Ocean Avenue Takes Step Towards Improvement

Cameron Crowe

The Ocean Avenue Revitalization Collaborative is asking Ocean Avenue property owners to form an assessment district to help make the district more attractive to shoppers and residents.

The proposed Ocean Avenue Community Benefits District (CBD) will collect revenue from property assessments within the district to spend on community services and improvements like steam-cleaned sidewalks, tree pruning and graffiti removal.

“It is a win-win situation for merchants and property owners,” said Walee
Gon, the owner of Mach III and member of the OARC. “As a property owner you want good property value, and a CBD can make that happen.”

According to a survey conducted by the Collaborative in November, 61 percent of business and property owners along Ocean Avenue are already on-board with the CBD. But some owners don’t share the same enthusiasm

“In these hard economic times they want to tax us?” said Gina Sineitti, owner of Ocean Avenue Service Station. “That just doesn’t make sense. Nobody on the street even knows what this is paying for.”

Sineitti says she didn’t know about the proposed district until a neighboring business owner asked her what it was all about. After that she had to call the mayor's office to get the information faxed to her.

“There is a due process to everything according to the mayor’s office,” said Sineitti. “If they were following the due process I would not have a problem with this.”

The collaborative has circulated a petition that must be supported by 30
percent of property owners in the proposed district. If it is successful a public meeting with the board of Supervisors committee will be held to consider establishing a CBD.

The November survey showed that 74 percent of self-selected shoppers, residents, and merchant and property owners feel the proposed CBD will improve business along Ocean Avenue.

“A lot of out-of-state property owners don’t like the idea,” said Dolly Sithounnolat, program coordinator of the Ocean Avenue Revitalization Collaborative. “But there hasn’t been any real organized opposition.”

Two Zones

When established, the CBD will include properties in two separate zones. Zone One includes the properties in the Ocean Avenue retail district from Manor Drive to Phelan. Zone Two is made up by the City College campus and the Lick-Wilmerding High School campus.

The current proposal for the district calls for an annual operating budget of $242,631 for the coming fiscal year. More than half of that will go to cleaning and maintenance, 26 percent will go to management, and 16 percent will go to marketing and street beautification.

“The money will go to whatever the properties need,” said Sithounnolat. “So for City College no funding will go towards marketing and all of it goes to everyday maintenance.”

The district proposes five days of sidewalks cleaning, graffiti removal within 24 hours, and the creation of a safety committee.

The Business Improvement District Act of 1994 authorizes the creation of such districts. Under the act, an owners association is organized as a non-profit and sets the district boundaries and decides how the revenue should be spent.

Nine Districts

There are nine existing district’s in San Francisco: Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fillmore, Noe Valley, Castro/Upper Market, Central Market, Yerba Buena, Tenderloin North and the Mission "Miracle Mile."

West Portal and the Excelsior are also trying to establish districts by the end of the year.

Deborah Nieman, the co-founder and manager of Noe Valley’s district, says such plans can have a powerful impact on the community. “You clean it, add some green, add some color to it, and you feel better about walking down the street,” said Nieman. “People tend to change their behavior around the street, they’re more invested in the community.”

Since August 2005, the Noe Valley district has provided 133 new trees, 26 flower baskets, a community park, local business advocacy, everyday sidewalk cleaning, and new crosswalks.

But Nieman says getting a district passed is a process which takes patience and persistence.

“It is a long, complicated process,” said Nieman. “You’re asking people to increase their taxes, and they’re not sure what they are paying for. The city collects it, and they distrust the city. It’s asking for a lot of money for a long period of time.”