The Abstract episode 25: San Francisco Astroturf Rising

By Peter A. Kirby

Have you heard of the term ‘astroturf?’ Broadly defined, it is a political organization enjoying some type of establishment funding as opposed to average citizens informally organizing at their own expense. Funding astroturf groups is how the crony capitalist establishment animates political movements – political movements that benefit them, not us. Astroturf is the antithesis of real, organic political grassroots, thus the moniker.

This article is the next in a series of articles leading up to the release of my forthcoming book “The Fall of San Francisco.” To be notified of the book’s release, please join my email list at my website

Over the years, San Francisco astroturf groups have enjoyed an undue and disproportionate amount of political power and this has greatly contributed to today’s sad state of affairs. This insidious astroturf tyranny generally has a couple of different flavors. The available evidence shows that it has mostly been implemented through establishment funding of ‘the arts’ as well as through (surprise, surprise) the forces of crony capitalist redevelopment.

‘The arts’

San Francisco astroturf has been hiding behind ‘the arts’ for a long time now. More broadly, going back millennia, government funding for ‘the arts’ has been a way for incumbent political powers to subtly or obviously propel political ideologies and movements. It’s a form of psychological warfare. The practice is designed to win the hearts and minds. If something is presented as ‘art,’ then it assumes a higher place in society, far above such worldly pursuits as politics. Often using this assumption as a cover, inherently political ideas and opinions are lent undue legitimacy and virility as they are often made to appear as simple truths. The political nature and political usefulness of government-funded ‘art’ is plainly apparent.

San Francisco government alone has spent many billions of dollars on ‘the arts’ going back to well before WWII. This has been accomplished through many local government agencies, but the two biggest of late have been the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts. There have also been State agencies funding ‘the arts’ in San Francisco such as the California Arts Council as well as federal agencies.

Along with disbursements from the General Fund, ‘the arts’ in San Francisco have been novelly funded by something called the Hotel Tax, also known as the Tourist Tax. To this day it is a tax on people who stay in hotels while visiting San Francisco and as we know, there have been quite a few of them.

With religious zeal, then Mayor George Christopher introduced the Hotel Tax in 1961 ironically as a means to promote tourism and conventions rather than discourage them… which is what taxes usually do. Promoting tourism was ostensibly to be accomplished by using the proceeds from the Hotel Tax to fund redevelopment and other activities through something called the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as through funding for ‘the arts.’ Hotel Tax funding for ‘the arts’ was also seen as a way to counterbalance the funding for redevelopment. For more about the evils of crony capitalist redevelopment, please refer to last week’s article “San Francisco Redevelopment Tyranny.”

Chemtrails Exposed: A New Manhattan Project: second edition

The local hoteliers (the people who stood the most to gain from an increase in tourism) didn’t want the Hotel Tax, but the Mayor kept trying to sell it to them anyway. Never mind logic, this is San Francisco politics and, as we now know, illogic has won the day. In a rare moment of honesty, Mayor Christopher actually warned that, “Some future board or future mayor might take it upon himself in an election year to spread this [Hotel Tax] money around among various organizations where it would buy the most support.” The following day, referring to the government money previously used to promote tourism and the arts, Christopher was also quoted as saying, “In the old days, this money used to be spread around for political objectives without regard to need.” The Hotel Tax was debated on live TV with Ellis J. McClanahan, the retired vice president of Standard Oil and a Bay Area Council member, speaking in favor of it. It was quite the lively political subject. With boundless enthusiasm from the Mayor and cultivated support from local big business, the Hotel Tax passed the Board of Supervisors 6-5 on April 18, 1961.

In order to determine where the proceeds from the Hotel Tax should go, Mayor Christopher created something known as the Advisory Committee on Tourism and Special Events. Chairing this committee was none other than James D. Zellerbach of the Blyth-Zellerbach Committee; a group that was, at the time, one of the most powerful forces of San Francisco redevelopment. Other board members were mostly from the travel and tourism industry.

Proceeds from the Hotel Tax have historically been disbursed at a rate of about 75% to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and 25% to ‘the arts.’ It’s interesting to note this symbiotic relationship between ‘the arts’ and redevelopment.

