Community Meeting on New SF Mission Housing Turns Ugly

En Español.

In a testy community meeting Wednesday night that saw homophobic remarks shouted across the room and frequent interruptions of speakers, a new 55-unit market-rate building planned for Mission and 25th Streets drew ire from a crowd that voiced a central theme: Build 100 percent affordable housing on the site.

The meeting concerned a planned development at 2918 Mission St., a site next to the Childhood Development Center and currently occupied by a laundromat and parking lot. Robert Tillman has owned the laundromat there since 1998 and bought the land in 2006 after an eviction attempt by the previous landlord.

The six-story complex would include seven below-market-rate units in accordance with city law — and may be bumped up to 68 units overall if Tillman uses a state density bonus law that rewards him for including those below-market-rate units. During the meeting he expressed an openness to selling the building to the city to build affordable housing, but at what he called a fair price.

Because the laundry business took a hit in the last decade, Tillman sought to build housing on a spot that would only displace his own business, a no-brainer in his eyes.

“If you can’t build housing in San Francisco at that spot, then you can’t build it anywhere,” he said.

The community meeting tested that statement.

In one of many tense moments, Noemi Sohn, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, was interrupted in an exchange that led a woman to tell a man to “go back to the Castro” because he did “not belong in the Mission.”

“I am tired of these meetings,” Sohn began, saying community meetings never had good resolutions. “I’m sorry, [but] poor and working class people are no longer —”

“Basically we’re telling you San Francisco is not for sale, the Mission District is not for sale. Let’s do the right thing,” interrupted Rafael Picazo, a Mission resident who easily drowned out Sohn’s attempts to finish her thought.

“The right thing would be to let that lady finish talking,” said a man in the back. “That’s the right thing.”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” countered Picazo.

“Yeah I do,” the man shot back. “It’s very rude of you, she was trying to speak, let her finish.”

“I don’t care what you say, I ain’t even tripping,” said Picazo before a woman named Esther addressed the man in the back.

“That doesn’t matter to us, gay man back there,” Esther said. “Go back to the Castro where you belong. You don’t belong in the Mission.”

The crowd immediately hissed and shouted down the comment, and Picazo distanced himself from Esther by saying “it had nothing to do with that.”

The development from the back, bordering Osage Alley.

The development from the back, bordering Osage Alley.

 

But the exchange revealed the irascibility of a crowd that bounced between pertinent comments and high-volume dissent centered on a wide-range of topics: too much parking, too little parking, the height of the building, the loss of a laundromat, a lack of community outreach, and the project’s effects on the school next door.

“Their privacy is going to be at risk when you have balconies overlooking the school,” said Zoila Manzan, a parent with a child at the school next door. She also pointed to the sound and pollution dangers that construction might bring, and said the project would be a major disruption. “I should feel safe where my child is at.”

Tillman agreed, and said he was also concerned about having parking for the building go through Osage Alley where children might be at risk, but that the city would not permit him to have an entrance on Mission Street.

But beneath the various back-and-forths lay the meat of the issue: The crowd wanted the project to be fully affordable and feared the contribution such housing would make to displacing existing residents.

“We are opposing this project as is,” said Erick Arguello, a member of the merchants’ association Calle 24. “It’s not meeting any of the needs of this neighborhood. We need this to be 100 percent affordable housing.”

Though it was unclear if opposition would vanish even if the project were fully affordable, leading Tillman to ask: “Do all these objections still apply if it’s 100 percent affordable?” People seemed split on the issue.

Marie Sorenson from Calle 24 and Lou Dematteis, a photographer and activist who lives nearby, said they would still be against a six-story affordable housing building because its height would not fit the character of the neighborhood. Sorenson said high-rises create wind tunnels and was adamant that the Mission is a “two to three story community,” while Dematteis said housing is often used as an investment and doubted that denser buildings would necessarily ease housing pressures.

Arguello too decried the Manhattanization of San Francisco and the height of the building, among other complaints, but did say it would be a step forward to have the project become fully affordable.

“The best thing to do is to sell the property to the city,” he said.

Something the property owner said he is willing to do, under one condition: The city must buy the land from him, entitlements and all, for $250,000 a unit — the same price it recently paid to transform a 72-unit market-rate building at 490 South Van Ness Ave. into affordable housing.

“I agree it would be an absolutely good place for [affordable housing],” said Tillman, the property owner. “Where do I sign? If not, can you please let me build [my building], so that I can build some housing in the Mission?”

But for the project to be fully affordable, the city would need to become involved to raise the funds necessary to buy the land and develop the property.

Tillman is meeting with Supervisor David Campos on Thursday and said he is open to selling, but not for “less than it’s worth.”

Dairo Romero, for one, is unconvinced. A community planning manager at the Mission Economic Development Agency and nearby resident, Romero said he did not want developers to think they should be able to get $250,000 per unit as with 490 South Van Ness Ave., a sale that was controversial because developers originally purchased the site for $2.5 million but sold it to the city for $18.5 million.

“We shouldn’t be giving this profit to these people,” said Romero, speaking in his capacity as a resident. “We don’t want property owners to start to think that they can ask for a lot.”

