Muralist Carlos "Kookie" Gonzalez, right, voices objections to a proposed 5 story development at 24th and York Streets. Gonzalez led the restoration of the mural as a parole officer in 1995. Photo by Ben Paviour.

Tuesday evening’s rowdy community meeting on a new eight-unit, five-story market rate housing development at 24th and York Street pitted a Mission-bred property owner against neighbors concerned with the scale and affordability of his proposal.

“We’re trying to celebrate the character of the neighborhood,” architect Warner Schmalz of Forum Design said of his Mediterranean-themed proposal.  The building would sit next to Brava Theater at the current site of Coin-Op Laundryworld.

The design includes several 700 square foot one-bedroom apartments, bike storage for residents, and a rooftop garden and balcony.

“So they can look down on the rabble,” muttered someone in the crowd of 50 or so community members.

“There won’t be any rabble,” quipped a sidekick.

Five minutes into Schmalz’s presentation, a handful of the residents packed into  St. Francis Fountain launched into yells and chants. The developer fought back.

“The architecture is compatible, sympathetic, and sensitive to the history of the community,” Schmalz asserted.

“You’re talking to the community, and I don’t think the building fits in!” an attendee shouted.

“I’m also part of the community, and I think we should let him talk,” interjected another audience member.

Site of the proposed development. Photo by Ben Paviour.

A call and response “mic check” chant rose from the back of the room: “We oppose your project/We do not need this building/We need family housing/…/What you’re proposing–”

“Do the clowns have any more questions?” interjected a middle-aged man in the front of the room.

The room calmed and the meeting wore on.

The property’s owner, Johnny Muhawieh, reminded the group that he’d been in the neighborhood since 1963, when his family moved to the Mission from Palestine and operated a grocery store as well as the laundromat. “My time [running the laundromat] is up,” he said. “I’m not evicting old ladies or nothing.”

Rendering of the proposed development at 2799 24th Street. Courtesy of Forum Design Architects.

Brava Theater Executive Director Stacie Powers Cuellar acknowledged Muhawieh’s right to develop the space. “But how much is enough to retire off of?” she asked, to applause from the crowd. “[The plan] is a slap in the face to all of the people who have put coins in your laundromat.”

Muhawieh shook his head.

Cuellar offered to help find financing for the community to buy the building, and others suggested that Muhawieh contact the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) about purchasing the plot and turning it into affordable housing.

Muralist Carlos “Kookie” Gonzales, who led the 1995 restoration of the “Y Tu, Y Yo, Y Cesar” mural honoring Cesar Chavez and slated to be destroyed by the demolition, voiced his objections to the proposal’s scaled-down mural canvas. “I can’t stop Johnny,” he said. “But we need a bigger wall to save the art. This is going to be shoved down our throats.”

Architect Warner Schmalz, right, and laundromat owner Johnny Muhawieh, second from right, listen to audience members speaking out against their proposed development. Photo by Ben Paviour.

Over objections from his father to keep quiet, Jabra Muhawieh disagreed with Gonzales.

“It’s not historic – a mural is not history.”

“Child, you need to go back to school and study history!” called out a woman in the back of the room.

The meeting concluded more civilly than it started. Community members told stories of families living in studio apartments, in closets, and beneath the bridge. Muhawieh and Schmalz  sympathized and attempted to separate their development from those stories.

As the crowd dispersed, Schmalz softly warned Muhawieh of the long battles ahead: though they’d conducted the community meeting required of the process, the development is still in the early stages of environmental review. Next, they’ll face the Planning Commission–and the vocal opposition activists who’ve promised to delay the process.

“Kookie” Gonzales seemed resigned to the development. “If he’s going to do it, give us the mural,” he said. Gonzales said he would come up with a new design. “Maybe with some of the people that is no longer with us,” he said as he admired his old mural.

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  1. I was at this meeting, it was so sad to see five or six people being so disrespectful the entire time, one guy was obviously high out of he’s mind , people were taking about their stories that had nothing to do with anything, the one lady just wants the owner(s) to give the building to them ,for low housing . Their were many people there in support of the project, just couldn’t say anything without being interrupted every single time,
    Best of luck

  2. As I’ve said before, no one has “a right” to live in San Francisco. I’d like to live in Atherton or Hillsborough, but I can’t afford it. Fact of life. Get over it and quit this incessantly whiny, bigoted behavior folks! It’s sounding more like Montgomery, Alabama 50 years ago here every day. I thought we did away with deed covenants decades ago. Are you advocating reinstating them? Sounds like it to me.

  3. This looks like a very reasonable contribution to the neighborhood–please don’t give up. These rude hecklers at every community meeting about housing should not be allowed.

