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November vote: Should developers have to replace lost arts space?

Under proposed law, SoMa and Mission projects would be on the hook

If you’ve been worrying that the real estate market is painting over San Francisco’s arts scene, you’ll have a chance to do something about it November 8.

In their last regular meeting before a summer break, city lawmakers squeezed one more measure onto the upcoming ballot. The ordinance would demand that developers of Mission and SoMa properties replace any creative studio spaces they demolish or convert to new uses.

Depending on the project, builders will be on the hook to provide equivalent space anywhere from half to one hundred percent of the size of what’s lost.

The Planning Department notes that commercial real estate prices have appreciated 122 percent over the past five years, and that office tenants will pay twice as much in rents as tenants using Production, Distribution, and Repair facilities.

(The same document calls San Francisco "cosmopolitan and affable," which is maybe the greatest combination of adjectives the department has ever produced.)

A true artist, of course, follows his or her muse and the needs of the community rather than the lure of the dollar. And a true landlord knows that’s why startups are going to make more hay than metalworking studios and rehearsal space. Left to its own devices, economic natural selection does not favor the Mission’s native sculptors.

The vote was 7-4 on mostly "party" lines, with the generally more development friendly supervisors Wiener, Tang, Cohen, and Farrell weighing against it on the grounds that it would be onerous for developers at a time when the city is already making extra demands of new projects.

But displaced artists are some of the most politically sympathetic people this side of teachers and orphan dog walkers. And the building boom fosters an impression (rightly or wrongly) that the city has been giving away the farm the last few years. The would-be law makes some exceptions for projects like affordable housing and transportation.

Of course, all that matters in the end is whether voters find the case as persuasive as seven supes did. July 31 was the last day for most of us to slip a new proposal onto the fall ballot, but the supervisors get a grace period of an extra couple of days for last minute business.