An event Monday evening billed as an open conversation about changes in the Mission attracted a standing room only crowd of nearly 100 people who voiced concerns about a range of issues related to what Supervisor David Campos called “a tale of two cities.”
“There’s a great deal of wealth and economic development happening but there’s a great deal of people being left out…We’re at a crossroads and it’s going to take this community organizing to make change,” Campos said before leaving for another event.
Nominally organized by the “No to Jack Spade” campaign, which opposes the arrival of the luxury retailer on 16th Street, the event at the 518 Valencia St Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics touched on homelessness, lack of economic opportunities for longtime residents, the prevalence of Ellis Act evictions, real estate speculation, tax breaks for tech companies and displacement of longtime business owners.
Rose Aguilar, host of KALW’s call-in show “Your Call,” said that she hoped the night would lead to collective action. “I don’t want to end the night without talking about what can be done,” Aguilar said. “I don’t want you to leave being angrier than you already are.”
Most immediately, organizers asked for support at a public hearing on Jack Spade’s building permits on October 9 at 5 p.m. at City Hall and a march against evictions on October 12 at 2 p.m. on 24th Street.
Though speakers focused on different topics, the event revealed a deep well of shared disappointment and anger over the current state of affairs in the Mission.
“This was my home and now it’s gone, and I’m pissed,” said one woman during a portion of the evening for open comment.
The event included a group of six panelists including Mia Gonzalez, owner of the recently evicted Encantada Gallery on Valencia Street, who spoke of how rising rent has displaced small business owners. Gabriel Medina, policy manager of the Mission Economic Development Agency, discussed the lack of job opportunities for longtime neighborhood residents and people of color. Oscar Grande of the organization People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER) talked of the need to ensure that public land is used for public good.
Erick Arguello, president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, shared concerns about developers speculating and trying to push out longtime Latino business owners. “They have these roots and they don’t want to go, but they’re getting pressured,”Arguello said.
Laura Guzman, of the Mission Neighborhood Health Resource Center, spoke on the Mission’s large homeless population, saying, “There’s no real long-term solution on housing…it’s criminal to have the level of poverty we’re seeing.”
Nickolas Pagoulatos, a legislative aid to Supervisor Eric Mar, started off his comments with this directive: “Get pissed off, folks. Anger is a good thing especially in the face of injustice.”
Pagoulatos said that Mar has recently drafted legislation changing how the city defines formula retail, which will make it harder for stores like Jack Spade to open in the Mission.
During the open comment period, more than a dozen people came to the microphone to share stories of displacement and the disconnectedness they felt from new residents, many of whom work in the tech industry and board the large buses that move through the neighborhood every morning and evening.
Martina Ayala, an arts educator in the Mission, said that for an upcoming Dia de los Muertos art show she’s organizing at the Mission Cultural Center “we’re building altars for the businesses that are no longer with us because of rising rents, the nonprofits that have shut down because of a lack of grant money.”
Organizers hoped the event would bring people from disparate communities and organizations together to coordinate around issues that unify the whole neighborhood.
“We need to look beyond individual issues,”Pagoulatos said. “I’m excited to see this particular bisection of people in one room.”
One moment to indicate that the evening may have created just those new alliances occurred when the moderator asked if anyone in the room had contact with the new tech employees.
Chris Murphy, a three-year Mission resident and employee of the startup Zoomforth, raised his hand. Murphy said he’s part of a new organization of tech workers whose companies are based in the Mission. His group, in conjunction with former Supervisor Christina Olague, have begun discussions about the obligations tech companies have to the community where they’re located.
“It’s been very nascent so far, but our goal is to start talking about tech’s role in the communities where they operate,” Murphy said. “Because we don’t operate retail stores, it’s an inherently foreign idea to many tech companies to have any community obligation at all.”
At the end of the evening, Jefferson McCarley from Mission Bicycle and a chief organizer in the campaign to oppose Jack Spade, said, “We discussed a variety of complex issues, that overlapped in sophisticated ways and are important to all of us…People are really frustrated, but they’re not hopeless.”
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