Doors Open: A Bay Area Reopening Series – Matt Haney

By Molly Kish //

Matt Haney – Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors (District 6)

Matt Haney has Bay Area advocacy in his blood. Raised predominantly by his mother in the East Bay, Haney was born into a family of civil rights activists and developed strong opinions about societal injustices. He noticed early on the ways in which his values were underrepresented in local politics, so he decided to get involved in efforts to reform them to support the communities that he was a part of while growing up.

Over the last decade, Haney has held roles as a faculty member at Stanford, an eviction defense attorney and a national policy director. He has served as vice president, president and commissioner of the SF School Board, and in 2019, Haney won in a landslide victory to become the supervisor of District 6, which stretches from the Tenderloin to Treasure Island. In the past year, he has not only assumed the position of budget chair on the Board of Supervisors, but has also worked tirelessly alongside the small business and entertainment commissions to introduce critical legislation that will help keep local, independent venues alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just days after the launch of his SF Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund, we caught up with Haney over a veggie omelette at a Market St. café to discuss his passion for preserving the culture and community of the Bay Area music and entertainment scene.


Showbams: Throughout your career you’ve worn many hats, so what ultimately made you want to run for the Board of Supervisors and led you to represent District 6?

Haney: I think a lot of it for me was recognizing the potential that the Bay Area has, when it comes to providing opportunity and a quality of life for everyone, wherever they are. We have a certain responsibility here, that is unlike many other places in the world and I had the opportunity to be a part of that.

I was working with a lot with families as a school board member and that led me to want to support my neighbors in other ways including: making sure they had housing, jobs and a future here in our city. This feeling is what led me to get more involved in citywide issues and ultimately to run for the Board of Supervisors.

He stops mid-thought to signal the waitress and asks for hot sauce and ketchup.

Haney: I think District 6 is one of the most special places in the world. It has just a tremendous amount of culture and history and the most “San Francisco” neighborhood in San Francisco, the Tenderloin. District 6 houses a lot of the growth and innovation in our city, and representing this area is an opportunity to try to make all of that work for everyone, better than it is now. Especially when it comes to some of the wealth and incredible opportunities that are here, I’m constantly thinking of how we make sure that they’re shared more broadly and that people have access to all the things they need to survive and thrive in our city.

“I think District 6 is one of the most special places in the world. It has just a tremendous amount of culture and history and the most ‘San Francisco’ neighborhood in San Francisco, the Tenderloin.”

Showbams: Over the last year, you’ve been a huge advocate for creating lifelines for independent music venues. Were you always interested in including music and entertainment into your political scope or was this something that was prompted by the pandemic’s effect on the local economy?

Haney: Ever since I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve been involved in the nightlife and music community here. In 2007, I moved in with a close friend who was one of the biggest event promoters at the time, his name is Nate Mezmer. So from that I got to know DJs, venue owners and all the challenges they had in operating here. I also saw from that time until now, many of those venues disappear. I witnessed the ways in which these venues, DJs, artists and bartenders were being pushed out of San Francisco and how it really impacted our culture and community here.

So much of the history of San Francisco is about different groups of people who were kicked out of other places and thought that they were alone. They came to San Francisco and were able to find each other here and in many cases that happened through nightlife and music and art. That’s a huge part of what I love and what’s so special about San Francisco and a lot of those venues are in my district now, so I really made it a big part of my goals to support them.

“So much of the history of San Francisco is about different groups of people who were kicked out of other places and thought that they were alone. They came to San Francisco and were able to find each other here and in many cases that happened through nightlife and music and art.”

Showbams: In December, you introduced your SF and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund legislation in a special meeting with the SF Board of Supervisors. Can you elaborate on how the meeting went and the key initiatives of the proposal?

Haney: I was committed to putting forward this fund, even before we knew where the money was going to come from. It was a bit of a leap of faith in some ways. In December we were still facing a pretty bleak outlook concerning the city’s budget, but we decided to introduce it anyways and started to develop the provisions with the venues, entertainment and small business commissions. In January it was decided we needed to put at least 1.5 Million into it, and then as things moved forward I proposed for us to double that. Luckily, we all ended up on the same page.

SF VENUES: APPLY HERE

We tried to make the application as simple as possible and are offering awards of at least $10,000. So that’s either 300 grants at $10,000, 150 at $20,000 or … I feel that some may even get upwards of $50,000. A lot of them have really high rents and are actually in need of 100’s or 1,000’s of dollars so we’re not going to be able to meet the whole thing, but writing a venue a check for $50,000 is meaningful.

