If you’ve been around a downtown shopping area lately, in practically any city in the U.S., you’ve seen the names on trash cans, street-cleaning staff uniforms, tour guide jackets, or maybe a banner hanging from a streetlamp. They’re typically known as Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs. They’ve grown increasingly popular over the past few decades. By one count, there’s more than a thousand of them across the U.S. New York City has 75. Chicago calls their 73 “Special Service Areas.” Los Angeles has 41. Philadelphia has 14, with at least one more on the way. There’s also a BID for Waikiki, Honolulu.
BIDs are commonly quasi-public entities, established as nonprofits but funded by a city-sanctioned levy on top of existing property taxes, assessed to property owners within the BID area. The funds pay for things like the fancy BID-branded trash cans and the maintenance teams that empty them and sweep up the street. BIDs might also pay for programming to help attract shoppers to the area.
But in San Francisco, a new study from researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Law and the Western Regional Advocacy Project shines a spotlight on how San Francisco’s BIDs, known as Community Benefit Districts, have been funding measures to criminalize homelessness, SF Weekly reports.
“Although [BIDs are] present in almost every city in California, researchers, policymakers and the public have paid little attention to their rise and growing influence in local and state affairs,” says Jeff Selbin, the director of the Policy Center and UC Berkeley School of Law, at a press conference Monday, according to SF Weekly. “Our key finding is that they exclude homeless people from public space through aggressive policy advocacy and policing practices. This finding raises important legal — and I would say moral — concerns.”