Castro benefits district wins approval
by Matthew S. Bajko
Increased street cleaning, beautification projects, and increased marketing of the Castro will be coming soon with the recent approval of a community benefits district for the LGBT business district.
With 65 percent of property owners in the district â€“ which stretches from 19th Street along Castro to Market Street and down to the new Octavia Boulevard â€“ voting in favor of the CBD, a nonprofit and volunteer board will be formed by January to begin implementation of the district. The CBD will have a budget of $350,000 a year to pay for the new services based on assessments placed on each property in the district.
"It's an exciting thing that is going to happen for the Castro," said Paul Moffett, president of Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, which pushed to see the creation of the CBD.
The vote tally was announced at the July 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, and on Monday, August 1, Mayor Gavin Newsom held a press conference in Noe Valley to announce his signing of the legislation into law. Along with the Castro CBD, Noe Valley, Fisherman's Wharf, the 2500 block of Mission Street, and the Tenderloin will also have CBDs, after property owners in those areas also voted to approve their formations. Union Square formed the first such district years ago.
"We are pleased finally in San Francisco to go from one to six," said Newsom, adding that the districts help to build community, increase property values, and "restore pride, spirit and belonging" to the people who work and live there.
So supportive of CBDs â€“ as a supervisor Newsom introduced the legislation allowing the city's business areas to form them â€“ Newsom hopes to see more form in Chinatown, Japantown, Fillmore, Market Street, and the Yerba Buena area.
"The goal is to see them in every community," said Newsom. "When people say 'Boy, the streets are dirty,' the only way we can achieve this kind of success is through CBDs."
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who aggressively pushed property owners to support the CBDs in Noe Valley and the Castro, hailed their formations as harbingers of huge transformations to both business districts.
"It is a really exciting day for me. I truly believe this will transform the Castro not only for those who work and live there but for the people who come to visit it," he said.
Dominic Campodonico, an investor in Home restaurant at Church and Market and a new Castro homeowner, said he supported the CBD even though the business has a high assessment due to its having two street fronts and a parking lot. Each property's assessment is based on its street footprint.
"Our assessment is pretty high but it is still so great to beautify the neighborhood and increase the commerce in the whole district that the CBD covers," he said. "It will bring more people to the district because the whole area will be beautified. It will make the Castro and Upper Market a better place to shop."
A board made up of property owners, merchants, and residents will be formed to oversee the Castro CBD. The legislation requires that 20 percent of the board is merchants who do not own the property, and a deal has been worked out to ensure that the neighborhood groups in the district each have one seat on the board.
Herb Cohn, who as president of MUMC last year helped marshal support for the CBD, said he is considering running for the board.
"I am exhilarated and extremely happy. [Tuesday July 26] was a tremendous day for the Castro because now we have an institutionalized process to fund our neighborhood improvement projects," said Cohn. "In the past we had to reply on funds from project to project. My term for that was the rattle the tin cup approach."
Dufty has talked with LGBT Community Center officials about possibly overseeing the CBD. The center, which is part of the district and supported its formation, could have its Neighborhood Economic Development Organization provide the extra services the CBD will be able to fund.
To coincide with the creation of the Castro CBD, Dufty hopes to see the installation of the pedmount newspaper racks at various intersections along Market and Castro streets, replacing the current freestanding newspaper racks. At Dufty's request, city administrator Ed Lee extended the Market Street pedestal news racks district to include the Castro. It is the first time a neighborhood outside of downtown will get a chance to install the green newspaper pedmounts which range in size from 6 feet to 10 feet in length and are bolted into the pavement.
Speaking at the August 4 MUMC meeting, Dan McKenna, the deputy bureau manager of street use and mapping in the city's Department of Public Works, explained that the pedmount news racks would be a "huge improvement on the look of the streetscape." Though he pointed out those that will face the street will include advertising that is illuminated at night by 40-watt fluorescent bulbs.
Also under consideration is replacing the wooden newsstands currently at the corners of 18th and Castro and Church and Market with the green Decaux kiosks. The kiosks have a 25 square foot footprint and would include advertising that is lighted at night. While the Church Street one would stay at the current location, some would like to see the Castro one moved to Harvey Milk Plaza. The San Francisco Chronicle, however, opposes such a move.
The approval process takes 100 days and is overseen by the News Rack Advisory Committee, made up of publishers from local publications. Gay newspapers and other publications have expressed concerns about what impact the pedmounts will have on their distribution in the heart of the city's gay neighborhood.
McKenna said the allotment of space in the pedmounts is given to publications based on their "historical presence" in the area, adding "those already on the street have precedence." He also said that once they are installed no new news racks can be added.
"We are soliciting input to see if people think this is a good idea and if it makes sense to move" the Castro newsstands, said McKenna.
Some MUMC members raised objections about Clear Channel's involvement in overseeing the pedmounts and the advertising on them. With the company's recent objection to gay advertisers in Southern states, some wondered if gay companies would face similar problems in the Castro.
Caroline Alain-Rodman, who oversees Clear Channel's advertising in Northern California, said the company has a track record of working with and accepting ads focused on the gay community.
"In Northern California we work with gay businesses and one of our biggest accounts is PlanetOut," she said. "Our vice president of government affairs is openly gay. We apply normal procedures and if anyone has concerns they can call me."