There’s a well-trodden and admirable path at UC Hastings for students who develop a passion for community advocacy after seeing the issues of the surrounding the Tenderloin neighborhood. For 3L Peter Stevens, a former poetry major and film professional, his path was the opposite. His work in the Tenderloin inspired him to pursue a law degree. Now, as he enters his final year at UC Hastings, he has been elected to the Board of Directors for the Tenderloin Community Benefit District.
After visiting a friend in San Francisco on a roadtrip from New York in 2012, Stevens said that he loved the city and was drawn to volunteer work in disadvantaged communities here. He went to work for an eviction defense collaborative for several years, helping tenants in the Tenderloin, where he also rented a studio apartment.
“I did rental assistance and anti-displacement, trying to nip the problem in the bud before people received notices. I also worked on settlement negotiations and drafted motions,” he said. He got to know many of the property owners and the tenants in the neighborhood, whom he still tries to help when he can. Stevens eventually secured an internship in Supervisor Jane Kim’s office, which helped spur his interest in housing policy.
Now in his position on the Tenderloin CBD Board, Stevens was appointed chair of the Public Right of Way (PROW) committee, which oversees programs on the sidewalks and public plazas, including cleaning contracts.
The Tenderloin has unique issues, Stevens explained. “It has the highest concentration of children in the city and one of the lowest concentrations of green space. Many residents live in SROs (single-room occupancy units) and don’t have a place in their apartments to socialize or host guests. This pushes them out onto the street,” he said. As the chair of the committee responsible for these sidewalks, he said he sees an opportunity to help promote creative and positive use of these spaces, not only providing safety measures and cleaning services. He’d like to see more block parties and community cleanup and beautification projects, which serve as opportunities for residents to get to know each other and participate in positive community building together.
“A lot of people take a negative view of the Tenderloin, but I really like my community,” Stevens said. “It has a rich history and is a very diverse cultural melting pot. There is so much good going on all the time. We want to be able to present that side more.”
As a nonprofit organization, the Tenderloin Community Benefit District funds special services through property tax assessments and is established by a vote of district property owners. CBDs are able to improve public spaces and focus on issues such as lighting, street furniture, street cleaning, plantings and community events. They can also target issues that arise from specific communities. Stevens is one year into his two-year term on the board, which requires 3-4 monthly meetings. At 28, he is the youngest on the 15-member board, which also includes UC Hastings CFO David Seward, who serves as Treasurer.
“UC Hastings is one of the institutional anchors of this community. Peter is an example of how UC Hastings engages, supports and promotes the Tenderloin, but one of many examples,” said Seward.
The CBD’s Interim Executive Director Steve Gibson agreed. “It’s good to see students at UC Hastings involved in the community. Pete’s got a valuable perspective as a resident and law student in the area — he’s a very interested and committed stakeholder.”