In a testy community meeting Wednesday night that saw homophobic remarks shouted across the room and frequent interruptions of speakers, a new 55-unit market-rate building planned for Mission and 25th Streets drew ire from a crowd that voiced a central theme: Build 100 percent affordable housing on the site.
The meeting concerned a planned development at 2918 Mission St., a site next to the Childhood Development Center and currently occupied by a laundromat and parking lot. Robert Tillman has owned the laundromat there since 1998 and bought the land in 2006 after an eviction attempt by the previous landlord.
The six-story complex would include seven below-market-rate units in accordance with city law — and may be bumped up to 68 units overall if Tillman uses a state density bonus law that rewards him for including those below-market-rate units. During the meeting he expressed an openness to selling the building to the city to build affordable housing, but at what he called a fair price.
Because the laundry business took a hit in the last decade, Tillman sought to build housing on a spot that would only displace his own business, a no-brainer in his eyes.
“If you can’t build housing in San Francisco at that spot, then you can’t build it anywhere,” he said.
The community meeting tested that statement.
In one of many tense moments, Noemi Sohn, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, was interrupted in an exchange that led a woman to tell a man to “go back to the Castro” because he did “not belong in the Mission.”
“I am tired of these meetings,” Sohn began, saying community meetings never had good resolutions. “I’m sorry, [but] poor and working class people are no longer —”
“Basically we’re telling you San Francisco is not for sale, the Mission District is not for sale. Let’s do the right thing,” interrupted Rafael Picazo, a Mission resident who easily drowned out Sohn’s attempts to finish her thought.
“The right thing would be to let that lady finish talking,” said a man in the back. “That’s the right thing.”
“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” countered Picazo.
“Yeah I do,” the man shot back. “It’s very rude of you, she was trying to speak, let her finish.”
“I don’t care what you say, I ain’t even tripping,” said Picazo before a woman named Esther addressed the man in the back.
“That doesn’t matter to us, gay man back there,” Esther said. “Go back to the Castro where you belong. You don’t belong in the Mission.”
The crowd immediately hissed and shouted down the comment, and Picazo distanced himself from Esther by saying “it had nothing to do with that.”
But the exchange revealed the irascibility of a crowd that bounced between pertinent comments and high-volume dissent centered on a wide-range of topics: too much parking, too little parking, the height of the building, the loss of a laundromat, a lack of community outreach, and the project’s effects on the school next door.
“Their privacy is going to be at risk when you have balconies overlooking the school,” said Zoila Manzan, a parent with a child at the school next door. She also pointed to the sound and pollution dangers that construction might bring, and said the project would be a major disruption. “I should feel safe where my child is at.”
Tillman agreed, and said he was also concerned about having parking for the building go through Osage Alley where children might be at risk, but that the city would not permit him to have an entrance on Mission Street.
But beneath the various back-and-forths lay the meat of the issue: The crowd wanted the project to be fully affordable and feared the contribution such housing would make to displacing existing residents.
“We are opposing this project as is,” said Erick Arguello, a member of the merchants’ association Calle 24. “It’s not meeting any of the needs of this neighborhood. We need this to be 100 percent affordable housing.”
Though it was unclear if opposition would vanish even if the project were fully affordable, leading Tillman to ask: “Do all these objections still apply if it’s 100 percent affordable?” People seemed split on the issue.
Marie Sorenson from Calle 24 and Lou Dematteis, a photographer and activist who lives nearby, said they would still be against a six-story affordable housing building because its height would not fit the character of the neighborhood. Sorenson said high-rises create wind tunnels and was adamant that the Mission is a “two to three story community,” while Dematteis said housing is often used as an investment and doubted that denser buildings would necessarily ease housing pressures.
Arguello too decried the Manhattanization of San Francisco and the height of the building, among other complaints, but did say it would be a step forward to have the project become fully affordable.
“The best thing to do is to sell the property to the city,” he said.
Something the property owner said he is willing to do, under one condition: The city must buy the land from him, entitlements and all, for $250,000 a unit — the same price it recently paid to transform a 72-unit market-rate building at 490 South Van Ness Ave. into affordable housing.
“I agree it would be an absolutely good place for [affordable housing],” said Tillman, the property owner. “Where do I sign? If not, can you please let me build [my building], so that I can build some housing in the Mission?”
But for the project to be fully affordable, the city would need to become involved to raise the funds necessary to buy the land and develop the property.
Tillman is meeting with Supervisor David Campos on Thursday and said he is open to selling, but not for “less than it’s worth.”
Dairo Romero, for one, is unconvinced. A community planning manager at the Mission Economic Development Agency and nearby resident, Romero said he did not want developers to think they should be able to get $250,000 per unit as with 490 South Van Ness Ave., a sale that was controversial because developers originally purchased the site for $2.5 million but sold it to the city for $18.5 million.
“We shouldn’t be giving this profit to these people,” said Romero, speaking in his capacity as a resident. “We don’t want property owners to start to think that they can ask for a lot.”
Tillman said he would not sell it for less because he’s already sunk a chunk of his money into beginning the entitlement process.
Whether the project goes fully affordable or not, the meeting, just the first in a long application process, revealed the heated opposition — some on-point, some not — developers face to the idea of another mostly market-rate development in the Mission District.
“There’s a lot of anger, a lot of pain,” said Arguello about comments during the meeting. “When we look at it, what are the benefits [this project] is getting for us?”