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Middle-Polk property owners organizing to address homelessness, street cleaning

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Three teens walk past the vacant Lombardi Sports building on Polk Street. A new community benefit district is seeking to clean up a stretch of Polk between California and Broadway. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Property owners in San Francisco’s Middle Polk neighborhood are forming a community benefit district to address homelessness and “disruptive street behaviors” and to attract businesses to fill up empty storefronts.

The proposed Discover Polk community benefit district would generate about $600,000 a year in fees from 536 parcels in the area, which includes a mix of condos and small businesses. It would be San Francisco’s sixteenth community benefit district, which includes those formed in Union Square, Noe Valley and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The majority of the money would be spent on sidewalk and street cleaning and hiring so-called “hospitality ambassadors,” which are used in other districts, to take a “case management approach with chronically homeless individuals.” The district’s plan “provides for the weekly deployment of 250 hours for uniformed Cleaning and Hospitality Ambassadors.” The services augment existing services provided by the city.

“We suffer, as many do, from the effect of impaired and sometimes aggressive homeless individuals, and we believe that as we take care of the sidewalks, have a visible presence of safety ambassadors and elimination of vacant storefronts, that will help us address some of those issues,” said Suzanne Markel-Fox, a property owner and a Discover Polk steering committee leader.

“There is particular concern with homelessness and disruptive street behaviors, and interest in how a [community benefit district] could help to address these issues,” said the district’s management plan, referring to a survey of those in the area.

The effort is being supported by the Lower Polk Community Benefit District, which would share the boundary of California Street on Polk Street. The two may end up working closely together.

The Board of Supervisors Government and Oversight Committee on Wednesday approved the formation of Discover Polk and the full board will vote on it next week.

If approved by the board, the Department of Elections will mail ballots on June 8 to all district parcel owners and they will be tabulated on July 24.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the area, praised the effort and noted how the eastern part of District 3 — Russian Hill, North Beach, Telegraph — has long been well represented by strong neighborhood groups. But he said only more recently have neighborhood groups risen up on the western side, as seen in the organizing around the Polk Street community benefit districts.

Markel-Fox said they had initially planned for a larger district but were unable to achieve the needed support. It takes a 30 percent weighted-vote through mailed petitions to advance toward holding an election to form a district. But the threshold was reached by scaling it back to “something that is more cohesive and consistent with Middle Polk.”

The boundaries of the proposed Discover Polk district include the Polk Street corridor from California Street to Broadway as well as the east side of the Van Ness Avenue corridor from California to Broadway, with some Academy of Arts University properties located on the west side of Van Ness.

Academy of Art President Elisa Stephen was among those who signed the petitions in support of the benefit district, helping to achieve the 30 percent threshold. The school’s combined properties would be assessed $43,700 a year.

Assessments per parcel vary from a low of $151 to a high of $19,343. Not only privately-owned parcels are impacted. The Recreation and Parks Department will have to pay $4,326 annually into the district for its public property at 1401 Broadway.

Other spending planned for the district includes $75,000 for marketing and $130,000 to pay for a district coordinator and other administrative costs.

If approved, services would begin in January.

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