Tillman said he would not sell it for less because he’s already sunk a chunk of his money into beginning the entitlement process.

Whether the project goes fully affordable or not, the meeting, just the first in a long application process, revealed the heated opposition — some on-point, some not — developers face to the idea of another mostly market-rate development in the Mission District.

“There’s a lot of anger, a lot of pain,” said Arguello about comments during the meeting. “When we look at it, what are the benefits [this project] is getting for us?”

Correction: A previous version of this article did not specify that Dairo Romero was speaking as a nearby resident and not as a representative of the Mission Economic Development Agency.

25 Comments

  1. Where the heck was that lazy-ass politician David Campos in his 7 years as Supervisor, and many more years working at City Hall in various capacities and sitting on a panel or two, showing _any_ urgency as the housing problems worsened in the Mission?

    I can’t recall Campos taking serious action before or at the start of the eviction epidemic. Did I miss his hearings about evictions before he ran for state office? What is his plan for building affordable housing?

    Sorry, but Campos endless complaining about how City Hall, as if he hasn’t been a fixture there for ten-plus years, isn’t “saving” the Mission is not a plan.

    May I suggest Plaza 16, MEDA, Calle 24, ACCE, the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, Housing Rights Committee, Tenants Union, Latinot Democratic Club, and all the other nonprofits and community based groups put pressure on Campos in his last months in office to _finally_ create a plan for housing and implement it?

    The Mission deserves a better Supervisor.

  2. Juan Antonio Valdez

    This crowd sounds like a fun group

  3. Jim Doogan

    What a reprehensible bunch.

    A nice side effect of their idiocy is that they’ll be gone soon enough due to the housing problems they’ve created and still support. Then maybe the smarter people can come in and build, build, build.

    • Anthony LoBaugh

      Mr. Doogan not a reprehensible bunch. If your comment is based on the same article that I read there is frustration and that often leads to cooler heads, thoughts not prevailing. Having said that, at the very least they are showing up and participating towards some possible common ground in the longer view. The reprehensible bunch, which you may be a part of, is probably not understanding the lifelong history many have to this neighborhood and city. My mother moved us from Denver, CO to SF, CA in 1970. What is your lifetime investment here, if any? A nice side effect to your idiocy is that it is simplistic, not informed and lacking and empathy fort others. On the sidelines yelling at the game with no particular stake in the outcome, other than selfie-ism. Maybe, and it is likely, smarter people will come in and build and build smarter neighborhoods where the dumber Jim Doogans languishing in my city won’t fit in, but need to move to a more appropriate state. Kentucky will be a good destination.

      • “My mother moved us from Denver, CO to SF, CA in 1970.”

        Great job mom! It’s not easy to relocate a family over such a long distance. To successfully execute a move like that as a single mom is even more extraordinary. However, from your tone, you make it sound as if this actually entitles you to something.

      • I wasn’t in the meeting but my read of this article doesn’t incline to think the crowd was angling toward much of a common anything.

        Too much parking/too little, “it has to be 100% affordable”…but that won’t cure the rest of the grievances. I’m new to the argument here but it seems people often resort of the history of corruption, and to seniority as red-herring arguments agains new construction. I don’t understand how the supply/demand equation can be so thoroughly ignored.

        That said, again, I’m new to the convo and still investigating to understand.

  4. John Thompson

    There should be another few hundred affordable houses already built if they didn’t fight every damn building. Think of how many in just the past two years that have been delayed. That would be a few hundred more househols staying in the mission to help support more affordable housing. This is seven more affordable units that will be delayed or never built becasue of NIMBY’s or 100% affodarble crowd. As it goes, I think Jim Doogan is right. sad.

  5. Bruce Williams

    What a side-show. It’s a perfect location for housing (affordable or otherwise), and the comments about it being out of scale or negatively impacting the community are insane, or just short of it. MEDA, Calle 24 and other neighborhood organizations need to start getting out of the way of good, neighborhood enhancing projects. Personally, I’d love to see affordable housing on site, but the owner is precisely right…either the City should pony up the same (RIDICULOUS!) price they put forth for 490 South Van Ness, or they should get out of the way and let him build it. It looks like a good, thoughtfully designed project that will be a great improvement over the current use.

  6. Andrew Benson

    “That doesn’t matter to us, gay man back there,” Esther said. “Go back to the Castro where you belong. You don’t belong in the Mission.”

    As a gay dude, I’ve never cared to live in San Francisco: I don’t get the appeal, and the insane rent makes me want to barf. But I had always assumed that in San Francisco I would be exempt from verbal gay-bashing, such as being told to live in a ghetto away from the straight people. Boy was I wrong.

  7. For those of you commenting here who don’t know about the YIMBY movement, a grassroots effort has arisen to counteract the NIMBYism that is making housing not just in San Francisco but the entire Bay Area unaffordable. The SF Bay Area Renters Federation is dedicated to cutting through the endless red tape and political obstacles that have long prevented housing supply from keeping up with demand and resulted in thousands of people in SF being homeless on the streets. Visit SFBARF.org for more info. There will also be a YIMBY conference happening on January 28 at 7pm, 1355 Market Street. It’s time that we stopped allowing people who’ve already got theirs to block homes for others.

