Planning department aims to protect Filipino, LGBT communities in SoMa 

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The Filipino and LGBT communities are entrenched in the history of the western South of Market area, but establishing special districts for them has created a rift in the neighborhood.

The Western SoMa Community Plan, presented to the Planning Commission on Thursday, would establish development guidelines and design standards for a 205-acre area loosely bordered by Mission, Third, Townsend and 13th streets.

A major element of the plan is social heritage districts for the Filipino and LGBT communities, which would preserve the history and enhance the culture of two groups with historic ties to the area.

“Enhance and protect — these communities haven’t gone away,” project planner Paul Lord Jr. said.

But some longtime residents fear the changes will only divide the neighborhood by promoting development intended for niche groups rather than everyone.

“We would like to see growth of all kinds, not just special interests,” said Robert Knigge, 48, a 13-year area resident and member of Concerned Citizens of Western SoMa. The group largely opposes the plan.

Knigge said he worries that carving out pieces of the area for specific groups will hinder broader growth.

But about 3,000 Filipino-Americans call SoMa home, said Bernadette Sy, executive director of the Filipino-American Development Foundation.

The Filipino immigrant community first came to SoMa in the 1920s in search of affordable housing, Sy said. Since then, SoMa has served as a hub of the regional Filipino community, drawing people throughout the Bay Area to shop at their markets and attend cultural events.

“It would mean a lot to us,” Sy said. “Immigrant communities aren’t always on the radar.”

A special designation also would carry meaning for the area’s LGBT community, which has roots in SoMa dating back to the 1960s. The community downsized in the ’80s, when many gay bars moved elsewhere or closed, but the area still has strong LGBT ties, notably the annual Folsom Street Fair.

The social heritage districts — a new preservation tool for the Planning Department — are not intended to preserve culture by slapping historic designations on important buildings. Rather, the idea is to promote the groups’ continued use of the area by groups with historic ties through economic development, urban design and planning, Lord said.

Lord said he hopes to bring a draft plan to the commission early next year, following an environmental impact report.

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Sarah Gantz

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Thursday, Nov 20, 2014

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