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San Francisco: The New Hollywood?

by Susannah Kopecky, published

"48 Hours." "Princess Diaries." "Mrs. Doubtfire." These are just a few of the megahit movies that took place in San Francisco proper. Is San Francisco positioned to become the next Hollywood?

With all of the innovations coming out of San Francisco as of late, the City by the Bay may become a businessman's dream come true. San Francisco is known as a city of independent-minded citizens, yet citizens who also cherish their city as a global financial and business center. And with Mayor Gavin Newsom's recent forays into noticeable pro-business measures, is the city moving more toward classical liberalism and libertarianism?

Keep in mind, also, that the notoriously "liberal" city of San Francisco also was authorized by its citizens in 2003 to keep a "rainy day fund" to save money. Mayor Newsom dipped into the fund on March 10, in order to save teaching jobs that were otherwise threatened by hard times. In the statement, Newsom explained the removal of $23 million from this fund to "save all of our teachers' jobs... We are lucky in San Francisco to have saved our extra revenue for when times get tough." Food for thought, anyway.

On March 3, Mayor Newsom announced a major investment into the City of San Francisco. The press release associated with Newsom's announcement hails Mayor Newsom for "Spur Job Creation" with his unveiling of nearly $30 billion in proposed "capital investments" in the city, for the city and county of San Francisco's Proposed Capital Plan for Fiscal Year 2010-2019.

The ultimate goal of this monetary infusion? "To spur local job growth." The investment of $28 billion will take place over a ten-year period, and will be composed of $10.5 billion from "investments of... local agencies" and $17.5 billion worth of "capital investments" from the city government.

Newsom cited infrastructure additions and improvements, the creation of "high-paying jobs," the rebuilding of local "streets, parks, libraries... and... new residential and economic centers that will sustain and transform our vibrant city" as the ways in which the $28 billion will be dispensed over the coming decade.

The goal of this plan is to "create at least 200,000 new construction-related jobs in San Francisco... At a minimum, 200,000 new jobs will be created through these projects in San Francisco with additional jobs created around the Bay Area." In the statement, Mayor Newsom noted that in the face of a hard-hit national economy and a large city budget as well (reported by the Mayor, in December, to be over $575 million), that leaders "must continue to think strategically and invest in the people, infrastructure and businesses that will pull our economy" out of the current slump.

On March 2, Mayor Newsom also proudly announced that NBC will soon begin filming a television show, to be titled "Trauma" on San Francisco's very own Treasure Island. Mayor Newsom stated that the production of the show "is a great opportunity to create several hundred jobs and stimulate the local economy with as much as $7 million in revenue." Newsom went on to extol the beauty of San Francisco, and its choice location as a "beautiful and welcoming city." The statement also references a recent Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation study, which estimated that a T.V. production of the size of "Trauma" would realistically create more than 300 jobs.

In a 2007 report commissioned by the San Francisco Film Office, it was found that "although the past few years have been difficult ones for the film industry in San Francisco, the City possesses many advantages and his well-suited to capitalize on significant trends affecting film, the broader media landscape, and the Internet." According to the report, the most recent statistic showed that in 2004, filmmaking "directly provided 1,389 salaried jobs in San Francisco." The study concluded that "severe challenges in infrastructure" prevented certain elements of the film industry from expanding in SF, also making "the price of production" increase, "making San Francisco uncompetitive in competing for film production, forcing a contraction in the local performing arts, and driving down employment in both industries."

It was also noted that the cost of filming in SF was the biggest barrier to more filming, and "the City's greatest weakness," though the "locations and natural beauty of the area, and the quality of life," were good marks for the city.

To put this into context, the report showed that in 2005, Los Angeles employed 127,671 people in the film industry, while San Francisco employed 6,782.

Since then, it appears that film officials in the Bay Area have been working hard to drive business back home. The report concluded with four goals: create better indoor shooting facilities, link together films and digital technology [ahem, Mayor Newsom's new online State of the City addresses?], "promote locally-based production in San Francisco" and the goal of making San Francisco and the Bay Area more overall competitive for filming. The report noted that competing cities were utilizing tax credits, tax rebates, grants, loans, sales and use taxes and hotel taxes to attract filmmakers. The SF Film Commission is now apparently moving to do the same.

The San Francisco Film Commission publicly stated excitement over the news of the selection of SF as the backdrop for "Trauma," noting that the more exposure to San Francisco via television series, the greater the amount of tourism to the city. When contacted, the San Francisco Film Commission could not comment further on the status of the city as a film and television production hub. However, during the January meeting of the council (the most recent meeting), an amendment to extend financial assistance to film crews was put on the table. The Administrative Code encourages the promotion of "film activities in the City."

One of the ways in which this is done is by offering rebates to film crews in SF, which are currently capped by the amount of taxes paid by the crew. In the proposed amendment, there would no longer be a cap dependent solely on taxes paid, but the cap would be raised to $600,000 and would "remove sales tax and hotel taxes paid to the City from the list of payments subject to the refund process." The stated purpose of the Film Rebate Program is to "increase the number of qualified film productions being made in San Francisco, increase the number of City residents employed in the filmmaking industry, and encourage the resulting economic benefits to increased filmmaking in San Francisco." The rebate is explained as such: "The City shall pay one dollar for each dollar the qualified low budget film production or qualified film production paid in qualified production cost not to exceed $1.8 million dollars by June 30, 2011. The rebate shall be paid from the fund into which the qualified production cost was originally deposited. In no event shall the amount of the rebate exceed $600,000.00."

Cheers to the hopeful-Hollywood of the north.

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