  4. “The community” in this instance appear to be a bunch of extortionists led by Stacie Powers Cuellar who are trying to strong arm Muhawieh into turning his building over to them for a fraction of its value.

  5. I support this 100%!! We need housing people! Who is Stacie to decide how much a person should retire off of. What she said was ridiculous. The building looks really nice to. Look at the big picture people!!

    1. Looking at the big picture, this building will hold 8 1 BDR units priced at market rate. Likely, they will cost upward of 1 million per unit. A working class family cannot afford that price. Working class families are outraged that they are being priced out of the city. When the city becomes too expensive for service employees such as teachers and nurses to live here, then the quality of service residents receive will decrease. Housing rights activists want the city to step in and find a way to ensure that affordable housing is built. Some are saying that we should ban any market rate housing until we find a way to bring in development that is affordable. There are developers that specialize in building affordable housing. Not all developments need to be luxury or so-called market rate. It is possible to make a really good profit without charging so-called market rate prices. A diverse city is more sustainable. Therefore, I agree, moratorium on new housing until a real solution comes about. If you don’t agree, do some research on how many new units would need to be built for the price per unit to come down based on supply and demand. While you’re at it, look into whether or not the city of San Francisco actually has the infrastructure (sewage, water supply, power grid) to support an increase of population that would result in affordable housing. Let me know how it goes!

      1. This is a small project. It’s the government’s job to give affordable housing! Not small business owners in this case. If you know anything about business the free market will dictate what the rents are. For example rent control has not helped keep the rents down is San Francisco because people don’t move and force other units to go so much higher. Therefore the more housing we have the better it is for everyone.

      2. There’s no law stating that a development of this size has to have units that are a certain size or price. What right do you have to dictate to this person what they can and can’t do with their property if what they’re doing is within the zoning guidelines?

        If you have a problem with this, start a campaign to change zoning laws. This guy is playing by the rules, and you’re actively trying to stop him from doing what he’s allowed to do, and why?

  6. A local small business owner in the neighborhood for *50 years* plans to build more housing without displacing anything but a few washing machines and there’s STILL objections? There is nothing wrong with this proposal other than some folks who don’t like and don’t want new people moving in. Do you know what the word is for “a state of mind where a person obstinately, irrationally, unfairly or intolerantly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.”?

    1. Honestly, people will oppose anything these days. Doesn’t matter how little impact it has, if any. It’s insane, and it’s one of the main reasons housing is so expensive. I’m not sure why people get understand the link between making it hard to build housing and how expensive housing is.

      1. If we’re talking policy choices, rather than one specific location.

        Sure, if correctly done the planning restrictions that make it hard to build housing will value to the location, and also the price will be higher. The developmental restrictions in San Francisco and along the California cost have added 100 of Billions of dollars value to the State. They have preserved a beautiful coastal area. They have preserved wildlife, and given the public the chance to have wonderful days at the beach. If the people of California removed the restrictions to build along the coast, a small number of people would benefit, but the state would lose.

        Evan, you do have a choice, There are cities in China and Texas that have very open and “wild west laws” for building development, and as you correctly point out, the housing in those locatons is cheaper. California and San Francisco has chosen a different path, and has been well served by that path. The preserve the environment path, take a longer view path, has worked well for our State and City. As a person, or with your company, you’ve got location choices, and can vote with you feet by moving to those locations will serve you better.

  7. I was at this meeting, it was so sad to see five or six people being so disrespectful the entire time, one guy was obviously high out of he’s mind , people were taking about their stories that had nothing to do with anything, the one lady just wants the owner(s) to give the building to them ,for low housing . Their were many people there in support of the project, just couldn’t say anything without being interrupted every single time,
    Best of luck

  8. Every time one of these top-of-the-market rate buildings gets erected, it’s a missed opportunity to create affordable housing for families. It’s infuriating, so I understand the outrage expressed at the meeting.

    1. I completely agree that we need more affordable housing in SF (especially for the people stuck in the middle who make too much to afford subsidized housing and make too little to afford market-rate housing), but given the obscenely-high construction costs here (SPUR estimates over half a million dollars for each 800-square-foot unit), where will the money come from?

    2. It’s also HOW affordable housing gets built. When developers build market-rate units, they pay into affordable housing funds or put affordable units on site. How do you think this stuff gets funded?

    3. It is not private individuals’ job to provide affordable housing. The City is completely at fault for shirking its duty.

    4. What’s infuriating is this counterproductive opposition to development. These people are making problems worse for the very people they think they’re fighting for. It’s almost comical.