The Hotel Tax started at 3%. Over the decades San Francisco voters have approved many incremental increases. Today the Hotel Tax is called the Transient Occupancy Tax and it has been expanded to Airbnbs. It is now at 14% and (before the bottom fell out) it was generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In June 2013 the Board of Supervisors removed the allocation to arts programs and dedicated all Hotel Tax revenues to the General Fund. As a result, arts and culture programs in San Francisco became funded by the General Fund, primarily through five major city arts departments: the Arts Commission, the Asian Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museums, Grants for the Arts and the War Memorial. Then in 2018, by a 50% margin, San Francisco voters approved Proposition E which moved a portion of Hotel Tax proceeds back to a direct funding of the arts allocation model. Proposition E most notably also created direct funding for cultural centers, cultural districts and cultural ‘equity endowment’ – whatever that means.

The California Arts Council (CAC) is another government agency that funds ‘the arts’ in San Francisco. It was created in 1976 as the successor to the California Arts Commission which had been around since 1963.

A former chairman of the CAC by the name of Peter Coyote wrote an autobiography titled Sleeping Where I Fall. In it, Coyote details the political nature of government funding for ‘the arts.’ He describes his time as chairman of the CAC as, “…pressing an exciting and radical agenda through the state legislature.” Coyote was originally enticed to join the CAC by a promise of having ‘an opportunity to define the state.’ Since the 1960s Coyote has been an extremely political figure in San Francisco.

The CAC’s ‘radical agenda’ was accomplished by a couple of shell games. Firstly Coyote recounts how ‘the arts’ were to be funded by paying artists for ‘services rendered’ rather than through grants, which is how money for ‘the arts’ had traditionally been distributed. This tactic made it more politically convenient for lawmakers to lend their support. But what of this ‘services rendered’ term? The only specific example offered of ‘services rendered’ is that of people from a government-funded opera teaching singing in public schools. Other than that, Coyote leaves the term ‘services rendered’ almost entirely undefined. Would we be shocked if ‘services rendered’ also meant political organizing activities? Secondly, Coyote worked on a scheme with a guy who helped bring us the first full-time State legislature in the Country. The two worked on hiding funding for ‘the arts’ in incongruent agencies such as CA Education, Health, Welfare and Corrections.

In his book Coyote also recalls an instance where a powerful CA assemblyman gave him an ultimatum. The assemblyman informed Coyote that the only way he would approve the CAC’s funding would be if one of his constituents was included in the current round of grants. Coyote quickly acceded.

The moment art is funded by the government, it becomes intrinsically political; even if the work itself doesn’t outwardly manifest a political bent. From that moment on, the artist is obliged to adhere to a certain political ideology – the ideology of those that are doing the funding – or face the loss of their funding. In this way, funding of ‘the arts’ figuratively confines art and artists to a small box from which they dare not emerge. Although many artists are already of a certain political ideology (and that’s why they got the funding), government funding encourages artists to create works that are conducive to the political ideology of their funders. This defeats the purpose of art.

True Human expression should not be confined in any way by the boundaries of politics. Which art gains traction, and therefore money for the artist, should be an exclusive product of the hearts and minds of the citizenry, free from any kind of government involvement. Government funding of art does more to keep people and society in their places rather than truly set them free.

Redevelopment astroturf

In order to amplify their voice, the local forces of crony capitalist redevelopment have been funding groups in San Francisco that often appear to be organic grassroots, but are not. They are: Walk S.F., the S.F. Bicycle Coalition, Rescue MUNI, The Housing Action Coalition, City Car Share, The Transportation and Land Use Coalition, San Francisco Transit Rider’s Union, Sunday Streets, Connecting the City and Transform S.F. There may be others as well. Some of these groups may have started as real grassroots, but as soon as they start getting that establishment funding, they are transformed into astroturf.

The forces of redevelopment have funded these groups because these groups lend them legitimacy as they concurrently propel their agendas. The problem with this is that these armies of astroturfers drown out the true voice of the citizenry. Regardless of whether or not the true voice of the citizenry is correct, it should be heard clearly and obeyed. These astroturf groups serve to muddy the waters and allow the forces of redevelopment to run roughshod over a confused public.

