Rendering of 600 South Van Ness, courtesy Leavitt Architecture.

In a familiar scene Monday night, neighborhood activists gathered at a presentation by a developer of a new project in the Mission. The former didn’t like what the latter had to offer—namely, too much market rate housing and too little below market housing.  Too bad, responded the latter in more or less words.

“Tonight was about becoming familiar with the project, if you’re walking through the door looking for some big controversy I’m not going to have it,” said Joe Toboni the project’s sponsor, who added that he’s lived in San Francisco his whole life.

The specifics of this scene: a 27-unit rental project at 17th and South Van Ness developed by the Toboni Group for that corner’s currently vacant lot. The group of about ten neighborhood activists at Monday’s meeting oppose the project at 600 South Van Ness because it doesn’t have enough below market rate housing. If approved by the Planning Commission, it will pay about $2 million of in-lieu fees to the city’s housing funds rather than build on-site affordable housing.

“At this time in the Mission we don’t need anything like that – Who’s going to be able to afford it,” asked one woman at Monday’s meeting held at the Mission Vocational School.

“I know things have gone down in the Mission, I know there’s a lot of out of town developers, but don’t put that all on me,” said Toboni.

With 600 South Van Ness set to go before the Planning Commission at the end of this month, its sponsors  weren’t there to hear feedback but to appease activist complaints of inadequate outreach. Toboni and his lawyer Steve Vettel said they had done their required outreach years ago as part of the plan’s preliminary project assessment in 2013, but the activists wanted more.

“I asked that this meeting get scheduled because the Planning Department isn’t doing its part in notifying neighbors about these projects,” said Eddie Stiel, who said the 300 feet radius of neighbors that receive notifications about new projects isn’t sufficient. “These are big projects that affect the whole neighborhood.”

“This is a sham!” shouted some one during the course of the meeting.

In a neighborhood that’s filled with new, large-scale developments the $2 million dollars—which is enough to subsidize eight below market units with $250,000 per unit—didn’t feel like much, activists said.

“There’s just too much market-rate development, and its cumulative effect is making the neighborhood unaffordable,” said Erick Arguello, president of Calle 24 Latino District. “The reason people are so frustrated is that this system designed years ago isn’t functioning. The money you’re giving city isn’t going anywhere.”

The Mission has three sites that have been slated to be developed as affordable housing with city funds that have remained in limbo for years.

“I’m taking all that to heart, but it’s just too late for this project,” said Toboni.

Vettel explained that the Mayor’s Office of Housing said they’d prefer in-lieu fees for this project, because more units could be built with that money then the small percentage that would be built on-site under city requirements—about four.

After several minutes of back and forth about the lack of affordable housing in the neighborhood and the developers inability to create more on-site units at 600 South Van Ness, Toboni said the meeting was over. Several lingered to complain about the faults of a system that keeps yielding the same results.

As neighbors began filing out, Toboni said he thought that the meeting went just okay.

“I don’t think it’s positive to have these town hall style meetings, people are all stoked up,” he said. “I personally think a lot of these people’s beef is with the mayor’s office. Tens of millions in developer fees have gone to city and affordable housing projects aren’t getting built.”

600 South Van Ness heads to the Planning Commission April 30th.

Update 4/24: The Planning Commission has continued deliberations on 600 South Van Ness, it will now be hearing the issue on May 21.  

For more on the latest in the ongoing housing story, and predict which development will stoke a fight. Check out our page Housing Watch.

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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 of Bernal Hill.

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  1. In order to insure that the affordable units affiliated with this and all other market priced developments is to require that Certificates of Occupancy for the below market units — wherever they are — be issued before Certificates of Occupancy can be issued for the market rate units. That way, the lower cost housing will have to be complete and available before the more expensive housing can be occupied.
    All this would take would be a vote of the Board of Supervisors and signature of the Mayor. They all say they’re in favor of lower cost housing. This is an easy way. We have all noticed that the lower cost housing never seems to get built. This would ensure that, even if it’s built in a different neighborhood through the “fund.”

  2. Why am I not surprise that the City would prefer the $$ than the affordable housing? SOMEONE has to pay off the Twitter payroll tax gift, and yet again, it’s the working poor that $$ & make THIS CITY RUN. It is truly sad to see the loss of diverse culture in the Mission for $$ …the kids who make it are gone all day, at least their private shuttles protect them, but WHAT DO THEY GIVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD?! let’s remind them that this is not a crash pad but a neighborhood! especially when they don’t see us on the sidewalks, or run us down in their Porsches– the new norm car in the hood! all we are saying is SEE US, KNOW WE WERE HERE AND HAVE SOME COURTESY .

  3. one reason for not getting 100’s of people down to city hall is – how can working people take time off work to demonstrate? some could get canned if they don’t show up for work.

  4. Good questions and points, John. I too wish all the Mission “organizers” and activists were targeting politicians and others at City Hall – all the time.

    On a Friday, a day when City Hall is quite empty of pols and workers, May 8 at noon there will be a rally by these folks. Yes, good they’re heading to City Hall but not on a day when the BOS are meeting or the Planning Commission is hold a hearing? What’s the point?

    Probably that the nonprofit “organizes” need to justify their paychecks.

    There are hundreds of Mission folks who could be a force to be reckoned with at City Hall, if the tired, old ways of progressive organizing — dominance by a few nonprofits or friends of Campos, people looking to move up the political ladder — were replaced with better ideas and leadership.

  5. This article seems like an Op-ed. I came to the meeting for awhile. Why wasn’t there anything written about the supporters like the woman who said she feels unsafe because the lot is a haven for drug dealing and crime. Or how 8 units offers more affordable housing then 4.

    The sponsor also said that the only other building he built in the Mission is occupied by 95% section 8 residents. He also said he was raised by a single mother and he is on the board of two charities in the Mission.

  6. “The reason people are so frustrated is that this system designed years ago isn’t functioning. The money you’re giving city isn’t going anywhere.”

    Exactly! This is the true problem, but instead of protesting at city hall to the folks controlling all this housing money, they are protesting the developers who are the one putting money in the affordable housing coffers. Without new development, there would be no new money in the housing fund. You can ask developers to put affordable units on site, but that isn’t what the law says and they are following the law. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. The folks controlling the game are the city supervisors and politicians. Why not protest outside each of the supervisors houses until they get affordable housing units in construction?