Protesters Drown Out Developers’ Benefits Presentation

A crowd of listeners piled into the union hall at 18th and Shotwell streets Wednesday night. Photo by Laura Wenus

Representatives from Maximus Real Estate Partners, the company proposing the 10-story building at 16th and Mission streets, had a hard time getting through their short presentation about the project’s community benefits package as more than 200 dissenters chanted,  yelled and disrupted their performance.

Maximus’ proposal has been at the center of debate for years. Housing rights activists say the roughly 300 new market-rate apartments to be built in an area with primarily working class and low income residents will drive up property values in its immediate surroundings and prompt evictions and real estate speculation.

Maximus insists it will mitigate the negative side effects of its construction. The developers intend to raise the playground of nearby Marshall Elementary School, which the new building would cast into shadow, by 15 feet, and to increase the school’s size. Project plans also include provisions for increasing space on the plaza by 40 percent and building 41 units of below-market-rate housing for sale on site. Money from the sales of those units will go toward the construction of an additional 49 rental units off-site.

But the project’s opponents, spearheaded by an aggregate of tenant’s rights and cultural organizations known as the Plaza 16 Coalition, have long made it clear that they are not interested in any kind of development on the BART plaza that isn’t 100% affordable housing. They organized a rally in front of the union building hosting the meeting beforehand.

“If Maximus builds these condos on 16th and Mission, there will be massive gentrification in this neighborhood,” housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca told a gathering crowd. “New people who move in will call the police to get rid of the poor people”

Tommi Avicolli Mecca points toward the union hall where Maximus would present its community benefits package, shouting, "We are not leaving! Maximus, you're leaving!"

Tommi Avicolli Mecca points toward the union hall where Maximus would present its community benefits package, shouting, “We are not leaving! Maximus, you’re leaving!” Photo by Laura Wenus

Cynthia Crenshaw, an SRO resident and member of the Mission SRO Collaborative, was near tears as she addressed the protesters. She lamented the potential loss of the small, affordable grocery she frequents that would disappear if Maximus were to proceed with its plans.

“And what’s going to happen when they push us out?” she asked.

A youth organizer with the activist group PODER, Marilyn Duran, told listeners she was there representing other youth in her community, including those who were unable to attend because they were at jobs they needed in order for them, and their families, to stay in the area.

“Now we all have to work, because it’s too expensive to be here,” Duran said. “I’m born and raised here, and I keep seeing a trend: Evictions, condos, luxury apartments.”

The protesters, as requested, left their signs and megaphones outside and filed in three by three.  They caused no major disruption as they filed in and took their seats, stood in groups, or helped themselves to food served at the meeting. But Maximus communications coordinator Larry Del Carlo only got a few minutes into his presentation about the proposed community benefits (which can be found at the bottom of this post) before he was drowned out by booing, hissing, or speeches delivered via the call-and-response crowd-based amplification technique known as the “human microphone.”

Maria Zamudio with Causa Justa/Just Cause Lola M. Chavez

Maria Zamudio with Causa Justa/Just Cause Lola M. Chavez

When project principal Seth Mallen was introduced, the crowd booed loudly — he bore it with a rueful grin at first. But any attempt to restore order by promising to hear dissenter’s concerns after the presentation, or appealing to the crowd to respect the presenters, were lost in the tide of increasingly heated outbursts.

“I cannot afford to live in the community I helped make, so you tell me how Maximus is gonna help me. You look, and you show me a place where I can live…where I can retire,” said Nancy Obregon, a San Francisco teacher, with the help of the human microphone.

Bianca Gutierrez stood on a chair and introduced herself as the mother of a child with asthma, and expressed her concerns (echoed, again, by the crowd) about the noise and pollution of construction at the school and the disruption to the students’ learning environment.

