Supervisor Hillary Ronen. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

In her first move as Supervisor for District 9, Hillary Ronen on Tuesday introduced legislation that would place additional restrictions on what kinds of businesses can move into the 24th Street Latino Cultural District.

She framed the proposal as an effort to support the existing small businesses in the area.

“While the Latino Cultural District is a special place, it is also an area facing the brunt of the city’s affordability crisis,” Ronen said. “When we talk about affordability, we often think about housing. But small businesses are also being displaced at a rapid pace.”

Ronen’s proposal, which has been in the works for years as part of an ongoing effort to legislate protections for the corridor’s businesses and residents, would require an additional city review process for certain new businesses: A Conditional Use approval would be required for any business that seeks to replace a legacy business or merge multiple storefronts for a combined size of more than 799 square feet.

The city’s Legacy Business Registry, approved by voters in 2015, denotes businesses that are least 30 years old and have been deemed significant to the neighborhoods they serve.

The proposal would also prevent new restaurants or bars from opening if such establishments make up more than 35 percent of the businesses within a 300-foot radius of the proposed business.

The Latino Cultural District, a five-block-wide swath centered on 24th Street between Mission Street and Potrero Avenue, was designated a Historic District in 2014. It is part of an ongoing effort to recognize and support the many family-owned and long established Latin American businesses there – in 2011, 74 of 125 businesses on 24th Street were Latino-owned

“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,” Ronen said.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a temporary moratorium on storefront mergers along the corridor, though even with an extension that has since expired.

Years in the making, Ronen said the proposal has enjoyed support and input from the Mayor’s Office as well as neighborhood-based organizations and businesses.

Dramatic changes along Valencia Street as well as an influx of higher-end businesses along 24th Street prompted merchants to ask for a legislative intervention, said Calle 24 Cultural District President Erick Arguello.

“We look at Valencia Street, which lost a lot of their neighborhood serving businesses…A lot of small, mom-and-pop, neighborhood-serving businesses are disappearing.”

“We started seeing trends,” he said, like restaurants moving into what were once two separate spaces, or landlords being offered financial incentives to remove smaller, older businesses in separate spaces to create merged spaces for restaurants.

Gabby Lozano, who owns L’s Caffe at 24th and Bryant streets, said she hopes such protections will discourage new arrivals that would displace cheaper, established businesses.

“The benefit that I see is that we will not have high-end businesses coming into the corridor. We will not have franchises coming into the corridor,” Lozano said. “We’ll be able still to cater to the diverse community that exists already and ou prices will be able to maintain low and mid income families around us.”

Landlords, Lozano and Arguello agreed, aren’t necessarily getting the short end of the deal.

The Special Use District gets grants from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development that compensate landlords for making infrastructure improvements. The city’s Legacy Business program is also designed to provide financial incentives to landlords to continue renting to legacy businesses.

Opposition to the proposed protections, Lozano said, came from developers and young, recently arrived residents.

“What we saw as pushback was the development agencies,” she said. “They tried as much as possible to diminish the language so that they could come into the corridor.”

The proposal, Ronen and Arguello said, is just one of many ways in which local organizations and legislators are hoping to preserve the neighborhood’s mix of businesses.

“When you’re facing affordability levels and displacement levels we are, there’s never a silver bullet,” Ronen said. “The only way we’re going to address this huge problem is through the creative use of multiple tools.”

The proposal must first be approved by two votes at the Board of Supervisors before going to the Mayor for final approval before it is enacted.

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