Angry neighbors confronted a group of landowners and an architect proposing a five-story,17-unit building at 24th and Capp streets in a meeting Monday night that lasted nearly two hours and ended with few clear conclusions except that neighbors want more affordable housing on the corner.
The building proposed for 3230 24th St. must squeeze into a narrow, triangular lot, currently home to eight parking spaces and walls full of murals. The lot’s shape makes it difficult to fit enough units on the site to make the project pencil out financially, but the property owners, the Galu family, presented the proposal as the best use of the space because of the city’s need for housing.
They hope to rent the completed units, two of them at below-market-rate.
Several neighbors, however, said they see the project as a gentrifying force in the neighborhood.
The mood began to sour early on, during a discussion of a large wall on the 24th St. facade of the project that architect Lev Weisbach said would be reserved for a mural. Someone asked whether they had a muralist in mind already, which the architect did not.
“We don’t want to tread on anybody’s feet,” he said.
“You’ve already done it,” the resident retorted.
Neighbors pressed the property owners on how much they expected to be earning from the units in the building. At first they demurred, but then offered that market rate for a studio was about $2,000 a month.
“All I can say is we’re not rent gougers,” Joe Galu said.
“What’s most needed in the neighborhood is the families who already live there,” activist Raeleen Valle-Brenes said.
The conversation leapt from one topic to the next, often with several conversations occurring at once among the dozen or so people in attendance.
At one point a woman, irritated by the architect’s tone, walked out of the meeting. Speakers admonished each other about interruptions, which were plentiful, or in some cases, told the architect they didn’t want to hear from him anymore.
The neighbors, again and again, reiterated the desire for below-market-rate housing.
The Galus and Weisbach emphasized that they were a small team and locally based – the Galu family has owned property around San Francisco for years and the brothers were born and raised in San Francisco. The project, they said, is relatively small, and not being put forward by a large, out-of-town corporate developer.
“You guys walk in here as if you know who we are or what we are,” Weisbach told the group.
“I know that you’re trying to gentrify the neighborhood,” a neighbor said.
“Why don’t you step up your game to at least a third?” asked Carlos Bocanegra, a housing rights lawyer, referring to finding ways to add below-market-rate units.
Bocanegra wanted to know why Weisbach and the Galus hadn’t started their calculations at 30 percent below-market-rate and worked backward to something that would yield them an acceptable profit margin. The developers emphasized that building on the lot would be expensive as it was – and would be more so with requests from the community for union labor and other concessions.
Erick Arguello, president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, wanted to know if the property owners would accept Section 8 vouchers, which they said they would consider.
Roberto Eligio Alfaro, executive director of the Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth, or HOMEY, said residents have been addressing dozens of proposals around the neighborhood in the hopes of getting more affordability.
“We have people spending their days and nights trying to figure out what these projects are going to mean for us,” he said. “Just don’t be telling me that just because it’s gonna be $2,000 for a studio it’s doing me a favor.”
Later, someone brought up the figure again, pointing out the relative insanity of the local housing market.
“I was born and raised in the Mission also, and I own a piece of property that was passed down and we want to make it a reasonable piece of property to pass forward,” Galu said.
“To whom?” the neighbors asked.
“To my grandkids. To the Mission, to the people that live in the Mission,” he responded.
“You think 17 units $2,000 units for 300 square feet is gonna be for the Mission?” Alfaro asked. “If you really are from here then you should think about that.”
“Is that my fault?” Galu wanted to know.
“It’s absolutely not your fault, but I’m trying to be real about this,” Alfaro responded.
“It may not be your fault, but you have choices moving forward,” said Wendy Bardsley, another neighbor. “You could sell it to the city.”
Galu wanted to know whether the city would provide fair market value, and had doubts about whether having the city put affordable housing on the site instead, given the pushback against the proposed housing, would be feasible.
“Why do I have to be a give-back-er?” he asked.
More feedback. Then, Galu offered a counterpoint: “Look at this building they built on Mission Street. Or the one on 15th,” he said, possibly referring to large developments like Vida and Vara, each with more than 100 units. “That’s not this.”
“When that got built on Mission so many businesses closed,” said Bardsley. “It affects all of us.”
“Do you want a vacant lot?” Galu asked.
“No, I want affordable housing,” Bardsley responded.
But if affordable housing isn’t an option, then what? Arguello from Calle 24 reiterated his alternative suggestion, namely that the developers build a parking structure instead of housing. Weisbach said the city had rejected that idea outright; Arguello said in his conversations with officials, it seemed doable, because the area is part of the Latino Cultural District.
In the District, Arguello said, special rules apply.
“Everything that comes to this area has to meet the standards of the Latino Cultural District,” he said.
Weisbach said the proposal had changed since earlier talks with Calle 24, with the bay windows now angled at 45 degrees to make them softer, and some color and greenery added. In talks with the city, he said, he had discussed that housing buildings are meant to fit their surroundings, not be landmarks.
One element, however, did stand out: A tall, slanted front end of the building, meant to evoke both a Mayan temple and a train — since the lot gets its triangular shape from rail lines that once traversed the corridor — was not to the neighborhood’s tastes. The architect’s proposal to leave the space blank and uninterrupted by windows in order to facilitate the creation of a mural didn’t seem to convince the residents, who were more focused on its shape.
“It looks like a monster,” said neighbor Rick Hall. As if to clarify, he walked up to the slide Weisbach had projected onto a screen, and circled the offending portion of the building rendering with his hand “What is this thing?”
It was a wall, designed to angle away from the adjacent building’s windows and enclose a stairwell, while also allowing access to the existing murals on the site, which would be preserved. But distaste for the prominent accent was one of the few things that crystallized out of the discord.
Little else was agreed upon. Several residents asked Weisbach and the Galu family to return with additional, alternative designs. For now, the project will continue to go through the planning process to win environmental review, gather community input, obtain cost estimates, and submit a site permit application.