Protesters appeared to have one objective Lola M. Chavez

Protesters appeared to have one objective Lola M. Chavez

Not everyone shared the views of the protesters. Members of the Laborers Local union 261, whose hall hosted the meeting, made several attempts to quiet the crowd gathered in their hall, asking them to respect the union house. Some called out to Gutierrez that she should give her name, in the same manner as protesters had demanded Del Carlo introduce himself multiple times at the beginning of the meeting. Another confronted protesters and told them he lived in the neighborhood. Work like this project (which will be 100% union built) provides for his family, he said.

“You’re in the labor house,” David De La Torre, secretary-treasurer of the Local 261, had told the activists. “There’s rules of engagement.”

Some labor supporters outside at the rally beforehand. Lola M. Chavez

Some labor supporters outside at the rally beforehand. Lola M. Chavez

Despite attempts to steer the meeting back on track, Del Carlo was shouted down repeatedly by protesters who chanted in English and in Spanish that this was a community meeting, and the community was voicing its concerns. Other union workers, meanwhile, were among the protesters.

“I am a union worker. I do not make $61,000 a year,” Elizabeth De Young, a member of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union Local 2, chimed in. “I cannot afford your housing. My union coworkers who make less than me and also live in the Mission will never be able to afford your apartments.”

“We hear you,” Del Carlo repeated. He responded that for those who could not afford the market-rate apartments, the company would also be building affordable units off-site and below market rate units for sale on-site. He also touted the other benefits of the site, including a “Mercado” with local small business space and a “safer, friendlier” plaza with increased space.

It was to no avail — his points were met with shouts of “lies!” and demands for 100 percent affordable housing projects. The last portion of Del Carlo’s presentation, though his voice was amplified, was entirely drowned out by protesters.

“Hell No, We Won’t Go,” they repeated. Some of them broke into song, singing “Hit the road, Max.” A young activist confronted Mallen, asking him why they were making the rents so high. Others berated the man, asking him, “How does it feel that all these people fucking hate you?” (Mallen, who wasn’t speaking to press that evening, responded that “people have different opinions.”)

Joe Arellano, communications liaison for Maximus, called the meeting “a lively discussion,” and said it was the first of many such meetings. Though the developer has already incorporated some feedback, it seems unlikely the protesters’ demands will be met.

If there is someone that can actually build 100 percent affordable I would sure like to meet them. It’s very difficult to do” Arellano said. “I think we’ve laid out a pretty reasonable proposal.”

An environmental impact report is underway, and the proposal will go to the city and to the school district, which has to approve the changes proposed to the school property. Arellano tentatively estimated that the project might break ground at the beginning of next year.

The general POV of protesters. Lola M. Chavez

The general POV of protesters. Lola M. Chavez

You can see Maximus’ presentation below: 

1979Mission Community Benefits Presentation by MissionLocal

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3 Comments

  1. Paul Zee

    Build baby build! Hope this changes the worse neighborhood in the city. 16th Street is a disgrace.

    Basic econ 101 — supply and demand. Add more supply, prices go down. (ok, it’s SF and that’s not going to happen.) BUT it’s worse to not build while demand continues to grow.

    • Dubocer

      Here, here! Build it, (but lose the BMR units).
      16th & Mission is really disgusting. I’ve lived close by for 15yrs and can’t wait to see it get cleaned up.

      For those of us, who moved to where we could afford i.e. the Mission – we will be glad to see the neighborhood improve.

      Activists can get over themselves. They are disgrace to SF, & we don’t need a generation of new entitled folks, ‘I grew up here, so I should stay’.
      Move to where you can succeed – the rest of the world does this. I did it, so can you.

      Have some courage in yourself – this is A m e r i c a

  2. LN

    “more than 200 dissenters chanted, yelled and disrupted their performance”

    This is inaccurate. All of the attendees were not dissenters. Myself, as well as my other Mission neighbors and others surrounding us, were there to genuinely learn about the project and hear the benefits package Maximus was proposing. Of course we were skeptical, but still wanted to know details in order to potentially push back/make demands in a productive way. Others in the crowd shouted many times that this was a COMMUNITY MEETING but it’s important to note that not all community voices were heard.

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