Neighborhood Associations – Strength in Numbers

Groups throughout the City are having a great impact.

By Andrew Roth
Roth Real Estate

San Francisco is a city of many neighborhoods, both large and small.  From the tiny Eureka Valley to the sprawling Sunset District, each has a unique flavor and a special set of advantages and challenges. What’s more, neighbors in each district, whether acquainted or not, often share a common set of concerns.  Strike up a conversation with Joe next door, and you’ll probably find that he’s just as worried about the speeders on Scott Street, and just as pleased with the newly installed underground cabling as you are.

In many San Francisco districts, residents have effectively dealt with neighborhood-specific political and social issues by forming associations.  These district groups are especially effective in garnering political clout that the individual residents would otherwise lack.  Some of the issues on which neighbor associations frequently deal include neighborhood watches, traffic, street, and sidewalk improvements, development approvals, and governmental agencies dealings.
Does your neighborhood have an existing association?  To find out, visit the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhood’s web site, www.csfn.net or call (415) 262-0440.  If there is no association in your neighborhood, you may want to launch one.  The following tips will help you to get started.

  1. Recruit a small group of four or five people for your core group.  Look for natural or professional leaders and for people who have had prior community involvement.  If you’re unable to recruit an appropriate individual, ask around at your local churches, community centers, or merchants.
  2. After you’ve recruited your core group, define the physical boundaries of your neighborhood and your primary issues.  Do you have specific problems you would like to solve, such as cleaning up the streets, starting a neighborhood watch, or holding regular social activities?  Or are you simply seeking to build a stronger sense of community?  After defining your issues, create a written mission statement reflecting those goals.
  3. Next, decide upon a date, time, and place for your first general meeting.  Meeting places typically occur in nearby community centers, churches, or schools, but can be held anywhere that does not charge for space.  Most importantly, regular meetings should be held at the same place, date, and time each month.
  4. Recruit the rest of the neighborhood.  Recruitment shouldn’t be a one-time activity, but rather, an ongoing one.  Residents move and availabilities shift, so you’ll want to post flyers at neighborhood sites, such coffee shops, community centers, churches, libraries, and grocery stores on a regular basis.  On-line forums such as Craigslist.org are suitable places as well.
  5. Consider inviting prominent community members, governmental officials, or neighborhood merchants to speak.  For instance, when the Marina District experienced a crime wave this year, the neighborhood association invited the captain of the Northern Station and some of the Marina-beat officers to speak about steps they were implementing to improve the situation.
  6. Prior to the first general meeting, create an agenda to keep everyone on course.  The following sample agenda items are a good starting point:
    1. Introduce the core group.
    2. Review old business, such as the status of projects and outstanding tasks
    3. Discuss issues and open the floor to general comment.
    4. Decide upon projects to tackle and set priorities.
    5. Create committees and ask for volunteer chairs.  Committees might be created for safety, earthquake preparedness, maintenance, traffic, development, web site maintenance, and social activities.
    6. Set timelines for projects.
    7. Create a structure for the group.  For instance, you’ll want to decide upon an association name and assign the executive positions of President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary, as well as any other appropriate positions.
    8. Set a date and purpose for next meeting.
    9. Snacks and beverages are always appealing to members.  You may want to ask a local restaurant or café to donate refreshments in exchange for an advertisement on the association website and on any printed materials you disseminate.  Alternatively, you can collect dues at each meeting.

Other meeting tasks you’ll want to consider:

  1. Have name tags and felt pens ready at the check-in table.
  2. Designate a person responsible for taking minutes.
  3. Be sure to bring sign-up sheets, pens, and informational materials.
  4. Collect names and contact information as people enter the door.
  5. Keep the meeting to less than two hours.

If your first neighborhood association meetings are not well attended or are a little chaotic, be patient.  Groups of this nature often take time to get off the ground.  Persevere and you’ll likely find that within a year your neighborhood and everyone in it will have received some real benefits from the group that you’ve formed.

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