Homeless & Arts Org-Backed Measure Earns Place on Nov. Ballot

Supporters of a new ballot measure proposal to restore funding from the city's hotel tax to support arts organizations and homeless services participate in a rally at San Francisco City Hall (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

A ballot measure, backed by dozens of San Francisco arts and homelessness advocacy organizations that have been working together to push it, has officially made it onto the ballot for the Nov. 8 elections.

The supporters of “Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds” -- a measure that, if passed, would restore monies from the city’s sizable Hotel Room Tax (a tax of 14 percent levied on hotel stays) to benefit cultural organizations and families living on the streets without raising taxes on voters -- submitted thousands more signatures than the San Francisco Department of Elections needed to qualify for the elections.

Supporters learned about the measure's addition to the ballot this week.

"It’s a chance for San Francisco to work across sectors to strengthen the voice of the people in determining how the Hotel Tax -- which is for tourists to pay to come to our beautiful city -- supports why they come here," says coalition proponent and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts staffer Jonathan Moscone. "We are a diverse city that cares about its vulnerable citizens and also values creativity and the quality of life for all of its citizens."

The Department of Elections sent a letter addressed to Moscone regarding its decision on Tuesday, July 19. The letter verified that a random sample of 500 signatures of the total 15,589 collected by the coalition were indeed valid signatures of registered San Francisco voters, and that the number collected exceeded the 9,485 necessary for the measure to be included on the ballot in the next election.

Sponsored

Around 40 organizations, large and small, are part of this unusual coalition. Their number includes the San Francisco Ballet, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Chinese Cultural Center on the arts side, and the Coalition on Homelessness, the Providence Foundation and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel on the homeless services side. The number of arts groups involved in the initiative is more than double the number of homeless service providers at this time.

members of a coalition of San Francisco-based arts and homeless service organizations who've proposed a ballot measure that, if passed, would restore funds from the city's Hotel Room Tax to support cultural activities and families living on the streets
Members of a coalition of San Francisco-based arts and homeless service organizations who've proposed a ballot measure that, if passed, would restore funds from the city's Hotel Room Tax to support cultural activities and families living on the streets (Photo: Cy Muiker/KQED)

Next steps

In August, the coalition will receive a proposition letter and a ballot question (the main 75-word statement that voters see when they cast their ballots) from the Department of Elections. A draft of the question, obtained by KQED from 50+1 Strategies, a San Francisco-based political consulting firm that’s working with the coalition on building support for the measure, reads as follows:

"Shall the City allocate monies annually for family homelessness and arts and cultural programs and agencies from the existing Hotel Room Tax Fund; specifically allocating monies to the Arts Commission, Grants for the Arts, the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund, the Moscone Center, and the War Memorial; establishing the Ending Family Homelessness Fund to help homeless families find housing; and establishing the Neighborhood Arts Fund for nonprofits to provide arts programming in city neighborhoods?"

50+1 and the coalition are in the midst of launching a marketing campaign aimed at rallying support around the measure. So far, the coalition has raised $175,000 to help with the effort. The fundraising goal for the whole campaign is $1 million.

“Now that we're also officially, definitively on the ballot, we are excited to start educating San Francisco and its voters about the measure,” says Shwetika Baijal, a strategist with 50+1. “We're going to be working on endorsements from political entities, expand our coalition, engage more arts and homelessness advocates, and start signing up volunteers to help with our exponentially increasing number of planned events for the San Francisco community before election day in November.”

Scene from a July rally in support of the Hotel Tax ballot measure proposed by a coalition of arts and homeless services organizations
Scene from a July rally in support of the Hotel Tax ballot measure proposed by a coalition of arts and homeless services organizations (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

Getting voters on board won't be easy

Moving the measure beyond polling day isn’t going to be easy. It needs votes from at least two thirds of San Francisco voters to pass and it also risks getting lost among the numerous other ballot measure proposals relating to homeless issues in the works, including several competing ones over tent encampments.

Moscone says that he and his campaign colleagues are planning a slew of neighborhood conversations between now and the elections to help voters understand what sets this ballot measure apart from the rest. "The other ballot measures do not include support for families," Moscone says. "This is not a homelessness and arts measure, but a family homelessness and arts measure."

To find out more about this ballot measure, including information about the history and development of the Hotel Tax, click here.

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