A coalition of Mission District nonprofits want to expand the neighborhood’s Latino Cultural District onto the Mission Street corridor, ostensibly as a means to preserve elements of one of San Francisco’s fastest-changing neighborhoods.

The existing Calle 24 Latino Cultural District is roughly 55 square blocks, bounded by 22nd Street to the north, Potrero Ave to the east, Cesar Chavez to the south, and Mission Street on the west.

The Latino Cultural District was established through a May 2014 resolution — a largely honorary designation that set the table for a much stronger 2017 ordinance that implemented special controls within its borders on bars, restaurants, the appearance of storefronts, and much more.

An expansion of the cultural district — sans the heavy controls for now — would take it past 22nd Street, according to a Thursday evening presentation by the coalition United To Save The Mission at Centro Del Pueblo on Valencia Street. The boundaries have yet to be drawn.

Erick Arguello, who spearheaded Calle 24’s efforts, told attendees that the existing cultural district allowed for streetscape improvements, the funding of events, the promotion of local hiring, and marketing for the corridor.

“It’s not just one thing — it’s a lot of different levels,” he said. “We need to make sure these things are strengthened so the community can stay here and come back here.”

“We made so much for 24th street,” said Carlos Bocanegra, an attorney with Mission Neighborhood Centers and an organizer with the coalition, who spoke in Spanish through a translator. “I believe it’s our right to demand from this city, and it’s their obligation to recognize, this culture and give us a cultural district that is just.”

The roughly 60 attendees included community members, organizers, and city staff — including Diana Ponce De Leon from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Workforce and Development and Claudia Flores of the Planning Department. Everyone seemed generally supportive of the effort.

“Do you want a cultural district?” Bocanegra asked the attendees.

After some hesitation, Bocanegra asked again and received emphatic and unanimous applause.  

The boundaries of the current Latino Cultural District. The boarders of the proposed expansion have yet to be drawn.

Yet while Latino businesses on the Mission Street corridor from 16th to 26th Streets appear to occupy the highest percentage of spaces, the corridor has a greater mix of businesses than 24th Street, with many Chinese- and Middle Eastern-owned stores.

“Technically it will be labeled an expansion of the Latino Cultural District,” said Jesus Varela, a Mission District resident who is volunteering on the effort, following the meeting. “But the idea is to make sure all the stakeholders are at the table.”

Varela said that because Mission Street’s composition is different than that of 24th Street, the board administering the cultural district’s expansion should reflect the corridor’s diversity.

So, “Is this a Latino Cultural District?” he said. “Yes and no.”

The expansion will also allow nonprofits and cultural institutions to more easily apply for grants. “As a cultural district, particularly with Prop. E funds, now we can say, instead of this one organization needing $5,000, this entire corridor needs $30,000 and this is why,” Varela said.  

Proposition E, passed in November 2018, sets aside roughly $32 million in hotel tax revenue for a slew of city arts and culture initiatives, including $3 million for cultural districts.

Cultural Districts are becoming increasingly common in San Francisco, as the city faces a flood of outside wealth and longtime residents and institutions confront the endangerment of cultural heritage.

Already, six cultural districts have been established: Japantown, Filipino Cultural District in SoMa, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in the Tenderloin, the Leather LGBTQ Cultural District in SoMA, the Latino Cultural District, and the African American Arts & Cultural District in Bayview-Hunters Point.

If extended, the Mission’s Latino Cultural District would be one of the biggest in terms of geography.

“It sets the table not just in the community, but in City Hall,” said Julia Sabory, a cultural district program manager with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, explaining that it allows communities to work more fluidly with city government on its initiatives.

There are, however, quite a few hurdles for the cultural district expansion to become a reality. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who has indicated her support, must introduce the legislation at the Board of Supervisors. Then it will go through a Planning Commission Hearing, a Historic Preservation Commission Hearing, a Small Business Commission Hearing, and onto a Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee hearing.

And then it must face two votes by the full board.

Ronen was not immediately available for comment.

But at the Thursday’s meeting, Bocanegra was confident the effort would succeed, telling the room, “Without a doubt we will do it.”