By Indiewire | Indiewire November 2, 2004 at 2:00AM
On San Francisco's Ballot Today, A Controversial Proposition About Independent Movie Houses and Local Filmmaking
by Eugene Hernandez
A battle has been raging in San Francisco over Proposition L, a measure on the ballot today that could give more than $10 million in city funds to a new non-profit group aimed at bolstering local single-screen movie theaters. Opposing the measure are a high-profile group from city Mayor Gavin Newsom to actor Sean Penn and a coalition of local film people and organizations.
If passed today, the proposition would take 15% of the money raised by a local hotel tax, about $10.5 million a year, and give it to Save Our Theaters, a new private, non-profit group, for the purposes of supporting a number of single-screen theaters and also promoting local filmmaking.
Supporters of the proposition feel that the issue has become overly politicized, obscuring the important aspects of the measure, including the preservation of local, independent theaters and the promotion of local filmmaking in San Francisco.
"SF indie scam" read the subject line of an email message recently sent to indieWIRE, blasting Proposition L and those behind it and touting wide support among local film organizations and theaters owners against the measure. Filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Philip Kaufman, Bill Banning from the Roxie, Anita Monga from the Castro, Gary Meyer from the Balboa, Gail Silva of Film Arts Foundation, as well as Landmark Theaters, the San Francisco Film Society and others are united against the proposition.
"Proposition L claims to 'Save Our Theaters.' In fact, it would hijack ten million dollars a year from City Funds, and give it to a group that has never managed a theater and didn't exist until they wrote this proposition," said actor Penn in a statement posted on the website created by the anti-L group (http://www.noonl.com). "Proposition L is the wrong solution for saving our neighborhood theaters, and it's wrong for San Francisco."
"The people who are opposing this have ulterior motives, the independent artist is getting screwed," Greg Stephens, who got the measure on tomorrow's ballot, told indieWIRE yesterday. Stephens, a lawyer who has also made films, added, "Owners of theaters don't want us to save other theaters, they are afraid of competition."
Encouraging a visit to his own campaign's website (http://saveourtheaters.com), Stephens maintained that he is acting in the best interests of independent filmmakers. His critics, however, have charged that he lacks a background in theater ownership and management.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and other local officials have also come out against the proposition, placed on the ballot by a law permitting citizens to add measures if they are endorsed by the signatures of enough citizens. "It's terrible legislation," Mayor Newsom recently told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It's a sole-source contract to a group that doesn't have much of a track record, to do unspecified work. It's well-intentioned but completely misguided."
"I am disappointed that many of our public officials never gave us the right of due process, to present what we are doing," Stephens said, "The Mayor never met with me, he made a unilateral decision from one side of the story."
Reacting to the pending vote on Proposition L, the city's Board of Supervisors last week passed a new law that requires an economic study before one of the existing independent neighborhood theaters can be destroyed.
A League of Women Voters election guide details arguments for and against Proposition L. In summarizing the support, the guide 3 points in favor, include, "The City should invest in saving neighborhood movie theaters to preserve our cultural and architectural heritage; revitalizing neighborhood theaters and promoting film-making in San Francisco will stimulate the economy by increasing tourism and hotel occupancy, generating new jobs, and increasing tax revenues; Proposition L would achieve important goals without adding a new tax." While the arguments against read: "Proposition L would divert up to $10.5 million from the City's General fund, reducing the money available for other City priorities such social services and public safety; Proposition L would give away of (sic) millions of public dollars each year to a questionable new organization that has no track record. There is no fair bidding process of competition to receive the funds; spending public funds on movie theaters is the wrong priority, especially when the City is facing a large budget deficit."
Despite the widespread opposition from local government officials, theater owners, numerous organizations and even celebrities, Stephens says he is confident that Proposition L will pass and that when it does he is ready to work with the film establishment that has rejected him and his new non-profit organization.
"Our arms are wide open to work with them," Stephens told indieWIRE, "We will maintain our constant goal, which is that artists are taken care of."