Noe Valley Voice July 2011

Community Boards’ Success Not in Dispute

By Heather World

The phone lines at Community Boards conflict resolution center have been unnaturally quiet lately, says Liora Khan, mediation program manager, and she’s pretty sure that’s not because world peace has broken out.

“People are not taking advantage of our services,” she says. “We seem to have fallen off the collective radar of the whole city.”

Noe Valley has played an important role at the 35-year-old nonprofit, supplying both disputants and volunteers. Because the neighborhood is relatively affluent and has an abundance of single-family homes, most of its disagreements are over property development, barking dogs, and trees, Khan says.

Warring neighbors who seek mediation at Community Boards almost always find the process productive, she says.

“A lot of these disputes are settled,” Khan says. “When they put their heads together in the right productive circumstance, people come up with options that you wouldn’t have thought of.”

Mediator Philip Gerrie, a 30-year resident of Noe Valley, agrees.

“There’s a lot of emotion that needs to be expressed in these situations,” says the 26th Street resident. “After, they can think more clearly.”

Gerrie has helped mediate about 30 cases in 10 years. The process starts when one person requests a mediation through Community Boards. The organization then sends a letter inviting the other disputant. Many of these cases are also referred from the Planning Department, Khan says. In a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute, the cost is $10 to open the case, but the mediation itself is free.

Usually three mediators meet with the two disputing parties at a neutral location, often the Community Boards office on 24th Street near Folsom. Ground rules include no insults and no talking over anyone else. Gerrie has found that one way to overcome differences is to find areas of agreement, even if that is simply a statement of what the disagreement is about. Mediators may make suggestions, but generally the two parties are encouraged to come up with their own solutions, he says. Just having two sides agree to mediate goes a long way toward a solution, he says.

“It’s an extremely successful program,” he says. “I’ve seen a softening or an opening time and time again.”


To use Community Board’s mediation services or to volunteer, call 415-920-3820 or visit Volunteers must take 40 hours of training.