Leaders from three different communities razed by displacement shared their experiences and offered ideas on policy-based strategies to thwart gentrification in a day-long workshop hosted at the Mission’s Galeria de la Raza on Monday.
Though separated by hundreds of miles, the struggles of Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights, San Diego’s Logan Heights, and San Francisco’s Mission District run parallel, agreed community activists, preservationists, and city planners from each of the these neighborhoods who convened to discuss what has worked — and what needs to happen next — in keeping these communities in tact.
“I see stark similarities in these communities,” said panelist Carolyn Vera, an activist fighting the gentrification of Boyle Heights. “I hope to see connections form on how we can try to organize, create strategies, and use urban planning policies to promote equitable and livable neighborhoods for low-income communities.”
These strategies could come in the form of organizing, community planning, or cultural preservation. Titled “Displacing Gentrification,” the workshop came as part of the California Preservation Foundation’s 2016 statewide conference, with a number of events and workshops taking place throughout the city from April 16-20.
Using state law to address displacement locally, City Planner David Diaz explained how community organizers could implement the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, as a tactic to halt development projects. The law has long been a thorn in developers’ sides.
“The adoption of the CEQA is a diamond of democracy,” said Diaz, explaining that under this law, developers are mandated to reveal a “true, comprehensive roster of issues” that are going to negatively impact communities in the long-term.
In San Francisco, Diaz said communities should push for environmental review even of small projects to build the case that a lack of affordability leads directly an “undue regressive impact” for minority communities and small businesses.
“We have to say that all these small actions over a two to four year period are having a devastating structural impact and that the city has to start to address it by revisiting the entire residential permitting process,” said Diaz. “The city should continue to have a real estate market but that market, in order to get building permits, has to self-discipline and has to respond to the affordability crisis.”
Community organizing as well as documenting historic context are other crucial tactics in changing city zoning laws and putting in place protections to combat displacement, for which the Mission is “ground zero,” said Anne Cervantes, director and founder of the San Francisco Latino Historical Society.
Cervantes hoped that the dialogue generated throughout the day would provide those in attendance with the “tools and connections” to building a statewide partnership and lay the foundation for launching legislative initiatives against displacement.
“There is a network here of city planners, housing and community organizers with the tools we need to fight back,” said Cervantes.
Other speakers shared their experiences organizing against displacement and preserving cultural heritage in their respective communities.
Activist and arts consultant Josephine Talamantez, a native of San Diego’s Logan Heights, or Barrio Logan, spoke of activists’ struggles in placing San Diego’s Chicano Park and its murals on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Founded in 1970 after a 12-day protest against a Highway Patrol Station that was planned to be built at the site, the park is a pillar in Barrio Logan’s Latino community and was built as a response to displacement caused by the construction of the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge and the community’s previous division by the construction of a freeway.
“We were at one point in the 40s and 50s the second largest barrio on the West Coast with about 20,000 residents,” said Talamantez. “But after the freeway and the bridge were built, we went down to less than 5,000 residents.”
Talamantez said that Barrio Logan’s issues are similar to those faced by San Francisco’s minority communities, including the Mission, but that local strategy will have to take a housing crisis into account.
In the Mission, the 24th Street corridor was recognized as the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District in May 2014 because community members and merchant merchants wanted to to preserve 24th Street’s Latino legacy.
But the recognition is a “a good thing and a bad thing,” said Talamantez.
“Preservation at one point has to be tied in with housing,” said Talamantez. “What’s a community? It’s not just about preserving the structures, the buildings. It’s about preserving the people.”
Diaz, the city planner, said that one way to address the housing crisis is to implement the environmental review strategically to “force the city to require developers to build affordable housing on site.”
As the workshop concluded, Cervantes suggested legislation at the state level to halt Ellis Act evictions.
“Another tool that we need for the other communities is a moratorium on the Ellis Act,” she said.
Erick Arguello, who heads the Calle 24 merchants association, also attended the workshop and spoke to the need for a statewide effort to protect housing for minority and working class communities.
Along with City Planner Claudia Flores, Arguello discussed the Mission Action Plan 2020, an effort between city agencies and community groups aiming to offer solutions to the affordability crisis with strategies such as tenant protections, housing preservation, and building new affordable housing. The plan is expected to be presented in June or July.
“We need to address housing,” said Arguello, adding that learning about the strategies of other neighborhoods is valuable in building “a broader coalition here in the neighborhood, the city and statewide.”