Noe Valley Voice September 2005

24th Street Property Owners Approve Special Tax District

By Corrie M. Anders

Carol Yenne and Debra Niemann, the driving forces behind the effort to create a Community Benefit District along a seven-block stretch of 24th Street, had a bad case of the jitters as the final votes were being tallied this summer.

"We thought we had the votes we needed. But you don't know until all the votes are counted," said Yenne, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. "We had to hold hands and hold our breath."

Yenne and Niemann, president of the Friends of Noe Valley, heaved a sigh of relief after the outcome of mail-in balloting was announced Aug. 2. Twenty-fourth Street property owners, by a 57 to 43 percent "weighted-assessed" margin, voted to tax themselves to pay for improvements to the neighborhood's commercial corridor.

Despite the extra cost, "I think the CBD is going to be great," said Castro Street attorney Robert Roddick, who served on the special tax district's formation committee. "It's going to present the commercial corridor as a standout place to come and shop."

The CBD, whose purpose is to keep the 24th Street commercial strip clean and beautiful, and make it a safe and appealing place for merchants, residents, and customers, will be known formally as the Noe Valley Association.

The association has a first-year operating budget of $220,000, and officially will start operations in January. That's when an elected board takes office and the first funds arrive. And sometime during the first two months of 2006, neighborhood shoppers will start to see steam-cleaned sidewalks, new benches and flower boxes, and uniformed security patrols on duty, especially after dark.

But this fall, the CBD's volunteers must first complete a variety of tasks--including exploring how much various goods and services will dent the CBD budget. The money must be spent in four major categories: beautification, cleanliness, security, and promotion of the neighborhood.

Niemann said the CBD steering committee has started "going out to companies to get comparison costs." The group will survey such things as "how much it will cost to put in flower baskets or to secure trees, [and] how much it will cost if we wanted to clean the sidewalks once a week, so when the board does sit down and comes together in January, [it] will have the information" needed to make informed decisions, she said.

August elections also saw property owners approve CBDs in the Castro, the Mission, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Tenderloin. Their creation lured Mayor Gavin Newsom, District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a bevy of other City Hall heavyweights, and neighborhood activists to Fresca Restaurant Aug. 8 for a congratulatory news conference.

Yenne and Niemann said Noe Valley's CBD came about because of a yearlong grassroots effort that involved their two organizations, the East & West of Castro Club, longtime residents, and newcomers to the neighborhood. "We even had Democrats and Republicans working together," said Niemann.

The Noe Valley CBD, however, has its opponents. One is Harry Aleo, a longtime 24th Street property owner, who has posted a sign in the window of his Twin Peaks Properties realty office criticizing the CBD. In an interview, Aleo complained that affected property owners did not receive adequate notice about the election and that many of them didn't cast ballots. He said a new vote should be required "and this travesty corrected."

Aleo said he would not initiate a campaign for a new referendum, which would require a simple majority of CBD property owners to petition for a new election. But "if someone wants to take up the battle," Aleo said, "I'd certainly contribute money to it."

Close to 170 property owners in the district participated in the election, according to Niemann. Their votes were weighted based on the percentage of the assessment they will pay. The CBD extends along 24th Street from Chattanooga Street to Douglass Street, and also includes two blocks of Castro Street.

Niemann said the CBD steering committee, which previously met every two weeks, would resume its working session this fall. The group plans to name an interim board for the Noe Valley Association, which then will make preparations for board elections and future operations.

The size of the board has yet to be determined. The majority of board seats, 80 percent, will go to property owners within the CBD. The remainder is reserved for merchants or residents within the district.

Funds to finance the district will come from extra assessments paid by all property owners within the Noe Valley CBD. The money will be collected in their December property tax bill--and again in April--and given to the CBD in January. Niemann said the funds will be placed in a Noe Valley bank.

"The money is controlled by the property owners and business owners in the community," said Yenne. She stressed that "no money goes to the city" and that "all the money collected stays in Noe Valley."