Sunday, July 8, 2012

Property qualifications for one kind of voters

Only property owners vote on whether to create "community benefit districts." It's a thought hitting here with special force lately because of word from Jim Meko, last month, that advocates for these things were to speak to the SoMa Leadership Council. The speakers, Jim Chappell and Daniel Hurtado, seem to be executive director and a staff member respectively of the Central Market Community Benefit District. From Jim Meko's emailed agenda/newsletter:
"South of Market is also experiencing a wave of special use and community benefit districts. There has been talk of extending the Youth and Family Zone (which is an SUD) into the Western SoMa and the Central Corridor folks have proposed an entertainment SUD that would enshrine the industry within the underlying zoning in the overlap between the two plan areas no matter what changes might occur over the next few years.
Community Benefit Districts are popping up all over the city. Jim Chappell and Daniel Hurtado will be joining us next week to explain the process and benefits of a CBD. The Rincon Hill neighbors are currently engaged in a series of meetings to determine their map boundaries, the services and the costs that will be added to their property tax bills for the next 15 years for running a Community Benefit District. Want one in your neighborhood?"
Here's the thing: it may not matter if our household specially wants a CBD or not. Because although for fifteen years we have lived in and helped to shape our immediate neighborhood and trained a three-inch-thick vine up our porch railings, we are not property owners. Except in the sense that a rent control right is a form of equity, but with CBD's that doesn't seem to count.

Our landlords I'm sure have thoughtful intentions for our neighborhood, but, with respect, they have not to my knowledge ever lived here. They get a vote, we don't. Same with governance and funding -- the system for one existing CBD is explained here.

That little matter of disenfranchisement is the first in a string of wrongs.

CBDs exist to polish up neighborhoods into showplaces. They police public space so it welcomes paying customers. They power-wash the sidewalks. They remove non-paying customers from the sidewalks and from other public spaces -- counseling them, politely or not, to go off and get "services" in some other spot that isn't a visible public space.

In intention, if not always in fact, they break the class-mixing social truce that has always characterized the public centers of the world's genuinely great cities.

Well, you know that. "Community benefit districts" have been around for a generation. They were previously known by the more honest name of "business improvement district." In New York they're a significant part of what erased the difference between Times Square and Disneyland.

What does "popping up all over" mean? How many of these things are there in San Francisco?

A lot. Here's a city map of them as of 2009. Note the semicircle beginning to form around western South of Market.

So we may get benefited here, like it or not.

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