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.
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.”
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.”
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.