Mission District Cultural District Could Expand Beyond 24th Street

Laura Waxmann | SF Examiner

A street sign recognizing the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District hangs at the entrance to Balmy Alley in the Mission District on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mission District community advocates are eyeing an expansion of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District beyond its 24th Street Corridor boundaries in an effort to protect struggling merchants and residents along Mission Street.

Currently the cultural district, which was established in 2014 to counteract the displacement and gentrification of a once predominantly Latino community, stretches loosely from Potrero Avenue to Bartlett Street and from to Cesar Chavez Avenue to 22nd Street.

The exact boundaries of a potentially expanded district have yet to be drawn. A community meeting is scheduled for Thursday to gather feedback from the public and gauge the need for the expansion.

“It’s a very preliminary meeting to gather input from the community about the idea of an expansion,” said Erick Arguello, president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District nonprofit.

While Calle 24 has existed as a grassroots group led by Arguello to protect 24th Street artists, merchants and families since 1999, the 24th Street Corridor was officially designated as a cultural district in 2014 by The City to protect a community changing rapidly under the pressure of market forces.

Calle 24 is one of six cultural districts established in San Francisco. Last year, The City’s Board of Supervisors adopted legislation from Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen that streamlined the creation of new districts and allocated funding.

In order to create a cultural district or expand the Mission’s existing Calle 24 district, Ronen would have to introduce an ordinance outlining its purpose.

Ronen said that while her office has been working with the community to “figure out what’s needed and where,” legislation has not yet been drafted.

“I think [cultural districts are] one of the most innovative ideas we have in The City for combating displacement and gentrification and celebrating what we love and want to maintain about our neighborhoods,” said Ronen, adding that expanding Calle 24 is “definitely something we are interested in and open to.”

“We want to hear from the community first,” she said.

Early last year, several hundred community members and advocates marched to City Hall to demand affordable housing, protections for community-serving businesses and cultural institutions, and a stake in the development of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the San Francisco Examiner reported previously.

Since then, community advocacy groups including United to Save the Mission have been in conversation over creating a “unified vision for an expanded cultural district that encompasses the heritage and the culture of the Mission District,” with a first community meeting held in March 2018, according to a statement from USM issued Wednesday.

Arguello said that Calle 24 has had “some successes” in stabilizing small businesses along 24th Street by working directly with them to providing technical assistance — “whether it’s helping them negotiate a lease with their landlord or helping them remodel and providing grants for them,” he said.

“The idea is to stabilize the businesses so they are sustainable in the long run, whatever that may be,” he said.

Calle 24 is also currently working with La Reina bakery and the Sunrise Cafe on 24th Street around creating financial plans after the businesses received “huge increases in rent.”

According to USM, Mission Street has been hit hard recently by the loss of “community landmarks such as Galeria de la Raza, Mission Thrift, Siegel’s and Cine Latino.” The Group also cites a “lack of policy that grant our neighborhood families access” to affordable housing and economic development, and open spaces.

“There are spaces on Mission Street where unique cultural aspects exist and a community that needs to be protected,” said Carlos Bocanegra, of USM, adding that it is unclear if Calle 24 or another entity will manage the district. “There may be two governances for the district itself. We are trying see how the community feels about it.”

Last month, Calle 24 officially opened its headquarters at the corner of 24th and Capp streets, in a building the organization rents from Mission Housing Development Corporation.

Arguello said that the headquarters are “central to folks on both 24th and Mission streets.”

The hearing on expanding the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District will be held on Thursday, March 7 at the Centro Del Pueblo Auditorium, 474 Valencia St., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.