 linear feet)

 

Will the GBD assessment automatically increase annually?

No. There is no automatic or required increase of assessments annually. Changes may be made to annual assessment rates if, and only if, the change is voted upon and approved by the GBD Board of Directors. Importantly, any increase is limited to a maximum of the percentage increase in the Bay Area consumer price index (CPI) or 3% - whichever is less.      

In practice, assessment increases have seldom been enacted in benefit districts across San Francisco.

 

What if assessments collected in a given year are not spent?

The Management Plan outlines an annual spending plan that must be followed by a GBD. At the end of a fiscal year, any surplus assessment funds must be programmed on specific projects and services. These funds must be spent-down before a GBD begins to spend the next fiscal year’s assessment funds. 

 

How is a GBD managed? Is there a nonprofit involved?

Whether a GBD or a CBD, any benefit district requires formation of a nonprofit entity committed to community benefit, usually referred to as a 501(c)3, to oversee and manage it.  There are 16 benefit districts in San Francisco, all managed by dedicated nonprofits.

This nonprofit is accountable, transparent and responsive, governed by a volunteer Board of Directors elected by the neighborhood and representative of the neighborhood.

The limits of the Board’s governance and spending authority are pre-defined in the GBD’s Management Plan which is publicly available online.

To best serve the neighborhood, the nonprofit is lean and nimble, with an all-volunteer Board and a single paid professional to oversee efficient implementation of the GBD’s mission, which in our case is “to improve the overall quality of life in the Inner Sunset through neighborhood improvements, community engagement, and enhanced stewardship of the public realm.”

 

What are the administrative costs of a GBD? Is there a paid Executive Director?

9.2% of the GBD’s annual budget is for Management & Operations, or $84,000/year.

Efficient, responsible, accountable and responsive operation of the GBD on behalf of the neighborhood requires a paid full- or part-time professional Executive Director. This Executive Director salary would be determined by the locally-elected, neighborhood-representative GBD Board of Directors after the GBD is established. Nowhere in the Management Plan is a six-figure administrative salary proposed.

As a mission-based nonprofit, the GBD is obliged to dedicate maximum resources towards direct neighborhood-benefiting programs, services and improvements, in as lean and cost-efficient a manner as possible. Overhead will be kept to the absolute minimum necessary.

See draft GBD Management Plan for more information. 

 

Once established, how is a GBD governed?

Consistent with state and local law, a GBD is managed by an owners’ nonprofit corporation that would apply to become a public-benefit 501(c)3 organization, governed by a locally representative Board of Directors.

The GBD Formation Committee will provide general guidelines regarding the composition of the organization’s proposed Board of Directors. These details are specified so that property owners and tenants, both commercial and residential, are all adequately represented by the future Board of Directors. Since the Management Plan only provides a general framework for how the Board should be structured, details regarding a Board of Directors are specified in an organization’s bylaws.

Once a GBD is formed, the Board of Directors and the owners’ non-profit corporation are subject to standard non-profit rules of governance, including ethical rules governing disclosure of conflicts of interest and prohibitions against self-dealing.

 

Does a GBD create more bureacracy?

A GBD's intent and appeal is the opposite of layering more bureaucracy — it is a nimble and effective way for communities to directly take action at a local level to improve their neighborhoods, without being mired in slow-moving City process. Likewise, it places more control – not less – in the hands of residents and local property owners who want to invest in their neighborhood to improve the local quality of life in their community.


Volunteer-led efforts, like cleanup days, are wonderful and important. However, they often face long-term sustainability challenges and impacts. These efforts are time-intensive to organize and sustain. They lean heavily on one or several individuals with free time,  who often burn out, move, or get sick from time to time. Funding to support this work is usually non-existent, inconsistent, or spotty at best.

A GBD intends to sustainably support locally-driven volunteer efforts. It can provide consistent funding and support for volunteer initiatives in the neighborhood, to bring the community together around greening and improvement projects. A great example is the Dogpatch & NW Potrero Hill GBD which logged over 3,000 volunteer hours in FY 16-17 (see Annual Report). Measuring and quantifying this value makes a statement about a local neighborhood, and also raises the profile of local efforts with elected officials at City Hall.

 

How is a GBD transparent and accountable?

Accountability, transparency, and local control are foundational goals of the GBD concept. The GBD is a 501(c)3 corporation subject to the same reporting, accounting and public transparency requirements that apply to any other tax-exempt corporation in the US.

Moreover, any GBD in San Francisco is required to:

  • Follow the Brown Act, noticing all meetings and ensure all meetings are open to members of the public.

  • Deliver on the services and improvements detailed in the Management Plan, otherwise it is subject to disestablishment by the SF Board of Supervisors and/or ISGBD property owners. 

  • Adhere to local living wage, healthcare, and nondiscrimination requirements, and is subject to an annual audit review by a licensed CPA.  

  • 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 also presented to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in a public hearing annually.

 

For specific responses to factual inaccuracies put forward by the Inner Sunset Action Committee in its letter to property owners, please click here.