Proposition X: Preserving Space for Arts, Small Businesses and Community Services

This ordinance would require that developers in parts of the Mission and South of Market neighborhoods build replacement space if their projects displace arts activities, certain light-industrial and craft business or community-related facilities.

The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 to place this initiative on the ballot. Voting for: John Avalos, President London Breed, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, Aaron Peskin and Norman Yee. Voting against: Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, Katy Tang and Scott Wiener.

Why is this on the ballot?

The high cost of San Francisco’s commercial real estate has made it difficult for arts groups and artists, many types of blue-collar businesses, and nonprofit and community organizations to continue operating here. In many cases, expensive apartment buildings stand where those operating spaces did.

Proposition X would preserve operating spaces like Ocean Sash & Door, a business in the Mission District that builds custom windows and doors. Photo by Nadia Mishkin / San Francisco Public Press

Proposition X’s proponents have crafted the measure in an attempt to ensure that building owners and developers would preserve, rather than simply demolish and convert, those types of operating spaces. Such conversions are currently easy, because land-use rules are “very flexible and permissive,” said April Veneracion, legislative aide to the measure’s author, Supervisor Jane Kim.

Between 2011 and 2015, the city’s eastern neighborhoods have seen the demolition and conversion of about 971,000 square feet of operating space that was used for “production, distribution or repair” — generally light-industrial or “blue-collar” businesses. And real estate projects that developers are applying to move forward would result in the net loss of an additional 1.4 million square feet of those types of spaces, according to the city’s Planning Department.

In their official argument, the measure’s authors say, “We must act NOW to protect the very best of San Francisco or we will lose the heart and soul of our city.”

Opponents argue that it would discourage the construction of new housing when the city needs it most, to satisfy burning demand and keep overall prices from rising further; and that it would foster the creation of expensive, boutique art and industrial spaces, unaffordable to the low-income renters whom Proposition X is intended to serve.

What would it do and at what cost?

Proposition X would modify the rules for how property owners used land in and around the Mission District and South of Market, which have been especially altered by recent development trends, the measure’s authors say.

A landowner or developer would have to apply for special permission from the city Planning Commission before altering property being used for the following:

  • “Institutional community” purposes, such as child care, recreation, job training, religious worship, social and philanthropic services and other benefits to the surrounding community.
  • Production, distribution or repair.” This category includes auto repair and body shops, plumbing supply stores, warehouses, lumberyard, furniture makers, food and beverage wholesalers and others. In particular, this measure’s authors call out a PDR subset called “arts activities” uses, which include performance and rehearsal spaces, art and recording studios, as well as some types of art schools and businesses.

(These are just two examples of the city’s many land-use designations, which determine how people can utilize their properties.)

Developers who demolished or converted any of these spaces would have to replace them to varying degrees, depending on where they were located. Certain property would be exempt; see the list here.

The San Francisco controller estimates that if the affected real estate had to continue being used for these purposes, the city would lose $2.1 million to $4.3 million in annual revenue from not using those properties to build office space or housing, which would yield higher property taxes.

Who officially proposed it?

Supervisors Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, David Campos and Norman Yee.

Kim wrote the official proponent argument.

Who officially opposes it?

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association; Kate Sofis, the executive director of SFMade; and Tim Colen, the executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.

Vote needed to pass

Simple majority — 50 percent plus one

Effective date if passed

Not specified.

Follow the money

One committee is spending money to support Proposition X: “Protect the Best of San Francisco, Yes on Prop X.”

Follow the money at the San Francisco Ethics Commission: all Proposition X 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

Published: Sept. 30, 2016