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Propositions S and X Promise to Preserve SF's Cultural Landscape

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Homeless Prenatal Program Executive Director Martha Ryan and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Chief of Civic Engagement Jonathan Moscone at a recent rally for Proposition S on the San Francisco Ballot. (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

Jon Moscone is chief of civic engagement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). He’s also pretty good at leading pep rallies, like the one he spoke at recently on behalf of Proposition S.

“I want to make good on the promise that this city made in 1961, when it dedicated hotel tax to the arts and then to low-income housing,” Moscone said to applause from an audience of around 100 arts leaders and homeless advocates gathered at YBCA in late September. “I want to restore that promise to the city of San Francisco. That’s because I love this city.”

Moscone spoke at the YBCA in his role as co-sponsor of Proposition S, which guarantees a share of the city’s hotel tax to arts groups and those working with homeless families — all without raising taxes on voters. In the crowd, for example, were representatives from the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, Hospitality House, and the SRO Families United Collaborative.

San Francisco first imposed a hotel tax for the arts in 1961. But since the recession, the city has taken a growing slice of this $380 million fund for other uses in the general budget.


If the link between arts groups and organizations working to improve the lives of homeless families sounds like an odd coupling, it’s not to Linda Harrison, executive director for the Museum of the African Diaspora. Harrison was one of many arts leaders at the rally working to pass the measure.

“We can’t be an arts organization and ignore the fact that a kid on a school tour is hungry,” Harrison said. “And if they have a place to stay, now they have some calmness, and art and culture can be part of that.”

Homeless Prenatal Program Executive Director Martha Ryan
Homeless Prenatal Program Executive Director Martha Ryan (Photo: Courtesy of Homless )

The measure’s co-sponsor is Martha Ryan, executive director at the Homeless Prenatal Program, near San Francisco General Hospital. During a visit the other day, the receptionist counted out free diapers to give to a client — a mom with twins. Ryan believes Measure S will help to take the pressure off families living in poverty.

“If you’re living on a limited budget, and you have a child in diapers, you have to make the choice,” Ryan said. “Are you going to keep him in a dirty diaper, or are you going to buy food?”

Ryan’s program serves more than 4,000 families a year, and she says this demographic group is the fastest-growing segment of the city’s homeless population. So she makes no apologies for hoping voters approve a dedicated source of funds for groups like hers.

“Families need to have hope,” Ryan said. “If you don’t have hope, how can you put one foot in front of the other and expect it to be better the next day?”

There’s no official opposition to Proposition S. But the San Francisco Chronicle recommends a no vote, arguing that locking-in funding is bad public policy.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield notes another concern. Proposition S would allocate about $103 million for arts and homeless services organizations by 2020, and that means less money for libraries, youth services and public transit. “So anything that increases an allocation for one good purpose is going to be by definition pulling it away for something that may be equally valuable,” Rosenfield said.

Proposition S is about money and allocating taxes. It needs a two-thirds margin to pass.

Proposition X, meanwhile, is about preserving creative space. But it shares with S a concern about the changing character of San Francisco. Both measures promise a more compassionate, cultured, and diverse city.

Kevin McKracken inspects his t-shirt screen printing line at Social Imprints, a branding company South of Market
Kevin McKracken inspects his t-shirt screen printing line at Social Imprints, a branding company South of Market. (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

Among the advocates for Proposition X is Kevin McKracken, co-founder of South of Market’s Social Imprints, a company that makes everything from branded water bottles to tote bags.

On a recent visit, McKracken showed off his t-shirt screen printing line, and then stepped outside to show why city voters need to approve Proposition X. “Down here where you see that big piece of equipment moving, that is where our business sign was finished,” McKracken said. “You can see it’s empty now, under conversion to condos. The one next to it was a repair facility for tour buses and then for MUNI. That’s gone. That’s condos now.”

In the last five years, the Mission and South of Market neighborhoods have lost almost a million square feet of production, distribution and repair space (known as PDR space), including dozens of artist studios, as a result of the growth of new condos and office space.

Social Imprints, a small branding and print screening company in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood
Social Imprints, a small branding and print screening company in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

McKracken argues Proposition X would check that trend by requiring developers to include PDR spaces that might otherwise be displaced when they’re building new housing or corporate facilities.

“It keeps not just the culture diverse, but the economy diverse from an artistic standpoint,” McKracken said. “Because a lot of these guys are artists, and if they can afford to live here, they can continue to afford to do art here.”

Supervisor Jane Kim and allies on the board put Proposition X on the ballot. She said the measure would save hundreds of jobs.
“Our middle class is getting evicted out of San Francisco; our manufacturing, auto repair shops and arts organizations are getting evicted out of San Francisco,” Kim said. “This legislation is working to address that very concern.”

But Proposition X has a crucial opponent. “This measure will backfire,” said Kate Sofis, founding executive director for SFMade, an organization aimed at promoting the interests of the city’s local manufacturers.

Kate Sofis of SFMade
Kate Sofis of SFMade (Photo: Courtesy of SFMade)

Sofis said Kim never consulted the group and its members, who really don’t want to share space with housing in new developments. “They tend to be much more very expensive than existing industrial space because they’re new construction, and thus not really viable,” Sofis said.

Whatever the outcome, Propositions X and S show San Franciscans’ anxiety about what kind of city they want to live in — a concern shared by residents all over the Bay Area.


“We will not be a great city if we do not understand the relationship between art, creativity, and quality of life,” said Deborah Cullinan, YBCA’s CEO and an advocate for Proposition S.

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