SF Legislation Aims to Save Cultural Enclaves from Gentrification

J.K. Dineen, SFGate, October 23, 2017

The fight to protect San Francisco’s cultural enclaves against gentrification and displacement typically takes the form of opposition.

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Supervisor Hillary Ronen is betting that those fighting to save what’s left of San Francisco’s cultural districts would be better served by saying yes.

“We all agree that gentrification is happening—everyone is on the same page there,” Ronen said. “But mostly the response to gentrification has been to say no — to keep people out, to prevent new buildings from being built. It’s been no, no, no, no, no. I wanted to create a tool that helps us fight the displacement of the rich cultural districts by saying yes.”

On Tuesday, Ronen will introduce legislation that would create a process to designate cultural districts—and, she hopes, a set of tools to “preserve, stabilize and grow those communities.”

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It would also direct the mayor to create funds to help each cultural district. They would probably be paid for with a combination of money from the city’s general fund, grants and payments that developers make to offset the effects of large projects.

The legislation defines a cultural district as “a geographic area or location” that “embodies a unique cultural heritage.” To qualify, a district would have to have a “concentration of cultural and historic assets of culturally significant enterprise, arts, services, or businesses,” as well as a large number of residents who are members of “a specific cultural, community, or ethnic group.”

Groups hoping to have an area designated as a cultural district would need the backing of the mayor, a member of the Board of Supervisors or a city department. The proposed district would go through a detailed study — including an assessment of historic buildings and businesses — and would need the approval of several city commissions in addition to the Board of Supervisors.

The legislation recognizes six cultural districts that already exist or are being designated: Japantown, Chinatown, the Mission’s Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin, and two areas in the South of Market: the Filipino Cultural Heritage District, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Leather Cultural District.

Ronen said she doesn’t have any preconceived notions about which other districts might be designated. But she said the Vietnamese American community in the Tenderloin, the Fillmore Jazz District and the African American community in the Bayview would be strong contenders.

“Every cultural district will look a little different,” Ronen said. “This is not creating a cookie- cutter approach.”

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