Ribbon cutting ceremony for the inauguration of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District at the corner of 24th and Harrison streets on May 23, 2014. Photo: Mabel Jiménez/El Tecolote archives

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and Mayor Ed Lee have proposed legislation that would impose zoning regulations on new “commercial uses” in the Mission in order to help safeguard the unique character of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District.

“For the first time, we are using land use tools to articulate what characteristics we would like to see in new businesses coming into a neighborhood that has been in turmoil because of widespread displacement of longtime residents and businesses,” Ronen said in a Calle 24 press release.

The newly introduced bill would establish the region between 22nd and Cesar Chavez streets, and Mission Street and and Potrero Avenue as a Special Use District (SUD). The SUD would require eating or dining establishments, businesses attempting to replace a former “legacy business,” and businesses proposing to merge multiple storefronts into a single business that is greater than 799 square feet, to acquire a “Conditional Use” authorization.

The bill specifies that the city will calculate the percentage of eating and dining establishments within a 300-foot radius of the proposed business, and the authorization will be granted if the presence of the new business doesn’t push the percentage of eating and dining establishments within that radius above 35 percent.

“Although the bill proposes 35 percent, a number higher than Calle 24’s designated 25 percent, it helps battle the gentrification and displacement and can hopefully have a ripple effect within the neighborhood,” said Erick Arguello, president and cofounder of Calle 24.

Arguello said requiring commercial businesses to obtain conditional use authorization will not only aid in stabilizing rent but will also help retain the vibrant Latino community and small store fronts that for years have felt the pressure of possible displacement.

The city’s Planning Department is proposing that in order for a business to acquire conditional use, they would need to meet four of Calle 24’s six purposes: preserve and enhance the character of the Calle 24 Special Use District; support the production or offerings of local or Latino artwork, arts activities and crafts; preserve and recognize the contributions of legacy businesses; retain, enhance and promote neighborhood serving businesses and institutions, including immigrant and low-income and moderate-income households; promote neighborhood-serving businesses and institutions that strengthen economic opportunities for local residents; and promote neighborhood-serving businesses that enhance economic and workforce opportunities for local residents.

According to Diana Ponce de Leon, project manager at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, four years ago Mayor Ed Lee started an initiative to focus on the city’s commercial corridors to get people back to work. The pilot initiative included 25 corridors, the Latino Cultural District being one of them, and the newly proposed legislation is in turn a result of a two year long collaboration between the mayor’s workforce office, Calle 24, the office of former Supervisor David Campos and members of the community.

“Going in, we not only wanted to focus on service provisions but also in building the capacity and becoming a partner to businesses on the ground, tailoring our services to their needs and making ourselves available,” Ponce De Leon said.

A consultant was also hired to help develop a report on community focus areas and concerns of local business owners.

“If the economy of a district is not healthy, the community suffers. We had to ask, ‘What are the elements contributing to changes in the area and if we can’t prevent them, what can we do?’ Ponce de Leon said.

One of the successful efforts made through collaborations and community engagement was to pass the resolution establishing the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District in 2014. Although the resolution passed to recognize the area as a cultural district, establishing it as an SUD will allow for further, more permanent regulation.

When asked what he thought about the proposed ordinance being criticized as “legislatively tokenizing” the Latino culture of the district, Arguello brushed the criticism aside.

“There are concerns the district is going to become a museum but this is why it will be reviewed in five years,” he said. “We are a living, breathing cultural district. We want families to be able to stay and those lost to be able to come back.”

Ponce de Leon also stressed that the legislation will be revisited in the future.

“Our collective work doesn’t stop here,” she said. “We’re still working on negotiating longer term leases, ADA upgrades and are committed to building relationships required to make long lasting impacts within the district.”

There are concerns that the bill’s added scrutiny will deter Latino businesses from opening, but Arguello does not share them.

“It will actually benefit them [Latino business owners],” he said. “We will have space for them and if they do apply it’ll be conditional use. It’s only necessary to meet four of the six conditions outlined and if you’re Latino it makes it easier.” 

“I am thrilled that after more than two years of working with the community and stakeholders we have found a viable and successful path forward to preserve Calle 24 Latino Cultural District,” said Mayor Lee. “This legislation is just one step in our work to preserve the integrity of our neighborhoods, serve small businesses and promote the cultural and economic vitality of our city. The future of Calle 24 Latino Cultural District is bright and I look forward to it continuing to be a welcoming place for generations to come.”

A public meeting will be held Feb. 4 at Mission Girls at 11 a.m., where community members can ask questions and further engage in the continuing process of this legislation. Mission Girls is located at 3007 24th Street, at the corner of Harrison and 24th streets.