A public meeting to gather feedback on the Mission Street Public Life Plan’s proposals for the improvement of the Mission Street corridor was steered toward a discussion of gentrification and displacement by attendees whose main suggestion was not to implement any improvement program at all.

“It took this meeting like a tidal wave,” said Tom Stolmer, a Mission resident and carpenter who was among the first to voice his concerns.

A team from the city’s Planning Department had set up four stations around the auditorium at the Women’s Building to present their ideas (and some of the community’s existing feedback) for more efficient transit hubs, pedestrian walkways, public seating and more. From movable seating that doubles as lighting at night to transit-only lanes to information kiosks, planners had suggested a wide variety of improvements for residents to peruse and comment on.

After some milling around and some writing of notes on the large poster-style pages with improvement ideas, planner Ilaria Salvadori invited the attendees to be seated for a brief presentation, and from there, things all plans unravelled.  Before the group could be sent back to the various stations to critique individual ideas, commenters cut in with questions, comments, and more than a little frustration.

A representative of the Plaza 16 Coalition delivers its message to planners and residents alike. Photo by Laura Wenus

Andy Blue of the Plaza 16 Coalition delivers its message to planners and residents alike. Photo by Laura Wenus

John Mendoza, of the Calle 24 association representing neighbors and merchants, said he hadn’t heard from the Mission Public Life Plan planners despite their extensive outreach efforts. He was joined by Erick Arguello, the head of Calle 24,  who said the 24th street cultural corridor has seen a reduction in interest from developers after the organization implemented its own, community-sourced improvement plan.

“You need to be talking to us more in depth,” Mendoza said.

“We don’t want any more development, because the neighborhood is being exploited as a theme park for Google” Stolmer said from the back of the room, to applause and vocal agreement.

“None of this is our priority,” said Andy Blue, from the Plaza 16 Coalition. He had prepared a statement for the meeting but ad-libbed as necessary, adding, “That survey, it’s designed to get a response that you want, because you only list the things that you want feedback on.”

More comments flooded in, with residents arguing that the multitude of meetings about the plan was not leading to any tangible changes in the plan that reflected  community feedback.

Marc Salomon, a 25-year resident of the Mission, suggested the planners arrange for an impact report detailing the expected effect of the street improvements on evictions and displacement.

Salvadori and planner Kimia Haddadan, losing patience as they tried to restore a more ordered discussion, emphasized the difference between development and public life.

“We’ve heard this comment a lot and it makes sense that we’re hearing it a lot with all the displacement going on…There are a lot of ideas going around, a lot of ideas for affordable housing. But what this grant is focused on is public space.”

But the appearance of the streets, some residents argued, have a direct impact on property values and subsequent displacement.

“You can’t say the street doesn’t affect rents” said Elizabeth Platt, another local. Later she added, “Look what happened to Valencia. Let that be a warning to us.”

Even Teresa Mejía, executive director of the Women’s Building, voiced some skepticism.

“I know there are some things that I think all of will can agree on, but we need to put on the table this conversation,” Mejía said.

Residents discuss improvement proposals for the Mission Street corridor with planners. Photo by Laura Wenus

Residents discuss improvement proposals for the Mission Street corridor with planners. Photo by Laura Wenus

Salvadori acknowledged the value of the conversation but said that if the community members simply reject all ideas, funding for any improvements would not be secured. She described the plan as focused primarily on pedestrian safety and transit efficiency and less on beautification work like tree planting and bringing in art. She reminded attendees that the planners are not an implementation agency and would not force any changes into existence.

“What we’ve been hearing this year and a half is precisely this. And we don’t need to do anything on this project,” Ilaria said. “It’s not like we are here with a hidden agenda like other people said.”

Soon after, attendees began leaving their seats to regroup and the meeting began to disband into smaller groups discussing the issues important to them personally.

Resident Shirley Johnson chatted with consultant and occasional Mission Local contributor Jennifer Quinn about garbage cans and pedestrian safety at BART plazas.

“I just think we need to reduce the amount of car traffic [on Mission street]” Johnson said. She supported the idea of taking the opportunity to make improvements in the public interest. And while Johnson said she understands the fears about displacement and gentrification, she asked, “but do you want an unsafe street?”

For their part, planners are continuing to circulate their survey on suggestions for the public life plan (which you can take here). They have also issued a call to artists for proposals for a brief public art campaign on the 16th Street BART plaza and on the buses that travel along the Mission street corridor.  A walking tour of the notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly intersection of Randall and Mission streets is planned for February 3, and a fourth open house on the improvement plan will take place February 18.