Proposition C - Charter Film Commission

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the June 2010 San Francisco ballot.

What it does

Proposition C amends the San Francisco City Charter. All 11 commission nominees will be subject to confirmation by the Board of Supervisors and could be removed only for cause. The measure also specifies the purpose of the commission as being to "develop, recognize and promote film activities in the city." This includes advancing filmmaking as an economic and cultural influence in the city.

This measure makes three primary changes to existing law. First, under the current Administrative Code, the executive director of the Film Commission is appointed by the mayor but serves at the pleasure of the Film Commission. Proposition C will give the Film Commission the power to appoint the executive director. Second, the current Film Commission is entirely appointed by the mayor and serves at his or her pleasure. This measure splits the appointments. Third, under current law, appeals of the issuance or denial of a film permit go to the Board of Permit Appeals. Under Prop. C, there will be no ability to appeal a film permit beyond the Film Commission.

Proposition C also specifies that for filming taking place on City property, the executive director will secure consent from affected department heads for filming on the property. With the consent of the Department of Public Works, the executive director also may authorize sidewalk closures.

Why it is on the ballot

The San Francisco Film Commission was established by Chapter 57 of the San Francisco Administrative Code in the late 1980s. Since its inception, the commission has worked to develop and promote film activities in San Francisco. Recent filming successes include the TV show "Trauma" and the Academy-Award-winning feature film "Milk," both shot on location in San Francisco.

Despite these successes, a 2007 economic report found that the share of San Francisco's jobs in motion picture and video production is less than that industry's share of national employment. This means that San Francisco has below average employment in the film industry (also known as having a location quotient of below 1.0). This suggests that film production is not a significant part of the San Francisco economy and that the city is not a major location for the California and North American film industry.

This measure, though, originates because of recent personnel issues. In late 2009, there was a controversy over the resignation of the executive director of the Film Commission. Members of the Film Commission claimed to not know about the mayor's request to the executive director to leave that position, despite their assertion that the executive director serves at their pleasure, not the mayor's. This measure was crafted in response to that controversy.

There was also a recent conflict between competing uses of a building on Treasure Island. Oracle had secured a lease for a number of buildings on Treasure Island, including one that was the only facility appropriate for filming. The TV show "Trauma" separately made a request to use the building. Ultimately, "Trauma" used the building and Oracle was provided with a tent outside a different building. While this background is cited by proponents of the measure as an argument for the charter level commission, there is nothing in the measure that necessarily would have changed the outcome of the events on Treasure Island.


Arguments in favor of this measure:

  • The measure will create more certainty in the permit process by removing the ability to appeal a permit to the City's Board of Permit Appeals. This means that opponents of a film permit will not be able to appeal the issuance of the permit to another body. This will create a shorter process for film producers to secure the access needed for on-location shooting and will provide more certainty that access will be granted.
  • The measure adds specific qualifications for commissioners, a practice that is commonly used by commissions throughout San Francisco government.
  • Splitting appointments between the Board of Supervisors and the mayor can result in a broader set of interests being represented on commissions and boards, and is a practice commonly used throughout San Francisco government.


Arguments against this measure:

  • The City Charter is the governing document for managing the structure of government. Changes to the charter should reflect important long-term needs. The issue of film permitting is neither a problem that needs fixing nor a necessary structural change to government.
  • This measure does not need to be on the ballot. Most items proposed in the measure could be accomplished through ordinances, with the exception of changing the permit appeals process for film permits.
  • Setting up a unique permit appeal process circumventing the Board of Permit Appeals is a bad precedent that could encourage other industries to seek exemptions over time. The proposed measure provides no external oversight to the issuance of film permits. Under Prop. C, the authority to review a permit issued by the executive director is given to the Film Commission that appointed that director, thus making it highly unlikely that permit appeals would be successful.
  • The measure could inadvertently hurt the film industry by giving neighborhood representatives at least four of 11 seats on the commission. With the support of a few other commissioners, they could become a roadblock to film development since a filmmaker denied a permit will have no recourse or appeal outside of the commission.
  • Split appointments create a veto over the mayor's authority and thereby reduce the mayor's ability to be held accountable for the City permit process and, in this instance, for the local impact of the film industry.

SPUR's analysis

SPUR recognizes that making San Francisco a viable and competitive place to film movies and TV shows has broader benefits to the local economy. In addition to the obvious direct expenditures on labor, catering and other costs of a production, seeing San Francisco in movies and television shows reinforces our role as a visitor destination. Indeed, parks such as Alamo Square are tourist destinations largely because of their depiction in television shows.

But while tourism is San Francisco's largest industry, film production is a small and declining part of our economic base. This reality does not deny the importance of the film industry. It simply suggests that there may be other industries or functions that might that be a higher priority for their own commission. Further, it is not clear that permit hurdles are the main problem for film production in the city. Additional marketing of the city as a location, or even possibly incentives for film productions, are more traditional economic development measures that are not contemplated in this measure. Finally, proponents of the measure did not make the case that the measure would measurably benefit the film industry.

Lastly, despite the recent trend toward splitting appointments to City commissions between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, SPUR continues to believe that having all appointees answerable to one authority gives voters more accountability, and is likely to prevent political conflict between the Board and mayor from spilling over to the commissions.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Prop. C.