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Fillmore Center, Safeway kill benefit district

By Carina Woudenberg

Floyd Trammell — whose position as president of the Fillmore Community Benefit District ended when the group was defunded in mid-December — walked the blocks of Fillmore south of Geary on a recent morning and took note of the changes he was seeing in the neighborhood. The sidewalk was littered with plastic bags and other trash. Here and there were clumps of cigarette butts and piles of leaves. “This used to look spotless,” Trammell said. “Up until November, all this was spotless.”

The community benefit district (CBD) was created in 2006 amid optimism that better days were ahead for the area with the imminent opening of Yoshi’s Jazz Club, the Fillmore Heritage Center and several new restaurants. With city support and a “yes” vote from the area’s property owners, the CBD was poised to help clean up the neighborhood and promote its new attractions. The special property tax brought in annual funding of about $300,000. A board of directors made up of property owners, local residents and business owners took responsibility for using the funds to pay for cleaning, marketing and security.

Initially there was considerable infighting among business owners and local residents. But most board members said the organization had made a positive difference in an area still struggling to move past the devastation of redevelopment in the 1960s.

In mid-December the CBD was up for renewal and many of the 300 property owners in the district supported it. But the votes were weighted based on the size of each owner’s property. Representatives from two major properties — the Fillmore Center and Safeway — were against it, and renewal was defeated by 66 percent to 34 percent.

“The weight of their no vote basically killed it,” said Todd Claytor, a CBD board member and chairman of its renewal committee. It is the only one of a dozen similar benefit districts in the city that has been discontinued.

Claytor noted that Paul Hyams, the Fillmore Center manager who was formerly president of the CBD, actively supported renewal for a time and even worked to build support among other property owners. “For us to have this happen at the eleventh hour,” Claytor said of Hyams’ change of heart, “it gutted us, it just gutted us.”

Hyams refused to discuss his opposition to the group he led for four of its five years, deferring to his corporate bosses at Laramar, a property management company in Chicago, and Prudential Real Estate, which is a major investor in the 1,100 apartment complex. A spokesman for Prudential said in a statement the firm’s leaders “remain committed to the continued success and vibrancy of the Fillmore District for the benefit of our investors and the community.”

Chuck Smith, the first resident of the Fillmore Heritage Center condos and the original president of its homeowners association, expressed his concerns to Prudential when it looked as if the renewal might not go through and urged the owners of the Fillmore Center to change their minds. “I hope you will reconsider,” he wrote. “You could make a big difference for the worse here. We’ve come a long way. Let’s not go back.”

Smith received an email response from Prudential’s Todd Thakar. “Our vote is not a vote against the Fillmore neighborhood,” Thakar wrote, “but rather a vote of ‘no faith’ in the ability of the community benefit district to carry out its charge.” Thakar said “the basic governance of the CBD has proven problematic,” but gave no details. He said the Fillmore Center would “take up the slack in sidewalk cleaning” and continue to support other activities and improvements in the neighborhood.

A spokesperson from Safeway declined to comment for this story, but told the Examiner the district had “ethical issues.”

Board members acknowledged there had been challenges with the CBD, and for a time they were working without an executive director. “Lack of an executive director was definitely a hardship,” Claytor said, although he maintained that was an internal issue that didn’t interfere with actually getting the work done.

“We’ve come so far along, and for the most part we’ve been seeing progress,” added Monetta White, who served on the CBD board and owns the restaurant 1300 on Fillmore. “Why anyone would not support this is beyond me.”

Kaz Kajimura, owner of Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant — the major engine of the area’s turnaround in recent years — also served on the CBD board. He said there was growing activity and far more people in the jazz district in recent years. “A lot of that has to do with the benefit district work,” he told the Examiner. “Now we are back at square one. It’s terrible.”

Trammell, who is head of the West Bay Conference Center, insisted that progress in the neighborhood would continue, even without funding for the activities of the CBD. “We have had to galvanize to make certain we continue to thrive despite the irresponsibility of these two corporate entities,” he said, referring to Safeway and the Fillmore Center. Trammell said he is looking into securing funding through Mayor Ed Lee’s proposals for micro financing.

The Bay Citizen: Audit of redevelopment in the Fillmore