In conjunction with Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, the San Francisco Planning Department and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development held a special area guidelines workshop at Cesar Chavez Elementary School on Wednesday. Amy Beinart, legislative aide to Dictrict 9 Supervisor Hilary Ronen, was in attendance.
The project’s planning manager, John Francis, told the crowd of fifteen, “We’re going to reflect on the character of 24th Street,” and that community feedback will be a critical part of establishing guidelines for design elements such as windows, business signs, outside art, and building facades.
The school’s colorful interior was filled with Mission residents who have called the historic district home for years. They filed into the quaint school library, sat on sturdy wooden stools meant for small children and were treated to a lesson in special area guidelines.
These established limits on design elements are being created with the goal of preserving the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District’s unique physical characteristics. No official guidelines have officially been set.
“We want to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules so we ensure the cohesiveness of our neighborhood,” senior urban designer Luiz Barata said.
Whenever a renovation occurs or a new building is constructed, the guidelines are used for design review; architects and designers also refer back to them. “When sponsors come in with the projects, there’s some expectation of what kind of design they should propose so, in terms of quality, the parameters of the materials — so that creates a baseline language for us to review,” Barata said.
After the info session, attendees were escorted to the cafeteria and huddled around several tables. The rest of the time was spent discussing what they like about the 24th Street corridor, and which elements of the neighborhood are at risk of fading away. Facilitators were stationed at each table to mediate the conversation; one planner asked questions while another facilitator took notes on a huge sketchpad resting on an easel.
Participants cited a love for the Victorian style houses in the neighborhood, which have steps where people sit down and hang out on. “That’s magnificent because that’s community,” one woman said. Residents also liked the ficus tree canopy that covers much of 24th Street, the neon shop signs, street vendors, and the constant music blaring out of speakers.
What people did not like were opaque shop windows and the removal of some of the ficus trees. They would like to see more outside free spaces for vendors and a tile art design at the 24th Street BART station.
While the guidelines can only dictate architectural treatment and can’t control what kinds of businesses can move into the district, residents spent a great deal of time lamenting the old businesses, like laundromats and affordable sit-down food spots, that have come and gone due to rent increases.
Planning manager Harris told attendees the planning department would continue conversations with residents throughout the coming months. On July 18, a planning informational session will be at the planning commission. The department will begin drafting guidelines this summer and will be hosting their second community meeting sometime in early fall.