One may wonder why anybody would want to participate in any group that is so fundamentally misguided. Well, first of all, most participants are not aware that there is any deception going on here. They want to believe that what they are doing is good and that these groups are an organic uprising of the citizenry and so they do. Regular social events are sponsored by these groups, so it’s a big social scene for the participants. They’re just having a good time with their friends – blissfully ignorant of who is paying for the party. For the administrators of these groups, the reason is more obvious: they are paid. But beyond that, even though the administrators are probably aware of the conflicts of interest at play, they too will commonly hold on to the belief that what they are doing is somehow good. Also in play here is something called the Delphi Technique.

The Delphi Technique is a known method of making people believe that somebody else’s idea is their own. This deception is useful in the context of these redevelopment astroturf groups as it solidifies the participants’ resolve. When participants see their group winning time and time again, they take it as a matter of pride amongst themselves and this lends their movement strength and momentum. The real reason for their successes is, of course, the forces of crony capitalist redevelopment, but the participants believe that they are the ones actually responsible. Take it from a real grassroots activist (your author), truly organic political movements are not parties, they are tough slogs that usually, at least in cities dominated by astroturf, result in losses.

In San Francisco redevelopment astroturf groups, we commonly see an emphasis upon transportation and housing. This is because redevelopment itself is integral to an even larger agenda: Agenda 21.

As astute readers already know, Agenda 21 is largely a global program of land use formally organized by the United Nations. It is detailed in a 1992 document published by the United Nations titled Earth Summit Agenda 21: The United Nations Programme of Action from Rio. With a recurring emphasis upon housing and transportation, this document details exactly how countries, states, regions and cities should use their land. They write that these things should be done in order to save the earth from global warming. The crony capitalist forces of redevelopment in San Francisco have been taking their orders from Agenda 21 and Agenda 21 is in turn a product of elite powers such as the Rockefeller family. In fact, the U.N. itself began in a Council on Foreign Relations study group funded by the Rockefellers. So, in effect, San Francisco redevelopment astroturf groups are working for the Rockefellers and global elites as they portray themselves as organic grassroots – to the great detriment of San Francisco. This is the Delphi Technique writ large.

The League of Urban Gardeners

In 2004 disturbing allegations of a publicly funded organization engaging in electioneering surfaced. The organization in question was something called the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG). They were funded by the City. The allegations were credible enough that there was a formal investigation conducted by the Controller’s Office. Although the investigation revealed many financial improprieties, the allegations of electioneering were not substantiated. That doesn’t mean that the allegations weren’t true, it simply means that they couldn’t be proven.

The mere fact that the allegations were credible enough to launch a formal investigation is quite disturbing. If these allegations had been proven true, a raft of local, State and federal laws would apply. Given our common knowledge of how extremely dirty elections often are, we should continue to be very vigilant in watching out for just this type of activity.


“Mayor’s Tourist Tax Plea Met By a Loud Silence” an article by Mel Wax, published by the San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 12, 1961

“Mayor Okays Compromise on Hotel Tax” an article by Mel Wax, published by the San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1961

“Mayor Wants Hotel Tax Free of Supervisor Rule” an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1961

“Hotel Tax Debate on TV Tonight” an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle, February 23, 1961

“S.F. Hotel Tax Is Voted 6-5; Halley Switches” an article by Mel Wax, published by the San Francisco Chronicle, April 18, 1961

City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco a book by Chester Hartman, published by the University of California Press, 2002

“Mayor Picks Advisers for Hotel Tax” an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle, July 4, 1961

Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle a book by Peter Coyote, published by Counterpoint, 2015

Behind the Green Mask: U.N. Agenda 21 a book by Rosa Koire, published by the Post Sustainability Institute Press, 2011

Earth Summit Agenda 21: The United Nations Programme of Action from Rio a report by the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, 1992

Memorandum dated May 10, 2004 from the Office of the San Francisco City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera to Chief Attorney, Public Integrity Task Force Lori Giorgi, RE: Report of Investigation, SLUG Elect, Case #040964

“The San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners Mismanaged Grant and Contract Funds From the City” a report by the Office of the San Francisco City Attorney, July 22, 2004

Peter A. Kirby is a San Rafael, CA researcher, author, and activist. Please buy his book Chemtrails Exposed: A New Manhattan Project available now exclusively at Amazon. Also please follow his TruthSocial feed or join his email list at his website

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