Proposition S: Paying for the Arts and Homeless Services with S.F. Hotel Tax

This ordinance would shift some of the city’s spending specifically to the arts and homeless services.

The initiative was placed on the ballot through verified petition signatures.

Why is this on the ballot?

San Francisco’s artist population is under siege. A 2015 survey by the San Francisco Arts Commission found that of almost 600 local artists, 70 percent of respondents said they had been displaced or were being displaced from their homes or work spaces. And 80 percent said they had lived in the city for more than five years, with most residing upward of 10 years.

The authors of Proposition S cite this as strong evidence that the city should be pouring more money into the local arts community. They suggest repurposing the revenue from the hotel tax to this end — as well as to pay for homeless services.

The hotel tax — an 8 percent base plus a 6 percent room-rental surcharge — generates about $380 million a year. Half the revenue is used to maintain the Moscone Center. The other half is split between advertising for the city and bolstering the general fund, which can be used for many purposes.

What would it do and at what cost?

Proposition S would reallocate 50 percent of the revenue from the base hotel tax to include various other targets:

  • Creating housing and helping homeless families obtain it, as well as keeping them from landing on the streets in the first place (6.3 percent of money raised by the base tax).
  • Maintaining and operating the properties that are part of the City’s War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, which include the Herbst Theatre and Davies Symphony Hall (5.8 percent).
  • Supporting the Arts Commission (2.9 percent).
  • Giving grants to local artists (7.5 percent by 2020).
  • Boosting the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund (7.5 percent by 2020).
  • Creating a Neighborhood Arts Program Fund, which could be used to buy neighborhood facilities for arts and artists; pay for public performances; fund artist residencies; and commission and preserve murals and other public artwork (6 percent by 2020).

In the first four fiscal years following the passage of this measure, some of these targets would receive increasingly larger allocations from the hotel tax’s overall revenue. For example, the Neighborhood Arts Program would receive 2.5 percent of all revenue in fiscal year 2017-2018, increasing to 6 percent by 2020-2021. Other allocations would remain static; the money for combating homelessness would stay at 6.3 percent.

The proportions would no longer shift after fiscal year 2020-2021.

This ballot measure would increase City Hall’s annual investments in these programs by about $26 million in fiscal year 2017-2018 and $56 million by fiscal year 2020-2021, according to the San Francisco Controller’s Office.

Half the tax revenue would continue to be used for maintenance of Moscone Center.

The city controller has projected that this ballot measure “would have a significant impact” on City Hall’s costs. That is because the hotel tax currently pumps money into San Francisco’s general fund, which may be used for any public purpose.

Proposition S would force the city either to pare its other expenditures or to find new sources of money.

“As these funds are shifted to these uses, spending reductions or new revenues would need to be

identified to maintain services levels in other service areas,” says Controller Ben Rosenfield.

Revenue from the base hotel tax that was not allocated for the purposes outlined above would go back into the general fund.

Is there a catch?

The Arts Commission could, “at its discretion,” establish an appeals process “for any decisions regarding allocations of the Fund.”

The ordinance could be amended only by voters.

Who officially proposed it?

Proposition S was proposed by Jonathan Moscone, the chief of civic engagement for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Martha Ryan, the founder of the nonprofit Homeless Prenatal Program. Moscone is the son of the late Mayor George Moscone, who was assassinated with Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.

The measure is also supported by supervisors Scott Wiener, Jane Kim and Eric Mar; state Sen. Mark Leno; state assemblymen David Chiu and Phil Ting; and former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Who officially opposes it?

No opposition argument was submitted to the Department of Elections.

Vote threshold to pass

Two-thirds majority — 66 ⅔ percent.

Effective date if passed

Not specified.

Follow the money

One committee is spending money to support Proposition S: “Yes on S, San Franciscans for the Arts & Ending Family Homelessness.”

Follow the money at the San Francisco Ethics Commission: all Proposition S filings.

Endorsements: our methodology

The Public Press chose to count endorsements from organizations that backed multiple candidates or ballot measures, and that made those endorsements available online. We did not count endorsements from individuals.

If you think we missed an important organization, please tell us. We’d love to hear from you.

Tracked endorsements by organization


Written by: Noah Arroyo and Sara Bloomberg

Published: Sept. 30, 2016