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Generating New Dollars

August 12, 2017

City tosses beleaguered nonprofits $4.5 million. That was the headline on the front page of June’s edition of Central City Extra, our community newspaper. In response to this temporary-fix measure, Brien Cheu, director of community development at the Mayor’s Office of Community and Housing Development, was quoted as saying:

Is it possible, if we came up with some creative financing, to create a substantial, multitenant space, along commercial corridors where transportation is easy, especially by low-income individuals? Rather than focus on rent subsidies we want to create as many structural fixes as we can, so we’re not back here in another five years.

Well, Mr. Cheu, many of us in the Tenderloin and arts community have been wondering the same for years now. In fact, if we approached you with an opportunity to build exactly such a multitenant space for several cherished arts and education groups along a very prominent commercial corridor with very easy public transit access, what kinds of creative financing might you have in mind?

In the article Supervisor London Breed noted that the ADA-compliance work needed at the African American Cultural Center on Fulton could alone absorb nearly the entire $2 million of the allocation earmarked for the arts. The same could be said for work needed to get CounterPulse up and running at 80 Turk, or the Luggage Store Gallery on Market. I know LINES Ballet was absolutely thrilled just to get hot water heaters installed; my goodness maybe we can do better by one of the world’s most renowned dance companies in our own hometown. There are many examples.

Still, the appropriation is a start. Two years ago, over twenty community-based arts, education, service organizations (and one affordable housing developer!) signed a letter requesting that the city capitalize on the boom in property taxes and create a fund to reinvest in the neighborhood for long-term structural stabilization solutions. We got a “no,” with the rationale being improving the neighborhood would gentrify it.   Ironically, our failure to be creative, as Mr. Cheu is now calling for, left us in a weakened position to respond to the displacement of nonprofits resulting in the very gentrification those advocates who opposed creative public measures claimed they were concerned about. A self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy.

City Hall was for a local “capture and reinvest the property tax boom” mechanism before it was against it. In spring, 2012, at a breakfast hosted by farmerbrown, Mayor Ed Lee addressed a prominent group of Tenderloin/mid-Market arts & education stakeholders and local foundations and announced he would get behind the formation of a local property tax capture district to invest in neighborhood projects.

From the March 27th, 2012 memo the Office of Economic and Workforce Development staff prepared for the Mayor to prep him for the breakfast:

NOMNIC’s Board feels very strongly that for complicated, ambitious projects like 950 Market and others to come to fruition, the City needs to find a financing source.  Your Central Market Economic Strategy agrees and calls for the pursuit of an Infrastructure Finance District (IFD).  IFDs would arguably be an achievable city funding strategy given its utilization would help underwrite the development of cultural/educational facilities at 950 Market, the Strand and Market Street Cinema.  NOMNIC is also looking into other finance mechanisms such as a cultural/educational facilities bond to take on mid-Markets derelict properties.

A blast from the not-too-distant past! At that time my old crew NOMNIC (better known as the Tenderloin Economic development Project, now ably led by the dynamic Anh Nguyen) and I were fighting to make 950 Center for the Arts happen and were also advocating for repurposing other major derelict assets like the Market Street Cinema, Crazy Horse and the Strand.   We envisioned a multi-tenant 950 Center for Arts & Education, a new landmark home for the beloved Alonzo King LINES Ballet Dance Center up the block, and a mid-Market destination for the annual SF international film festival at the new home of the San Francisco Film Society. (Initially very skeptical, SFFS’s visionary Graham Leggat was warming up to mid-Market before he tragically passed.)

The mayor hasn’t acted on the finance district yet. Word is some in city hall got concerned about communities all through the city wanting their own tax districts, creating a chaotic situation for the city. Also, some key local affordable housing developers declined to support it because there wasn’t money for new construction affordable housing through the readily available post-redevelopment tax capture mechanism (IFD).

While we haven’t heard from the mayor again and his staff is now reportedly hostile to reinvesting local tax dollars in the Tenderloin, Supervisor Kim took initiative to create a fund based on property tax revenues so the precedent has been set. Maybe we don’t need to form a district after all and can just add more to Supervisor Kim’s recently created fund. We can call it the “After Decades of Neglect, Exploitation, and Extreme Socio-Economic Segregation We’re Going to Reinvest the Gains from the Tech-Fueled Real Estate Boom for the Benefit of Equitable Development for Tenderloin Residents. Fund. (Forgot the F word.)

And, also very encouraging, director Brian Cheu is calling on city hall to get creative. So maybe the door is still open. Maybe there’s still time.   I of course have to think so with so much at stake. If not, let’s at least have the integrity to be straight-up with our arts community and tell them we’re cool with their moving elsewhere if they can’t make it in San Francisco. Unless, of course, that would result in big empty dark spaces on Van Ness, in which case we might finally get inspired and float a bond measure for the arts.

It was a unanimous vote by the Planning Commission.  Congrats to Craig Young and ilana Lipset!  The public comments were across the board positive, though there was one from an undefined mid-Market “coalition” that expressed concern about the risk of “psychological displacement” as higher-income residents move into the neighborhood.

Psychological displacement.  I’m guessing this means that the Tenderloin’s poor, living in protected rooms/housing, will look at the new people moving in – their new apartments with toilets and fire sprinklers, the businesses that cater to them (the Black Cats, the Biigs), maybe the clothes they wear – and feel an immediate need for psychological counseling services?