      Affordable housing for families already exists all over the city. It’s called “old” housing. Unfortunately, due to people like this blocking every single attempt to build anything new, we have far too little housing to go around. Therefore, the price of all the housing that ought to be affordable is driven up.

      Building BMR units only helps a very small handful of lucky people who manage to get into it. Building market rate units helps drive down rents for EVERYBODY.

  9. Hola mis hermanos de San Francisco, hace mucho tiempo atras mi Ciudad como la llamamos muchos de nosotros, en aquellas epocas era bastante colorida, con los famosos que se estaban por ser, hoy mi ciudad cambia vertiginosamente como un Big Ban en la tecnologia y nosotros como personas sencillas que apenas llevamos el Pan de cada dia, ahora con esta llegada que paso no podemos estar a la par ya que ellos son otros, pero aun asi me quedo con mi Ciudad, hermanos quieridos no destruyamos ese colorido de ser la mejor Ciudad del Mundo. los quiero a todos el que llega a mi Ciudad.

  10. Donde estan mis hermanos, que caminos tomaron….?, enceguecidos por los destellos o ahogados de repente por la nueva ola humana, que deja espacios minimos para nosotros la comunidad latina. Ayer estabamos los “carnales”, hoy estamos contaditos. Laburando para otros y quien sabe si el manana habra un trechito pa’ nosotros.

  11. Is there any group or individual in the Mission pushing the City to spend the in-lieu fees paid by developers when they don’t include BMR apartments in their new condos? What is David Campos doing today and everyday to get deeply affordable housing constructed in his district?

    Sure, it’s grassroots democracy to see folks showing up and shouting at the developers and contractors and architects, but I think there also needs to be a plan or a list of _doable_ demands to create the much-needed housing.

    At the Plaza 16 site,, this is one of the demands from the May 8 City Hall protest:

    “Create a Mission Housing Committee that is accountable, open, transparent, and oversees bottom-up for-profit housing development in the Mission and develops a long term ten year strategic plan to preserve and expand affordable housing in the Mission.”

    What does this mean, in plain English and who exactly in the Mission wants another layer of bureaucracy created, and what is bottom-up for profit housing development?

    I’ve not seen evidence that the likes of Plaza 16 Coalition leaders and their ilk can handle a few issues at any one time. A few months back, there was talk of holding workshops to educate and empower folks about the Planning Dept and Planning Commission.

    After folks received Planning Commission facts 101, more activists would likely have the knowledge and power to pressure the commissioners to better address the needs of the Mission. Where and when are those workshops happening?

    1. their ilk? please. And, by the way, There have been 2 Planning process training workshops so far, including meeting with 2 Planning Commissioners last night. The Moratorium needs to be enacted, so we can take a breath and make up a plan that will include affordable housing being built NOW, as a priority, in the Mission. We lost 8000 Latino families from the Mission in 10 yrs. We can’t keep building more and more luxury housing and ignore the impact on displacing the working poor in the Mission.

      1. Glad to know about the two training about the PC. Let’s hope those who attended are soon exercising power at the hearings at City Hall.

        What happened at the Board of Supes on Tuesday about sending the Campos moratorium to a committee for a full hearing?

        By the way, every time someone raises the matter of 8,000 Latinos folks displaced from the Mission in the past ten years, I feel it necessary to point out that Campos has been at City Hall in one role or another since 1999.

        Did he just wake up this year to the de-Latinization of the Mission?

      2. Who does this displace? Just out of curiosity, why do Latino families matter more than anyone else? You DO realize that building more housing like this is what keeps the techie folks from buying buildings and evicting folks so they can remodel them, right?

        1. in fact, i don’t think that’s true, Joe. I think that if you build a bunch of luxury housing in a poor neighborhood, the neighborhood gets gentrified and small mom and pop taquerias get displaced for high end restaurants and services. if you build it, they will come. and they’re coming in a swarm.

          1. The Mission isn’t a poor neighborhood, and hasn’t been for a VERY long time – at least not the last 10-15 years. If you want to see poor, go to the slums in Mexico City, or Johannesburg. People live in earthquake-stable buildings with electricity, running water, sewage that can handle toilet paper, etc. They have access to public transit, they have access to public education, there are jobs here. Nothing about the Mission is poor.

            People want to live in the Mission because it has easy freeway access (for all the tech folks working down the peninsula), the weather is GREAT, there’s easy access to downtown, there are a ton of great restaurants, so on and so forth. This change has been happening for a long time, and gentrification has taken hold. If you want to slow it down, at all, you will do anything you can to keep people from having an incentive to sell their buildings. A moratorium on new development will only force developers to look to buildings that they can renovate, rather than do new buildings. And that means buying up the buildings with tenants, and evicting them.