Infrastructure Finance District could be new way to fund redevelopment 

Now that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed eliminating local redevelopment agencies, folks at City Hall are re-reading the California Code and looking for ways to fund local upgrades.

Get used to hearing this term: “Infrastructure Finance District.” In the coming weeks, the Board of Supervisors will be approving the use of the districts generally, and one specific “test case” district at Rincon Hill. If the test goes well, expect more of these in preparation for the America’s Cup in 2013.

Here’s how the districts work: a group of property owners (or residents if there are more than a dozen) in the specified area vote to allow a portion of property taxes that would ordinarily go to the general fund to be diverted to pay for construction and improvements to public property — things like libraries, parks and recreational facilities. Property taxes do not go up, but the general fund doesn’t get as much money.

The City would go along with the decreased amount in the general fund because, in theory, these public enhancements cause nearby property values to rise, ultimately putting more property taxes into the general fund in the future. Infrastructure finance districts can only last for 30 years.

And who wouldn’t want to have a district like this? You get to make sure your property taxes go to specific betterment projects, sparing your dollars the nonsense at City Hall. Dealing with the line of people who will want to create infrastructure finance districts is just one of the problems with administering these programs.

The other should come as no surprise: corruption. In Florida, where similar districts have been used for decades, local newspaper investigations revealed the use of district funds for non-public purposes. They also found that developers who owned land in districts would sometimes contract to provide district-funded services at wildly inflated prices. Ideally, community participation and oversight will prevent such abuses. Transparency in all aspects of district expenditures will be essential.

The Rincon Hill project is The City’s first attempt at an Infrastructure Finance District. It is made up of 10 parcels of land that will someday yield more than 2,500 dwelling units in the next 10 years. No one lives in these buildings yet, which are all between Main and Second streets near either Folsom or Harrison streets. The property owners are supposed to vote Feb. 8 on whether to form the district.

The proposal would use 57 percent of the district’s property taxes (currently about $800,000), allowing the other 43 percent to pay for mandatory property-tax-funded outlays such as BART and the school system. Nearby roads and three parks are slated to be recipients of the district funds. However, instead of using the property tax money to fund the improvements outright, The City plans to issue $15 million in bonds that would be paid back using the property tax revenue stream from the district. 

The estimated cost to repay that $15 million in bonds? A cool $47 million. Those had better be some lovely new parks.

Supes could loosen flyers’ hold on city doors  

Something kind of amazing happened last Monday at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. The committee endorsed an ordinance that would change the way The City deals with handbills. The full Board of Supervisors will vote on it today. It’s a lock to pass and become law.

Anyone who has posted a (huge, unsightly and legally required) “No Handbills” sign only to have it ignored (I’m talking to you, Mikado Sushi) or has gone out of town only to return to a pile of handbills helpfully alerting criminals that you haven’t been home, knows that this needed to be addressed.

The new law requires handbills be attached to something, so they don’t blow around — though the effect is the closest approximation to snow that we get here in San Francisco. It also allows “No Handbills” signs to be more tasteful, though I’m holding out for one that will electrically shock anyone who tries to leave a menu anyway.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it makes violating handbill restrictions an administrative violation.

Right now, violating handbill restrictions is a crime. And you can bet it ranks below “cutting that weird tag off a mattress” on the list of things cops and the District Attorney’s Office care about prosecuting.

Also, as Dawn Trennert from the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association pointed out, “I just can’t imagine me calling [SFPD’s] Central Station and saying, ‘Hey, come on over, I’ve got a menu at my door.’”

The new law allows the Department of Public Works to fine violators instead, which means there might actually be some enforcement of handbill restrictions.

It’s a teensy little law, I know. So why is this all so fabulous? Because it is the Board of Supervisors doing what they are supposed to be doing: making small changes that will better the daily lives of San Franciscans. They aren’t intervening in Gaza. They aren’t setting us up for another lawsuit.

Just helping out with the handbill situation. This is truly a great day.  


Chiu goes funny side up at Leadership San Francisco gala

Leadership San Francisco is a program run by the Chamber of Commerce that teaches participants about our local government and community in a way that fosters, well … leadership. I went through the program in 2008 and met some wonderful nerds whom I count among my closest friends. David Chiu is also a graduate, as is fire chief Joanne Hayes-White.

Last week, Leadership San Francisco celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala event at City Hall. Much to everyone’s surprise, Chiu and Hayes-White got up and emceed an auction of several items. Now, David Chiu actually has a great sense of humor (it’s Carmen Chu I’m not so sure about) but it doesn’t always show in large gatherings. Well, I’m here to report that Chiu was relaxed and witty at the event, telling self-deprecating jokes and bantering with Hayes-White.

I’m just saying, for a man who says he’s not sure whether he’ll run for mayor, he’s certainly been brushing up on how to look like, well … a leader.

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Melissa Griffin

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