KQED: Heritage District Would Honor Filipino-Americans in S.F.’s South of Market

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By Ericka Cruz Guevarra

After years of growing concern and anxiety about displacement in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, a plan being unveiled at noon today will establish an official Filipino social and cultural district to preserve what is left of the Filipino-American community there.

On the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall, Supervisor Jane Kim and Filipino community leaders will announce legislation to establish SoMa Pilipinas, a district that would highlight more than 25 historic buildings, sites and objects to honor SoMa as a center for Filipino-American culture in San Francisco.

Jane Kim“Historically, the Filipino-American community has made the South of Market their home,” Kim said. “There’s a lot of history of nonprofit community-based services and organizations, as well as small businesses, that have served this community.”

The district would include institutions such as the Bayanihan Community Center, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Center, which is an assisted-living complex, and the venerable Gran Oriente. Several sites that host folkloric Filipino events, in addition to streets named after Filipino heroes such as Filipino nationalist Jose Rizal, would be included, too.

“It brings to the community the validation of its existence,” said Bernadette Sy, executive director of the Filipino-American Development Foundation, which played a key role in the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force that proposed the plan. “It honors our presence here in San Francisco.”

Kim’s office is initiating a yearlong planning process with the city’s Planning Department and the Economic and Workforce Development Office. The process will involve zoning through land-use tools and economic incentives for business programs and events.

“While we have these physical examples that I mentioned of Japantown and Chinatown, in some ways this is uncharted territory to approach this through a multipronged approach of historical land use and economic development,” Kim said.

She said that in order to preserve the history of the Filipino-American community in SoMa, community leaders want to ensure that the people who have historically lived there get to stay.

“They want to work on stopping and preventing displacement of families, seniors, residents, as well as small businesses that they are worried are leaving South of Market due to how expensive real estate is becoming,” said Kim, whose District 6 includes the neighborhood. “Some of this is an anti-displacement approach as well.”

Plans to develop the Filipino social cultural district began with the Western SoMa Planning Process in 2007, when community members indicated they wanted to develop the Filipino cultural district.

“The district helps to show that, yes, we were here,” Sy said. “We have history here in San Francisco.”