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SF expands cultural districts to include SoMa’s gay and leather community

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The Folsom Street Fair, which dates back to 1984, celebrates “leather sexuality” in the South of Market neighborhood, in an area that the Board of Supervisors designated as the LGBTQ and Leather Cultural District on Tuesday. (Courtesy Christopher Victorio/SF Weekly)

San Francisco created a gay and leather cultural district in the South of Market neighborhood Tuesday to help protect the community from gentrification.

The establishment of the LGBTQ and Leather Cultural District builds on the formation of four other districts established in recent years that are being viewed as effective tools to preserve cultural communities in the face of soaring commercial and housing rents.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who introduced the resolution, noted that plans to form the district actually predated the current economic boom. “This social cultural district has been in the works for about 10 years, since the Western SoMa plan was first introduced in 2006,” Kim said. “It took quite a bit of time for us and the community and neighborhood to put together.”

The formation of the district, which was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors, means that city departments will work with those in the area to create policies and allocate funding to preserve cultural assets. “San Francisco’s South of Market has been a local and world capital for Leather culture since the 1960s, as well as one of the city’s most significant and distinctive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer neighborhoods since the 1950s,” the resolution states.

The area celebrates “leather sexuality” through the annual Folsom Street Fair, which dates back to 1984.

The resolution states that city departments should launch a community process to develop “a Leather and LGBTQ District Cultural History and Housing and Economic Sustainability Strategy” that sets policies to promote the area and preserve existing historic assets. It calls on the Mayor’s Office of Housing to submit a plan within 12 months.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy on Tuesday also introduced a resolution to form a Castro LGBTQ Cultural District. “I hope to further protect the integrity of this enclave from the many pressures that are facing our vulnerable communities due to a rapidly changing city, so that the Castro can continue to be the heart of the LGBTQ movement as it progresses well into the foreseeable future,” Sheehy said.

There is also an effort underway to create a Bayview African American Cultural District.

Next week, the board’s Rules Committee will vote on legislation introduced by Supervisor Hillary Ronen formalizing the process behind formation and support of the cultural districts as well as create a specific line item in the city’s budget where The City could allocate more funds to support these districts. The proposal would require an update of the so-called Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy plans every three years and make the Mayor’s Office of Housing the lead agency. The districts are supported by The City but also through their formation, private entities like developers could contribute to their effort voluntarily or as part of a community benefit agreement.

On Thursday, the board’s Budget and Finance Committee will discuss budget priorities for next fiscal year, which includes staffing and funding for cultural districts.

Other cultural districts include the first one established in 2013, the Japantown Cultural Heritage District. The Calle 24 Latino Cultural District was formed in 2014, followed by the SOMA Pilipinas in SOMA and the Compton Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin last year.

City-funding for cultural districts has grown from $155,000 in fiscal year 2013-2014 to $1 million in the current fiscal year, according to the budget analyst report, which adds that “the type of oversight body that is eventually chosen to oversee new cultural districts will determine [Mayor’s Office of Housing] and [Office of Economic and Workforce Development] staffing and funding needs.”

The report notes that there is “an ordinance pending before the Board of Supervisors [that] would place a measure on the November 2018 election ballot to dedicate a portion of the Hotel Tax to arts and cultural programs, including cultural districts.”

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