Downtown community benefit district forming to alleviate traffic, address homelessness

District requires approval by property owners, Board of Supervisors

A new community benefit district proposed for the Financial District would pay for traffic control officers on busy city streets and increased patrols to combat panhandling or public urination.

Plans for the Downtown Community Benefit District, which were presented to the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee Thursday, say it will generate around $3.8 million through fees collected from property owners at a rate of $0.10 per building square foot per year.

The district would pay for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority traffic control officers “at every heavily impacted intersection within the [community benefit district] boundaries on all workdays, year-round.”

Marco Li Mandri, president of New City America, Inc., a consultant company that has helped form nine other community benefit districts in San Francisco, said the congestion that occurs between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. as drivers from the north try to cross Market Street to get onto U.S. interstate highways 880 or 80 is “one of the things that is critical and the greatest problems.”

The traffic “discourages new businesses and tenants from moving in north of Market Street,” according to the district plans, which call for placing traffic control officers at key intersections for several hours on weekday afternoons.

The district plans also call for the launch of a “Live Well, Live Safe” program, which is described as “a new approach to dealing with disorder within the CBD boundaries which will provide services for individually-assessed parcels in the form of patrolling personnel, nighttime patrol, and safety attendants.”

“The purpose of this service is to prevent, deter, and report illegal activities taking place on the streets, sidewalks, storefronts, public spaces, and parking lots,” said documents related to the formation of the CBD. “The presence of the attendants is intended to deter illegal activities such as public urination, indecent exposure, trespassing, drinking in public, prostitution, illegal panhandling, illegal vending, and illegal dumping.”

The documents note that “There are many people on the streets and sidewalks in need of medical attention, particularly the mentally ill.”

Li Mandri said that “the whole point of this is to try to make the curb to the property line as enjoyable as possible.”

The plans also include “hiring non-profit or private caseworkers to respond to homeless issues, aggressive panhandling, and mentally ill people. This may include hiring of 10B [Police Department] bike patrols and/or a camera system.”

In addition the plan calls for increased street cleaning and graffiti abatement as well as “removal or consolidation of news racks throughout the district.”

“As you know most of them are empty,” Li Mandri said.

There are currently 17 community benefit districts. The first one, the Union Square Business Improvement District, was formed in 1999. In 2004, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom created a technical assistance program through the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to help neighborhoods form the districts.

Plans to form the Downtown Community Benefit District, which includes Jackson Square, date back to 2007, but they stalled when the Great Recession struck. They were revived in April 2016 by Li Mandri, Clint Reilly, a commercial property owner and former political strategist and Jim Lazarus, then a leader of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

“We wanted to figure out if there was the support to do this,” Li Mandri said, noting there is a desire to see the area stay competitive with Rincon Hill and South of Market area, both rapidly developing areas that have their own community benefit districts.

Frank Holland, a representative of Clint Reilly, said Reilly owns “a number of buildings” in the Financial District around California and Montgomery streets.

“This has been a long time coming,” Holland said. “We need it now more than ever before. The City has evolved dramatically over the past decade. More challenges than ever confront us. This allows us an opportunity to be proactive, coordinate with The City and address them in a cohesive way.”

The formation of a community benefit district requires approval by a weighted vote of those impacted and approval by the Board of Supervisors. Within the proposed district there are about 43 city blocks with 669 parcels, or 471 property owners. The area includes the Financial District, Jackson Square and several parcels on the south side of Market Street.

The district would begin Jan. 1, 2020 and last for 15 years before needing approval again from the board for renewal.

Peskin, who previously served on the board from 2001-2009, backed the plan. “This thing has been kicking around since the first time I was on the Board of Supervisors and I am delighted to have lived long enough to see it hopefully come to fruition,” Peskin said.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee voted on Thursday to support plans to let the property owners vote to form the district, and the full board will vote on May 14. Later on July 16, the board will vote to form the district if more than 50 percent of the impacted property owners approve in a weighted vote to form the district.

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