Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Political Notebook:
SOMA LGBT cultural district
awaits implementation


Gene Dodak, left, and Art Strong from Palm Springs were a mirror vision in classic leather/Levi drag at the 2008 Folsom Street Fair; local leather leaders are working to implement a plan that would create an LGBT cultural heritage district in the South of Market neighborhood.(Photo: Rick Gerharter)  
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A plan to create an LGBTQ cultural heritage district in part of San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood is still awaiting implementation by the city's planning department.

Six months ago the Board of Supervisors called for the creation of such a special use district in western SOMA, as well as a separate Filipino cultural heritage district centered around the Sixth Street Corridor, when it adopted on a 10-1 vote the Western SOMA Community Plan.

Yet advocates pushing for the two districts were informed that the planning department's historic preservation staff would be unable to devote time to the SOMA plans until after work was completed on the Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy. The Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt that plan this fall.

As soon as the Japantown document is finalized, SOMA advocates are eager to see work begin on creating the LGBTQ and Filipino cultural districts.

"We were assured, once Japantown was out of the way, we would be next in line," said Jim Meko, a gay SOMA resident who chaired the Western SOMA plan's task force.

The planning department's timeline for the creation of the SOMA districts remains unclear, though work on them is expected to ramp up later this fall. Preservation coordinator Tim Frye told the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday the Japantown plan will serve as a model for the SOMA districts.

"The preservation planners have been in a holding pattern until Japantown is complete," said Frye. "What we had prepared for Japantown will be a model to apply to similar projects throughout the city."

District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents SOMA at City Hall, told the B.A.R. this week that it will be up to community leaders to see that the districts become a reality.

"In many ways it is up to the communities themselves. We are looking to see and reach out to a number of leaders in the LGBT community to see how much they want to get engaged and initiate this process," said Kim. "At this point the policy is in place, but we do still need to brainstorm on the tools, particularly economic tools, to make them a reality. We do need the community to step in and take leadership."

Kim also wants to loop in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to assist with the process. Her office has advocated that the agency's mayoral initiative Invest in Neighborhoods include funding for western SOMA.

"We want to support small businesses because they will be the heart of these cultural districts," said Kim.

Work on the rezoning of western SOMA began eight years ago, and calls for protecting SOMA's historical ties to the LGBT and Filipino communities were included in the first draft plan released five years ago.

A separate document released in 2011 established the boundaries for an LGBTQ Social Heritage Special Use District, with Folsom Street from 12th to 3rd streets serving as the central thoroughfare.

"By the end of the 1960s, San Francisco leather bars had become heavily concentrated along Folsom Street, and leather bars and businesses sprouted in the surrounding blocks. By the late 1970s, South of Market had become one of the most extensive gay leather neighborhoods in the world," stated the draft plan. "As a result, gay South of Market acquired a number of nicknames, including the 'Folsom', the 'Miracle Mile,' and the 'Valley of the Kings.' While the Castro was unquestionably the center of local gay politics, the Folsom had become the sexual center."

The draft 28-page report listed a number of steps the city could take to promote the LGBT district, from renaming streets in honor of LGBT historical figures and creating walking tours of the area to designating certain sites and buildings as being of LGBT historical significance.

"We still actively use that document," said Frye. "It is a great resource."

The western SOMA zoning document adopted by city officials earlier this year called for policies that would "protect and support the social heritage resources of the Filipino and LBGT (sic) communities within the plan area."

It listed such steps as surveying, identifying and evaluating historic and cultural heritage resources in the designated zones, such as events and alleys with ties to the LGBT and Filipino communities, and called for the creation of a timeline and implementation plan to achieve the policy objectives.

"We would all very much love to see that happen and continue to advocate for it," said Demetri Moshoyannis , executive director of Folsom Street Events, which produces the annual Folsom and Dore Alley fetish fairs.

The nonprofit events producer had teamed with the Filipino-American Development Foundation to seek city funding for artistic enhancements of SOMA alleys Ringold, Minna, and Natoma. While the proposal was not accepted, the two groups remain committed to the project, said Moshoyannis.

"I think there are tremendous educational opportunities here," he said, such as creating audio or podcast walking tours of the area to showcase its LGBT past. "Some of the artistic enhancements we discussed were very informational in nature, talking about the evolution of the leather community South of Market."

Berkeley to honor Prop 8 plaintiffs

The city of Berkeley will dedicate Tuesday, October 1, in honor of residents Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, one of the two plaintiff couples in the federal litigation that struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8.

The case was named after Perry and resulted in the resumption of gay nuptials in the Golden State during the weekend of San Francisco's Pride celebrations at the end of June. The evening of Friday, June 28 at San Francisco's City Hall Perry and Stier became the first couple to wed following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision two days prior that upheld a federal district court judge's ruling that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.

"I am very jazzed. Berkeley has a history with this subject," said gay Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington . "We were the first city council in the U.S. to endorse marriage equality back in 1997."

After winning election in 1996 Worthington began pushing his council colleagues to pass a resolution in support of same-sex marriage. It passed the following year on an 8-1 vote.

The city wanted to honor Perry and Stier, said Worthington, since it isn't often residents of the famously liberal East Bay city are part of such historic litigation.

"When they were starting this case, it was somewhat controversial in the LGBT community. A lot of mainstream LGBT leaders thought it was dangerous to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court," noted Worthington. "They are mavericks in the Berkeley tradition, believing this was so important we need to take this stand and do it now. It was pretty brave of them."

The city is hosting a free, public event to celebrate the couple, with wedding cookies and cake and other refreshments. It begins at 6 p.m. at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on a plan to erect highway signs bearing the name of deceased antigay state lawmaker Pete Knight.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail


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