We get briefly interrupted by a fellow diner who wants to express his gratitude for Haney’s work involving tenants rights. He graciously acknowledges the man, asks him how his particular experience is and orders a refill on his coffee. In that moment, it was apparent how ingrained and conscientious Haney was of the everyday issues that residents in his district were facing. The fact that someone felt comfortable enough to approach him while he was dining and engaged in conversation was not only a testament to his character, but also to his involvement with the community that he both resides in and represents. He apologizes and continues …

Haney: There’s always some politics ya know, the mayor initially did not want to put money into the fund that we created so we had to say, “Well, things have changed a little bit because I’m the budget chair now, so it’s just gonna happen.” It was kind of wild to have that level of power and be able to use it for something really important. It was the first real opportunity I had to do so in the new position.

For the last couple of years I was more of a flamethrower. So when the introduction of this fund came about I was still in that role and everyone kind of said, “Whoa, OK … you want to just take some money and give it to venues? Where’s that money coming from?” I said, “I don’t know yet” and then was able to move into a position of more power in relation to the budget, which allowed me to actually get the funds.

“It was kind of wild to have that level of power and be able to use it for something really important.”

Showbams: So the applications went live on April 21st, providing upwards of 300 grants for the initial funding. Do you feel optimistic that there will be a phase two of funding?”

Haney: I’m optimistic that we will add more money to the fund. We may need to learn from who applies, what the need is and change it accordingly in terms of targeting. In fact, some of what we’re going to need to focus on I think not just for these venues, but for small businesses more broadly, is commercial debt relief. Some of these venues may be getting the $25-50,000 dollars and they can’t even begin to have a conversation about their back due rent.

Each venue I think is in a different position because the only thing that has been universal is commercial eviction protection. Some of these venues may have just put pause on all rent for this past year, and now they have to have a conversation with their property management if they don’t own their own building. Then, the result is that they’ll have to negotiate some sort of payment plan and we’re going to have to figure out how we can meet up with that. So, that’s what I think might be the next phase of this.

We’re going to have to help these venues with their debt, but I hope they start to make even more money than they did before the pandemic. I hope that we can be more supportive of them and recognize their value, as to not make everything so hard for them to operate here. We need to protect our independent venues so that they can thrive and grow here and are able to create more spaces and events, to give them opportunities to do just that.

“We need to protect our independent venues so that they can thrive and grow here and are able to create more spaces and events, to give them opportunities to do just that.”

Showbams: Once the Bay Area opens back up, what’s the first venue that you would like to attend an event at?

Haney: I do miss a number of venues in my district. In the Tenderloin, I go to Black Cat and PianoFight a lot and I look forward to being able to go back to those two for sure. In the other parts of my district, I will definitely be at 1015 Folsom and 111 Minna Gallery when they reopen.

I really hope that by mid-June, if things go as they are now, that most of these venues can open at 100%. There’s no reason that I can think of — the vaccines have been very widely available for months — that a venue can’t allow a 100% capacity if everyone has been vaccinated. You should just be able to show your card or whatever, unless the vaccine starts to break down in some way. Then we’ve got a lot of other problems besides our venues.

“There’s no reason that I can think of — the vaccines have been very widely available for months — that a venue can’t allow a 100% capacity if everyone has been vaccinated.”

As we commiserate over the shows we have missed with the hope for some rescheduled dates soon, Haney finishes what was left of his side salad and asks the waitress for the check. His phone has been blowing up the entire interview, and it’s only in this moment that he glances at the numerous missed calls and texts. The waitress exchanges some cheerful banter with him as she finally places where she recognizes Haney from, and in return, he compliments the service and quality of his omelette. As he waits to sign the check and starts to visibly drift back into work mode, I ask him one final question.

Showbams: Have there been any positive takeaways from the events of the past year?

He pauses for a second and takes a long, deep breath before replying.

Haney: The incredible resilience of the city, its businesses and our residents. The businesses and people that are still here really fought through a lot to stay in this city. I think coming out of the pandemic, it’s going to be really important to recognize, develop a greater appreciation for and not take for granted.

I think that’s what makes me hopeful and now we as a government acknowledge how much the Bay Area needs venues and places to see each other, celebrate and be inspired.

DOORS OPEN: MORE COVERAGE HERE