The Mission District’s fight to save artists, non-profits, and blue-collar workers has landed on the November ballot, but while local activists and city officials are pushing hard for the measure, urbanists and the city’s largest manufacturing group are adamantly opposed.
Proposition X, dubbed an initiative for “Preserving Space for Neighborhood Arts, Small Businesses, and Community Services,” would require developers to replace 50 to 100 percent of so-called PDR space — which stands for production, distribution, and repair — in most new projects that tear down light industrial buildings.
The requirement would only apply in the Mission District and South of Market.
The city controller found that the initiative, which would require a simple majority to pass, would mean up to $4.3 million in lost property taxes, but also found that it could add $25-$50 million in economic activity and some 200 jobs. It would result in a “very low annual loss” of housing production, the controller found.
Supervisor Jane Kim, one of the ballot measure’s sponsors, has been meeting with non-profit organizations and artists in the Mission District and South of Market for eighteen months, her aide said.
“Where are you going to have these non-profit organizations? Where are you going to have these arts organizations?” asked April Veneracíon, Kim’s aide. The measure, she said, would craft a means to keep such groups in the city at affordable rents.
Blue Chip Blue-Collar Space
Kate Sofis is not so sure. Sofis is the executive director of SFMade, a group that represents over 600 manufacturers in San Francisco. The largest manufacturing trades group in the city, SFMade has come out against the ballot measure.
As an anti-gentrification tool, Sofis said, Prop. X would do little to create affordable manufacturing or arts space. To finance the creation of the space, she said, developers will have to set commercial rents at levels far above what most makers can afford.
“It becomes almost impossible to build new industrial space and have the rents on that space be anywhere in the range of affordable,” she said.
Sofis said she’s spoken with several residential developers who have put PDR space on the ground-floor of their projects, and they say that to make their financing pencil out, they have to charge rents of $36 a square foot per month.
Affordable for her members, Sofis said, is at most $24 per square foot.
There is a provision in the measure that allows for developers to build less space if it’s held at below-market-rate rents, but Sofis is not confident developers will take that route.
“It’s admirable in its aspirations,” she said. “But it falls short six ways from Sunday.”
Artists and Makers in the Mission
Since the tech boom, housing projects in the Mission District that replace PDR space often face pitched battles from local residents and tenants.
Opponents generally want developers to increase both the affordable housing and the light industrial space on-site, saying the neighborhood is seeing an exodus of blue-collar workers and artists at the same time as maker jobs are on the rise.
A city report showed that manufacturing jobs have increased from some 19,000 in 2011 to more than 20,000 in 2015 in the Mission District, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and South of Market. Many of those jobs may have been added to small firms — those with 5–20 employees — that can fit in smaller spaces, the report noted.
But while manufacturing jobs are on the rise, artists are being priced out. A survey of almost 600 artists by the San Francisco Arts Commission showed that 70 percent had experienced or were experiencing displacement from either their home or workplace — or both.
“We’ve seen so many artists displaced, I don’t even know how many artists and arts groups are left,” said Peter Papadopoulos, the head of the activist group Cultural Action Network and co-director of the Mojo Theater in the Mission District.
Papadopoulos and others say the ballot measure will ensure that developers reserve space for a dwindling artist population. The anti-gentrification tool, he said, would keep arts and manufacturing spaces in a neighborhood overrun with boutique shops and tech offices.
Between 2011 and 2015, some 970,000 square feet of PDR space was lost in the Mission District, Potrero Hill, South of Market, and the Dogpatch, according to a city report. If all the projects planned for the area are built, another 1.4 million square feet of such space will be lost.
The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, a city plan that governs development in those areas, anticipated that 3.5 million square feet of PDR space would be lost total by 2033.
Meanwhile, the amount of office space increased by 990,000 square feet since 2011, the report showed, while retail space increased by 35,000 square feet.
The loss of maker space and growth of high-tech offices and retail signal the need for more mixed-use development, Papadopoulos said. Rather than a Starbucks on the ground-floor of a building, he said, a developer could have an artisanal chocolate maker.
“It’s a totally different outcome when we end up putting in a small distribution center,“ he said. “It helps stabilize the character of the neighborhood.”
Others say it is unrealistic to secure PDR space in an area where land is so expensive and could be better used for housing.
Manufacturing vs. Housing
Tim Colen, the executive director of the pro-development advocacy group the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, said that Prop. X would only burden developers hoping to build market-rate homes.
“We think it was designed to do one thing,” he said, “to prevent housing in the Mission.”
Prop. X mimics the requirements for developers to build affordable housing in market-rate projects, meaning some of the same developers that are required to subsidize low- and middle-income housing may also be tasked with preserving work space for those very tenants.
The city can either require developers to subsidize housing space or light industrial and arts space, said Colen, but not both. The financing for market-rate projects does not pencil out when burdened with such costs, he said.
“This makes a lot of projects infeasible,” he said. “It is not possible in any current economic scenario to build PDR space. Can’t happen, doesn’t happen.”
Supporters disagree, pointing to projects in the Mission District where developers at one point said a certain concession would be impossible — before caving in to ensure project approval.
“We’ve seen over and over that it’s very possible to do,” said Papadopoulos, the founder of the Cultural Action Network. He said projects like 2000 Bryant St. between 18th and 19th streets and 2675 Folsom St. near Parque Niños Unidos have increased PDR space after intense lobbying.
Lawmaking at the Ballot Box
Whether or not Prop. X makes sense, opponents say such decisions should be left to the experts. Voters should not weigh in on the minutiae of land-use, they say.
“Everything that this measure does should be done through a legislative process,” said Colen. “To try and ask the voters to make complex land-use decisions — that’s unfair.”
The proposed measure has a clause that allows it to be amended by a two-thirds majority vote at the Board of Supervisors.