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SoMa West community comes together to improve the neighborhood

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An overview of some of the skyscrapers in the SoMA neighborhood on Thursday, May 10, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

For decades, the South of Market Area felt like a neglected neighborhood. In rare moments of recognition by the rest of San Francisco, SoMa gained notoriety for all of the wrong reasons: crime and blight.

In the western portion especially, between Sixth Street and Van Ness Avenue or Division Street, the urban form seemed designed for neglect. Ominous freeways, long blocks of warehouses, unlit alleyways, and absent crosswalks did little to foster community.

Despite these challenges, SoMa West became home to a diverse and beautiful group of people who share the neighborhood with its industries. We are a welcoming bunch of artists, service providers, entrepreneurs, young professionals, a spirited Filipino community, a prideful leather community, and many others. We have great access to transportation while being close to downtown. We recognize the beauty and charm of our eclectic mix, enjoy mom and pop businesses, big box stores, restaurants, nightlife, theaters, as well as close proximity to the Mission, Hayes Valley and the Castro.

However, it’s unfair that residents and workers have become accustomed to ongoing problems.

Recently, this has changed. SoMa West homeowners, renters, local organizations, area employees and small business owners have been organizing for several years to improve basic conditions on the ground. Our shared frustrations brought us together to better address cleanliness and safety issues in tangible, meaningful ways. Eventually, we realized that a Community Benefit District is the framework we need to achieve our goals.

We have seen how CBDs help increase the quality of life in other neighborhoods. CBDs across the City fund graffiti removal, public trash cans and additional cleaning in high traffic areas. The East Cut CBD partners with the Downtown Streets Team to hire homeless residents to help clean the neighborhood. In the Tenderloin, they assist children walking to school through the Safe Passage program. In Yerba Buena, the CBD funds numerous art projects in the district through grants to local artists.

The best thing about CBDs is that they are managed by community members and support the community’s priorities. The CBD formation process has been grassroots and taken years, fueled by the passion of neighbors to improve the place where we live, work, and play. We learned from each other thanks to dozens of public meetings lead by the Office of Economic Workforce and Development. We mailed surveys and outreached multiple times to every property owner thanks to grants from the SoMa Community Stabilization Fund and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. We want to thank all of the community members who attended meetings and provided feedback, and all of the volunteers who have helped us through this process.

Our neighbors were finally invited to vote on whether to establish the SoMa West Community Benefit District over the last few months. The Department of Elections counted our ballots and announced that the majority of our neighbors voted in support, and the Board of Supervisors approved the formation of the SoMa West Community Benefit District!

Over the next few months we’ll jump-start the SoMa West Community Benefit District. We’ll rely on our neighbors’ continued involvement to establish our priorities and begin planning services in detail. All are welcomed to join us at information sessions and Steering Committee meetings.

Look for posters around the neighborhood or check www.SWCBD.org for upcoming meeting dates. We welcome everyone to share their ideas and get involved. Together we will make SoMa West a brighter and more vibrant neighborhood.

The SoMa West Community Benefit District Steering Committee is a diverse group of homeowners, renters, local organizations, area employees and small business owners. The 35-member steering committee is led by James Spinello, Alex Ludlum, Brendan Tobin, Tim Figueras, Ryan Jackson, Debra Benedict, and Eric Lopez.

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