Manny Yekutiel, co-founder of the Civic Space Foundation, at Clean Up the City in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood, May 6, 2023. (Photo/Alexandra Liss)
Manny Yekutiel, co-founder of the Civic Space Foundation, at Clean Up the City in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood, May 6, 2023. (Photo/Alexandra Liss)

Amid downturn, two Jews create $2M fund to promote ‘Civic Joy’ in S.F.

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San Francisco hasn’t gotten the best press recently. From department stores fleeing downtown to a wave of shoplifting, much of the news has been bleak.

But two Jews with their hearts firmly in San Francisco want to make the city a more joyful, positive place — and they’ve raised $2 million to make it happen.

“I have no doubt that we’re going to turn this city around,” Daniel Lurie said.

Lurie, a philanthropist and son of Mimi Haas, a member of the Levi Strauss family by marriage, has banded together with Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s cafe in the Mission District.

To pursue their goals, Lurie and Yekutiel launched the Civic Joy Fund in May — supported with money from institutions and individuals — to invest in city improvement projects and encourage residents to get directly involved in lifting up their community.

They want and need San Franciscans to pitch in.

The fund, which is working with the Civic Space Foundation that Yekutiel co-founded last year, will pay for five improvement programs that will launch this summer. “Right now, our city needs each of us to think about what we can do to help in this moment,” Yekutiel said.

Yekutiel, who opened Manny’s in 2018, quickly established it as a community gathering space for progressive politics, hosting everything from a Purim drag queen party to an election phone bank to a forum on antisemitism with state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-S.F.). Yekutiel came to San Francisco in 2012 and has become engaged in the city’s civic life. In 2020, he was nominated to the Municipal Transportation Agency by Mayor London Breed.

Artist Fernanda Martinez standing next to a utility box she painted as part of Paint the City. (Photo/Alexandra Liss)
Artist Fernanda Martinez standing next to a utility box she painted as part of Paint the City. (Photo/Alexandra Liss)

Lurie is a San Francisco native, philanthropist and founder and board chair of Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit that seeks to combat poverty in the city. His father, Rabbi Brian Lurie, was executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation from 1974 to 1991.

The five programs in their joint endeavor are called City Civic Corps, Clean Up the City, Adopt-A-Block, Summer of Music and Paint the City. All of them are designed to improve city life in specific ways.

The City Civic Corps will be a monthly meet-up for volunteers to help with projects like cleaning up parks, planting trees, removing graffiti and repainting murals. Anyone interested can sign up online.

Clean Up the City is working with local nonprofit Refuse Refuse to get people to sign up to pick up trash each week in various neighborhoods. (Manny’s already organizes weekly “disco trash pickups” around the cafe’s neighborhood.)

For Adopt-A-Block, one- or two-block stretches will be spruced up in a few areas of the city, each with $100,000 in funding. “We believe that one block can change the narrative,” Lurie said.

The four chosen areas are:

  • Larkin Street between Turk and Eddy streets in the Tenderloin
  • Mission Street between 16th and 18th streets
  • Mission Street between San Juan and Harrington streets in the Excelsior
  • Ocean Avenue between Jules and Faxon streets in Ingleside

Each street will make its own beautification decisions, but the money is expected to pay for items like landscaping, murals and storefront improvements, Yekutiel said.

The fund is also sponsoring two arts projects — one for music and one for murals.

In collaboration with the Noise Pop music festival, the fund will pay for professional musicians to play on eight Saturdays this summer in spots around the city. (Musicians can apply to be part of the Summer of Music.)

Paint the City will partner with existing public art nonprofit Paint the Void to pay for murals in 10 locations.

“The people that keep people here are our arts community, our nightlife community, the small business owners,” Yekutiel said.

But should civic projects be funded by philanthropists instead of the city itself?

“We’re staying out of the politics,” Lurie said. “This is about everyday San Franciscans doing their part, and we’re not waiting around any longer. We’re going to do this as citizens.”

Daniel Lurie (Photo/Courtesy)
Daniel Lurie (Photo/Courtesy)

The two are open to Civic Joy Fund becoming an ongoing project, but they’re focused on making concrete improvements to the city over the short term. “We want the money almost completely spent in the next six or nine months,” Yekutiel said.

The fund has received donations from Levi Strauss & Co. and Jewish philanthropists such as Joby Pritzker and Julia and Kevin Hartz. (The San Francisco Standard reported that its funder, Sequoia Capital partner Michael Moritz, has also contributed to the fund after writing an opinion piece about San Francisco’s decline that appeared in the New York Times earlier this year.)

Civic Joy Fund isn’t a Jewish endeavor per se, but Yekutiel said it’s no accident that Jews started it.

“Listen, Jews are doers,” Yekutiel said. “Jews raise their hand. Jews get involved.”

But, of course, he wants all San Francisco residents to feel inspired.

“Our city needs not just Jews, obviously, but everyone to get involved,” Yekutiel said. “We don’t have time to waste, baby. We got stuff to do.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.