Voters must protect The City’s legacy

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When the news broke recently that Dave’s Bar would be closing, it reverberated through nearly every sector of San Francisco. From tech bros to sports bros to makeup-counter girls to all-day drunks, the citizenry of our fine city shuddered at the thought of yet another legendary business shuttering.

“Why?!” they moaned. “How?!” they cried. This was a tough blow to a city that already felt like it was on its knees.

San Francisco has seen an epidemic of vitally important businesses close over the past few years. Places that had given The City such heart and character. Places that had acted as anchors of stability in an ever-shifting sea of city life. Places that had made this place, well … San Francisco. Places like the old Gold Dust Lounge, Empress of China, Joe’s Cable Car, The Lexington Club, Sam Wo’s, Esta Noche and too many more.

People often say “change is inevitable,” but most of the time it’s the ones saying it who have the most to gain from change. “Change is good,” says the developer poised to make millions off new condos in The Mission. “Don’t fear change,” says the businessperson who takes over the newly inflated lease from the neighborhood bar that just closed. “San Francisco has always been changing,” says the young, well-off new tenant in the building bleeding from evictions.

History may be written by the victors, but that’s only because they’re allowed to erase what was there before them.

That’s why Proposition J is so damn important to the future of San Francisco. This city, built on gold dust and denim and by renegades and runaways, is proud of its history. It revels in its past. And Prop J aims to make it so that the businesses that make us leave our hearts here don’t have to worry about leaving themselves.

Endorsed by all 11 supervisors, Prop J is an initiative to preserve San Francisco’s legacy businesses. These are small businesses and nonprofits that have been around for 30 years or more, contributed to their neighborhood’s history and agree to maintain their identity, name and craft. The proposition sets up a fund that gives grants to these businesses as well as to the property owners who extend long-term leases to them.

While S.F. has laws in place protecting renters from insane rent hikes, there aren’t any laws protecting businesses. Prop J would fix that and would actually be the only program we have that incentivizes preserving the businesses that make San Francisco unique.

The problems we’re facing in San Francisco aren’t ours alone. Cities all over the world are feeling the strain as prices in urban centers skyrocket. While we’re not the only city losing our institutions, our method of saving them has prompted others to do the same. New York, Los Angeles and Houston are also now working on legislation inspired by San Francisco’s legacy business initiative, and London and Barcelona already have something on the books.

What makes a city special is the people inside it and the places where you spend your time. Folks from all over the world come to San Francisco for the food, the arts and the culture that has made our city famous. And those of us lucky enough never leave. We owe it to the rest of the world to preserve the businesses that fill our streets with history and wonder, and we owe it to ourselves to save the places that made us fall in love with this beautifully strange city in the first place.

This piece is dedicated to Dave’s Bar. You will be woefully and sourly missed. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in The San Francisco Examiner.

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