Panel discusses changing Mission. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

In a public forum sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday, community activists, experts, and city officials took on the thorny questions of how to preserve the character and vitality of the ever-changing Mission District, and what exactly that means.

It’s a question that is clearly of some interest. An estimated 300 people or more packed the auditorium of Mission Dolores Academy which housed the forum. But for several in the audience, it felt like a lot of talk—for many residents the rapid gentrification and displacement has already impacted their communities.

“I’m tired of hearing everything we’ve heard today,” said Rosabella Safont, a Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) employee, during a Q&A after the panel discussion. “I want to see some parity for low-income people. What’s going to happen after this forum?…Nothing is going to happen until someone makes some changes and sees that it’s almost too late for many people.”

Moderated by Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli, who was part of the team that did a special eight-month multi-media reporting project on the changing Mission which was screened in part on Tuesday’s event, the panel discussion of six included a wide spectrum of ideas.

Representing community activism and neighborhood development, Erick Arguello, president of Calle24 merchants association, Luis Granados, executive director of MEDA, and Fernando Marti, co-director of Council of Community Housing Organizations (CHOO). Bay Area Council policy director Adrian Covert represented a more moderate, pro-development stance. Senior adviser to the Mayor Jeff Buckley offered the city’s perspective. Miriam Zuk, a research fellow UC Center for Community Innovation, shared her academic research on gentrification in the Bay Area.

“The people here may disagree about various issues in next hour, but everyone in this room is here because they care about this neighborhood and San Francisco,” said Garofoli to open the discussion. “Tonight we want to talk about solutions… what can city and neighborhood do to protect people and businesses that made the Mission what it is, while acknowledging that change is happening at a rapid pace?”

Given recent conversations about a potential moratorium on new market-rate construction in the Mission, the panel discussion dwelled on this issue for some time.

Erick Arguello explained that Calle24 had spent six months conducting focus groups with numerous residents and businesses in the newly created Latino Cultural District and the issue that kept coming up again and again was affordability and land use issue.

“A moratorium on market rate housing gives us time to evaluate what’s happening,” said Arguello.  Mission Local’s own discussions with more than 20 residents and employees of 24th Street revealed a range of opinions and thoughts on development.

“The Mayor is supportive of trying to maintain cultural integrity of neighborhood,” said Buckley and explained that the Mayor’s Office is concerned that blocking market-rate development will further effect communities already being pushed out by new residents who can afford more.

Adrian Covert of the Bay Area Council, a group that advocates for small businesses regionally, warned against any slow down on housing.

“Silicon Valley is not good at creating housing,” a problem Covert explained because the region is increasingly creating jobs and attracting new residents, and that creates pressure on San Francisco’s housing stock. “The idea of a moratorium is to take a Silicon Valley approach and we’ll get gentrification on steroids.

Fernando Marti, whose non-profit advocates for more affordable housing in the city, said a temporary moratorium on market-rate housing isn’t without precedent. In 2000, as the Planning Department crafted the Eastern Neighbor’s Plan, developers had to halt new construction.

“At the time, the Planning Department was able to figure out the impact of all this new housing,” said Marti. “Without moratorium we wouldn’t have been able to figure that out.”

Regarding ideas to protect the existing communities of the Mission from wide scale displacement, the panel discussed several approaches. Buckley said the Mayor’s Office was fast tracking affordable housing projects and was very interested in the small-site acquisition program—a $3 million fund that enables the city to buy small rental buildings to create permanently affordable housing. Marti said evictions need to be curbed significantly.

“There aren’t too many success stories,” said Miriam Zuk, referring to the Mission’s current issues as a fairly new problem. “Chinatown might be a model. It has very similar dynamics and many of same pressures and it’s been able to maintain the population.”

Zuk explained that Chinatown has a larger stock of well regulated SROs and affordable housing. It’s also a neighborhood that has special zoning controls.

Supervisor David Campos arrived following the panel discussion to share his thoughts on the changing Mission and to address criticism of his recent announcement to support a potential market-rate housing moratorium.

Of his critics, Campos said: “They’re talking about supply-side economics, they want to bring Reaganomics back. They think if you build luxury housing it will trickle down.” In an op-ed published this morning in the The San Francisco Examiner, Campos goes into more depth on this argument, and specifically calling out his fellow Supervisor Scott Wiener.

Following the discussion, a Q&A session highlighted the frustrations many in the audience felt about the city’s inability to create more affordable housing and protect longtime residents.

“I have been applying for affordable housing for 11 years, what are you going to do for me?” said one woman in the audience, who identified herself as a single mother who has lived in the Mission for many years.

“Is there any hope?” she asked.

“No!” shouted someone in the audience in response.

In his comments during the discussion, Luis Granados of MEDA said one of the biggest things he thought needed changing is that,  “we collectively have to have a sense of urgency.”

You can view a recording of the panel discussion and QA in its entirety below:

Daniel Hirsch

Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top...

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