    • Jake

      Really, it’s a grassroots effort? It’s earned quite the astroturf reputation. Truss has a nice salary from corporate source, they meddle anywhere they can get publicity, attract fringe activists (Dewsnup). Yimby for SFBARF is more accurately “Yes, in YOUR backyard.” The founder was quoted as stating, if you get tired of getting drunk at the bar, you can take over local politics. Is this really the best approach to solving housing issues?

      • Jake, people say all kinds of things, and many are all too eager to label any effort they disagree with as “Astroturf”. But the reality of what I’ve seen as an activist with SFBARF is just the opposite. There are large numbers of mostly young people actively involved on their own terms, and often disagreeing about various issues, with virtually nothing “corporate” about it.

        Your comment about SFBARF attracting “fringe activists” (whatever that means) also kind of undermines your charge that it’s an “Astroturf” group, as do Sonja’s off-the-cuff remarks like the one you mention.

        Sonja’s last name is Trauss by the way, not Truss, and while she’s received some donations to allow her to do this work as her full time job, I don’t believe she is working as anyone’s salaried employee or that she is receiving more than the median income in this city for her efforts, if that. But if you have any information beyond the vague and unsubstantiated claim you’ve made here, by all means share it, I’d like to know myself.

        As to your allegation that SFBARF’s take on YIMBY means “Yes in YOUR backyard”, that is very strange. Are you trying to imply that most of us don’t live here? I know that is false, because I just saw a contact list at our recent YIMBY Party event and the vast majority of the addresses on it were San Francisco ones, with a handful in Berkeley or other places. I myself live in the Mission/Castro area, and have for years.

        • Oh, and aside from a couple of free drinks at an SFBARF happy hour, I haven’t gotten a dime from the group or its supposed corporate benefactors for my many hours of activism.

      • Lester G.

        what do you mean “your” backyard? The bay area is everyone’s backyard. Also, Sonja Trauss’s $30k/yr salary is hardly lucrative, and donations come from many sources including poor renters such as myself. Do your research better, or get out of the way and let economically literate people try to solve this crisis that has been 40+ years in the making.

  8. Ross

    The city should pay the owner the $250k/unit that he’s asking for. They should then immediately double the number of units allowed on this lot, thereby halving the effective price of land per unit.

    Anybody who wants the Mission to remain a “two to three story community” is delusional. That’s only feasible if you also want the Mission to become an exclusive enclave for the wealthy.

  9. Paul

    How about no new housing in SF, affordable, market rate, or luxury? Until we realistically invest in infrastructure and mass transit, this city simply cannot support more people.

  10. Bettye Jones

    Maybe “Esther” needs to go back to from where she hatched.

  11. Jaime

    This was my first mission meeting. I was shocked by the behavior of the Calle 24 members and the racist, homophobic, threatening show they put on.
    – After shouting an array of disgusting things at the developers young daughter, one of the Calle members left their seat and moved to where the developer daughter was sitting, then they stood there hovering over her for the rest of the meeting.
    – The homophobic slurs
    – One of the Calle 24 members repeatedly said “Whites aren’t welcome here”
    – A well dressed, very articulate self identified community organizer defended all of this disgusting behavior and said their was no reason to apologize.
    These bullies do not represent the community or the city, they are just the loudest most obnoxious voices.

    • My suggestion is to put GoPro’s all over the room before anyone arrives and then upload the meetings to YouTube. If people can’t behave, their friends and family members as well as other neighbors and community members need to be alerted to their aggressive and nasty behavior. What they are doing is nothing short of what was done to Ruby Bridges in the 60’s and it needs to stop. I think there are going to have to be police/lawyers at the meetings to enforce law and order.

  12. James

    It’s encouraging to see the local activists change their tone from a racist one, to something more homophobic. Calle 24 truly is a “big tent” organization.

  13. Ricardo Ruiz

    Everyone needs to relax. Hilary will fix everything

  14. You know what I find amusing about all these community meetings? These arguments are the same ones that conservatives use when talking about immigration. Because it is on a local level in San Francisco no one says a thing. But if these things were being said in a conservative red state or people were trying to control the influx of people who were poor (not well off) or trying to stop changes happening in a neighborhood, the national guard would be called in and you would all be forced at gunpoint to accept the changes. It is OUTRAGEOUS that a man who owns his own property and want to build a 6 floor building that displaces NO ONE has to go and listen to a bunch of people who have no BA in urban planning and just run their mouths. I think we need to start a petition on change.org to get a law on the ballot making these community meeting’s illegal. Why in the hell people are allowed to have input on other people’s properties is insane. That is what the city government is for, not the torch and pitchfork crowd. If I were that man, I would record the meeting and everyone who spoke out I would find out who they were and then send videos of their behavior to their employers. See how they like having their lives screwed with. San Franciscans like informing on each other? Two can play at that game…….

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