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

Nonprofits, small property owners say they can’t afford SoMa special tax district

A years-long effort to create a special tax district to fund quality of life and safety efforts in the South of Market neighborhood ran into opposition from small business and nonprofit operators on Tuesday who said the proposed taxes were too high.

“The [CBD] will cost us over $30,000 a year in fee assessments,” said Alexandra Goldman, of the nonprofit affordable housing provider Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation. “We’d rather invest that money back into our buildings.”

The SoMa West Community Benefit District would span an area roughly encompassed by Mission, 13th, Division, Townsend and Fifth streets and South Van Ness Avenue, and was approved by some 56 percent of business and property owners who turned in ballots throughout the day on Tuesday.

But Supervisor Matt Haney, who said he supports the special district, asked the Board of Supervisors to delay a vote scheduled for Tuesday to March 5 to buy time to come to “a solution of how we can assess affordable housing appropriately.”

“There has been some concern expressed around nonprofits who operate affordable housing and nonprofit services that own property in the district having to pay the assessments at the same rate as Airbnb,” Haney told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.

Parcels expected to benefit from the proposed district’s services would be assessed at a rate of $0.19186 per parcel square foot and $0.13013 per building square foot.

Largely clustered in downtown San Francisco, a total of 16 CBDs, also known as Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), currently operate throughout The City using property tax assessments to fund improvements to public spaces, entertainment and security services, among other things.

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

District 6 already is home to six CBDs — Civic Center, Tenderloin, Central Market, Yerba Buena, Union Square and the East Cut.

Goldman, of TNDC, told San Francisco supervisors during Tuesday’s hearing that the nonprofit operates three properties in what would be SoMa West and several more in the Tenderloin.

“The other CBDs that TNDC is a part of have a discounted rate for nonprofit-owned affordable housing and at this point SoMa West does not,” she said.

A representative of affordable housing provider Mercy Housing said that the nonprofit has four properties in the district — and that one was assessed at $15,000 annually under the CBD — a fee that under the 15-year life of the proposed district is “not sustainable.”

Office of Economic Workforce Development spokesperson Gloria Chan told the San Francisco Examiner that the proposal for the SoMa West CBD “is a community-led effort,” adding that assessment details were “crafted by the community.”

Haney called the area where the CBD is proposed a “high needs area,” with some of the highest calls for service “regarding sidewalk cleaning, homeless outreach, and public safety issues in The City.”

On Tuesday, some two dozen proponents said the special district was badly needed in the neighborhood.

“If this doesn’t pass some will probably move out of the neighborhood — I don’t want that,” said Jeremy Spinello, chair of SoMa West’s steering committee. “I don’t think it’s safe. I dont think it’s right to have people fear for their lives or step over problems like shit and trash in the street.”

Harold Hoogasian, owner of Hoogasian Flowers, said that he does not mind paying the $4,000 per year the CBD would cost him in taxes.

“I spend time, my employees spend time cleaning the streets in front of our business and the alley behind our business, this will be a wonderful back for us,” said Hoogasian. “You have to watch your own back, and if a CBD is what it takes — I have no concerns.”

Others, however, voiced concerns about equity and potential violations of the civil rights of those who have no voting power in the CBD’s establishment — tenants and the homeless residents of SoMa.

“It’s amazing how many times the word ‘homelessness’ came up today even though this is not a homeless hearing and there aren’t that many homeless people in the room — but we seem to be a real target of the security apparatus [of the CBD],” said Paul Boden, director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project. Boden pointed out that 79 percent of the SoMa West budget, or more than $3 million, will go toward security and beautification efforts.

SEE RELATED: Report finds community benefit districts linked to displacement, harassment

A report released in September by the Policy Advocacy Clinic of UC Berkeley’s School of Law found that CBDs often exclude homeless people from public spaces within their boundaries “through policy advocacy and policing practices.”

He added that The City’s Board of Supervisors previously augmented state legislation to lower the threshold for petitions needed to start a bid from 50 percent to 30 percent and “expanded who gets assessed” to include nonprofit and residential property owners.

“You all have made tweaks to make it easier to continue to see our city under the purview of private security, and that never works well for people who are seen as urine, feces, needles and as homeless,” Boden said.

Several small property owners also spoke against the special district, citing the tax increase.

“It’s almost illegal that in this city we have to take a certain neighborhood and say your taxes are going to be higher — for what? Clean, beautiful streets? That is part of a city’s taxes already as a property owner,” said a woman who gave her name as Maryann. “It makes no sense to increase our taxes for this program. I am totally against it.”


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