Before Axis Development’s presentation about its 2675 Folsom Street proposal had even begun, activists and neighbors enlisted chants, children and derision to make clear their opposition.
“This is a public service announcement,” a woman said during one interruption. “You have encroached on our land. And we regret to inform you, you are not wanted.”
“We just want to let Axis know that we’re opposed to this one hundred percent,” said Erick Arguello of Calle 24.
The project in question is a 117-rental-unit multi-story building to be built in place of the restaurant supply warehouse currently behind Parque Niños Unidos. 17 of the units will be rented at below market rate rents. At its pre-application meeting last night at Cesar Chavez Elementary, Axis partners said they will make sure the required affordable units get built on site rather than paying an in-lieu fee.
Despite its dedication to the on-site affordable housing and the recruitment of David Baker Architects, a local firm known for its below market rate and public space projects as well as its market rate and commercial designs, most at the meeting declined to listen.
For one thing, the site was at one point being eyed by Jamestown Community Center to develop community services, said Jamestown’s Executive Director Myrna Melgar at the meeting. A mural created by Jamestown youth still graces its Folsom street wall.
The other point of contention is the addition of vastly more market-rate than affordable units in a city and a neighborhood that has fallen far short of its affordable housing construction goal. And, as activists reminded those at the meeting, several community leaders have been pushing for a moratorium on market-rate development in the Mission.
As the presenters moved through their slides and described their vision for the project, they were shouted down by those there who used the “human microphone,” a protest tactic where amplification of one person’s announcement is achieved by speaking in segments and having the group repeat it.
“We are done negotiating for the crumbs you throw,” another man said. “It ain’t about one more unit of this or one more thousand of that.”
The voices raised against the project included that of Ciara Matas and her young son Robert, who took to the microphone to tell the developers how he had been evicted because of sky-high rents in the city.
Several of the interludes were concluded with the phrase, “the community has spoken. You may continue.” But some community members faced as much opposition as the developeres.
One woman, who voiced her support for affordable housing, asked if the developers might consider providing public resources like, for example, a community garden. Hisses and scoffs bubbled up behind her.
“We don’t care!” shouted someone.
“You may not care, but I do! And I live here too,” the woman said, before passing the microphone on.
The next commenter, Adrián Bermúdez, also chastised her: “The young lady spoke in a very naive way,” he said.
Similarly, when Sonja Trauss of the San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation pressed the developers on why they wouldn’t consider amending their proposal to create a much larger construction, others at the meeting began shouting “SFBARF go home!”
Despite the obvious tension, however, both developers and opposition seemed to count the evening as a success, if not a victory, and certainly the beginning of a long road ahead.
“Before, developers used to come and give their whole spiel and then take questions at the end. Now, the community says, no, you listen to us first,” said Oscar Grande, a community organizer.
Grande acknowledged that the road to actually blocking the 2675 Folsom project would be a long one, but his community has a plan. If the meetings don’t get the developers to back down or compromise (perhaps by selling the land to the city and negotiating a contract instead for an affordable development), the activists will take their cause to the planning commission and to the Board of Supervisors.
“We’ll try to jam them up every step of the way,” he promised.
For Axis, the benefit of the meeting came after the actual presentation.
“I’ve had individual conversations, and I value that more,” said Muhammad Nadhiri, one of the Axis partners. Both he and his partner Theo Oliphant said they understand the frustration about evictions and high rents.
“A big part of it is that people see there have been developments here that didn’t build BMR units on site,” Oliphant said.
They want to do things differently, and hope their affordable units will offer an opportunity for some of those displaced from the community to return . Though its too early to tell if it’ll be a possibility for this development, Oliphant said he’s worked on other projects that included certificates of preference for displaced tenants to return to their neighborhoods. Both said they would continue to reach out to community organizations to see where the proposal might be improved.
Adrián Bermúdez was one of those who remained behind to talk with Nadhiri and Oliphant one-on-one long after almost everyone else had left. He reiterated the demand for 100 percent affordable construction, and then encouraged the developers to take advantage of all the resources at their disposal to make a completely affordable development a possibility.
“You guys could become the heroes of this damn city,” he told them.