This, by the way, is a primary reason why the arts are so important.  We want a level playing field to counteract “psychological displacement?”   Then we should invest heavily in arts facilities, public markets, playgrounds, rec centers where we all can meet, break bread, and share these fundamental human experiences regardless of our backgrounds.

Here’s my admittedly non-scientific take on the situation.  Nice people who have money will move into both 1028 and 950.  They will be neighbors and interact with the Tenderloin’s nice people who have little or no-money.   Have money, have little money, have no money – we will all be nice people together.  Of course, there are low-income, middle-income and high-income people that are jerks, but we’ll deal with them.   There will be a yellow one that won’t accept the black one, that won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one.  And different strokes for different folks.  And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

As a simple guiding principal I propose: New or long-term resident, rich or poor, you respect the Tenderloin – and its residents – or you need to leave.

Poor people are not necessarily helpless people.  Quite the contrary; in the Tenderloin you will find some of the strongest people you’ve ever met.  No psychological counseling necessary, though moving toward a healthier, more integrated community, sharing the same stuff everybody needs, would be nice.  Time for the champions of segregation to step aside.  We’re all Everyday People.  Oh sha sha.  We got to live together.

A big shoutout to Krissy Keefer and Dance Brigade on their brilliant 40th Anniversary Celebration at YBCA.  One of the most daring and life-affirming works of dance choreography I’ve ever witnessed.   Happy Anniversary!

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Krissy Keefer – creative, visionary genius behind Dance Brigade


30 Years of Luggage

January 31, 2017
The Legacy
 
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The Future
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21 Club Reunion

January 31, 2017

Frankie, Veronica, George, John, Cookie, and of course Joanne of Jonell’s at Ellis & Jones. Many other Tenderloin old timers and residents.    The problem-bar-that-had-to-be-shut-down crowd.  Happy.  Hugging each other.  Celebrating.  The powerful and positive life-energy of the 100K+ Women’s March was palpable everywhere in the Tenderloin as the crowds streamed into the neighborhood afterward.  It was fitting to host the reunion at Jonell’s on that evening: Jonell’s run by three women who have been in the Tenderloin for ages and are not to be messed with.

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21 Club icon Frankie (left) and Chef George @ Jonell’s.  Old TL theater stage hand John photobombing.

 

A lot of the old 21 Club crowd has since moved over to Aunt Charlie’s across the street.  I’ve moved over with them.  Aunt Charlie’s has the same “All are Welcome” vibe that Frankie’s place always had.  Joe and Barry, the barkeeps, have been there for decades. José and ninety-plus year old Bob, who has travelled the world, have been there for a mere 14 years or so.

That’s what I loved about Frankie’s.  It didn’t matter who you were, whether you had money or not, lived in a SRO or Pacific Heights mansion.  Your race, whether you did time (so long as there was no violence), who you slept with, none of that mattered.  (It helped if you were a Giants fan though.)

During 21’s last few years the corner @ Turk & Taylor got really rough.  Lots of drug trafficking and violence, culminating the night when eight people were shot outside. Frankie himself was a non-escalation Buddha master.  He had a disarming way with people.  The girls selling crack outside would come in sometimes to use the bathroom, but they never disrespected the place by trying to conduct business there.  Frankie was easy with people and loved by everyone.  He would only get irritated when the press reported shootings at the 21 that actually took place outside on the corner.

The new watering holes in the Tenderloin – the Black Cats, the Biig and the like – are fancy joints.  I’ve walked by a couple of times and have seen zero Tenderloin residents hanging out.  They’re “Uptown” establishments whereas 21 was, and Jonell’s and Aunt Charlie’s are, definitively Downtown.

Biig now occupies 21 Club’s notorious old corner.  They discuss seasonal drink concepts with patrons.  I don’t understand what’s so complicated; haven’t they heard of scotch?

I’m just kidding, I’ve had one wee dram too many  – Lagunitas 16! – courtesy of two dear friends of mine.  (I know what you’re thinking – I should be drinking Ron del Barrilito!)   I shouldn’t be a snob or hater, there’s way too much of that going around.   I have my own nostalgic inclinations that can lead to ignorance and intolerance for others. I’ll save up and stop by for a seasonal drink consultation one of these days, though I can imagine pops in heaven looking down at me and having a good laugh.   Pops, and Brooklyn/Queens Mets fans (after losing their beloved Dodgers), were Schaefer or Rheingold Extra Dry people.  (You don’t even want to talk about the Yankees.)   I remember driving by Schaefer’s giant plant each day on the way to the factory in Greenpoint.

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In the meantime, see you all at Aunt Charlie’s.  I don’t care what the plaques say – it’s in Downtown Tenderloin, and we don’t need the federal government to tell us where we are, who we are, or how important we are.

Forty-two years at Turk & Taylor.  Bon voyage Frankie.

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The Glass is 63.71 % Full

January 31, 2017

I salute the organizers who pushed last year’s Proposition S campaign to near victory and in the process built a strong foundation on which the arts community’s resilience can grow, especially now that federal resources are being eviscerated.

63.71 percent and counting!  Check-in with Arts for Better Bay Area to learn what’s next.


 

Friends when you need them most.
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Laurie Lazer, Luggage Store Gallery

 

 

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Judy Young, Vietnamese Youth Development Center

 

 

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Terrance Alan, Tenderloin Economic Development Project

 

 

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Darryl Smith, El Jardinero

 

 

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Debra Walker, Artist

 

 

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Krissy Keefer, Dance Mission