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In Inner Sunset, Green Benefit District offers greater representation, cleaner environment

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A Green Benefit District can help connect neighbors and provide them a collective voice in the noisy chaos of local politics. The districts can also support various projects, including the creation of plazas, parks, parklets and gardens. (Camila Bernal/2013 S.F. Examiner)
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In the last year, Dogpatch and northwest Potrero Hill residents saw a long stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue transform from a weed-choked, trash-strewn wasteland into a landscaped walking path. They negotiated $10.5 million in contributions from UC San Francisco for community amenities and successfully lobbied The City to make the Dogpatch more walkable. They greened, cleaned, improved and maintained parks, sidewalks and public spaces.

A new approach, called a Green Benefit District, has made it all possible.

Two years ago, property owners in the eastern neighborhoods voted the first district into existence and picked the amount of a special property assessment to fund it. Their yearly payments are minimal — a 1,000-square-foot Dogpatch property, for example, only pays $90 per year. But the district has equipped the community with money and power at a time when so many San Franciscans feel government ignores their concerns.

Now, Inner Sunset residents are in the process of forming their own district. The area doesn’t have the same industrial history or rapid pace of development as the Dogpatch and Potrero Hill. But the desire to feel represented and fight for a healthy, safe, more connected community — a better environment — translates across The City.

“The Green Benefit District gives us a voice we don’t have right now,” Andrea Jadwin, a longtime Inner Sunset resident, told me.

She has had a voice in the past. About 10 years ago, with no funding and little organization, Jadwin helped bring the Inner Sunset Farmers’ Market to a parking lot on 9th Avenue and Irving Street. She and her fellow activists simply possessed the determination to create public gathering space in an area lacking a neighborhood park and recreation center.

But this success hasn’t jumpstarted other improvements many in the Inner Sunset want to see.

Three different supervisors — London Breed, Katy Tang and Norman Yee — represent portions of the Inner Sunset, making it hard to find an advocate in City Hall. The various neighborhood groups, merchants’ association and institutions in Golden Gate Park don’t always work together. The Inner Sunset is even divided between two police districts.

“We’re sometimes left in the lurch,” Jadwin told me. “The Inner Sunset is caught in the cross hairs in terms of representation and the west side of town doesn’t get much attention.”

If property owners in the Inner Sunset vote for a new District — and a recent survey makes it seem likely they will — this might change. According to Build Public, the nonprofit that helps form Green Benefit Districts, only 8 percent of survey respondents oppose the investment tool. Most expressed a willingness to pay an assessment of $150 to $500 per year to fund neighborhood improvements like planting trees, improving pedestrian safety, sweeping sidewalks and gutters and removing graffiti.

Specific improvements aren’t the sole reason to establish the Green Benefit District though.

John Hamilton has only lived in the Inner Sunset for a year, but decided to get involved with the district’s formation after the presidential election, which motivated so many San Franciscans to resist. It’s allowed him to get to know his new community as he works to shape and polish the neighborhood he already loves.

“This isn’t driving out to some swing district to knock on doors — it’s very local and tangible,” Hamilton told me. “Some of the outreach I’ve done is simply talking to neighbors.”

Greater connection between neighbors is one of Hamilton’s hopes for the Inner Sunset. He pictures a future filled with tree-lined streets, slower traffic and people he knows in the homes around him. A successful, hyper-local organization, like a Green Benefit District, can help make this possible. It’s a voice in the noisy chaos of national, state and city politics. It’s a way for San Franciscans to feel represented.

Inner Sunset property owners who want to learn more about the gistrict can attend a meeting on July 12 at 6 p.m. at the County Fair Building.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.

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