Another project has gotten the go-ahead following mediation between developer and activists by Supervisor Hillary Ronen and her staff.
The project, 1726 Mission Street, plans to turn a former sausage factory near Duboce Avenue into 40 units of housing with a commercial ground floor. The activist group Our Mission No Eviction then appealed the project’s approval, putting it up for a vote at the Board of Supervisors.
Rather than ask the Board to take an up-or-down vote on the project, however, Ronen was able to mediate the talks until the parties came to an agreement: The sponsor of the project, the LLC Sustainable Living and its managing member John Dennis, will make one more of the 40 units in the proposed building available for sale at below market rate. That brings the total number of units in the building deemed affordable from seven to eight, or 20 percent.
Sustainable Living also agreed to lease the ground-floor space for light industrial purposes — often called Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) — at below market rate for 10 years. There will also be a mural painted on the site visible to the street.
With the appeal withdrawn, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last Tuesday to affirm the project’s approvals.
As Scott Weaver, an attorney and tenants rights activist who brought the appeal, said: “She gets the job done.”
Ronen has told Mission Local in the past that “I can’t imagine a better use of my time as a district supervisor.”
Her staff, it seems, is also playing a key role. Legislative aide Amy Beinart joined the staff about a month ago with a focus on land use and housing, and jumped into the 1726 Mission St. negotiation.
Beinart said these deals hinge on both parties being willing to budge, but also to focus on specific goals to move toward.
“The goal is for people to focus on what they’re able to achieve, to look at realistic circumstances and to walk into it with an open mind and a good spirit,” she said. “Some of these kinds of mediations move forward and some don’t.”
In this case, Beinart said, the developer was willing to share his finances for the project and illustrate candidly where compromises could be made.
It’s unclear which project will be the next to avoid an appeal. At the moment, Ronen’s office is monitoring the progress of several completely below-market-rate buildings — 1950 Mission St. (the site of a current Navigation Center) and 490 South Van Ness Ave. are among them.
But with dozens of market-rate developments also proposed around the Mission, activists are likely to keep the pressure on developers to provide more community benefits.
In fact, Weaver, though he admitted Ronen’s office has been efficient, is far from satisfied with the result of the negotiation.
The deal was “the best we could get” without having to take on the expenses of pursuing opposition all the way through the Board of Supervisors appeal process, and then suing the developer if the appeal had failed with the Board, Weaver said.
“We’re not happy about it,” he said. Still — “It’s a small project. It’s only 40 units. So it’s hard to get really upset about it … But, you know, it seems like we’re giving a lot of ground.”
Some might consider 20 percent affordability, which is more than the roughly 17 percent minimum that was originally required by the city, a success — especially on a relatively small project.
Weaver and other activists, however, measure in terms of the proportion of new buildings that will be rented or sold at market rate. The lost ground, then, is this project clocking in at five percent more market rate units proportionally than 1515 South Van Ness Ave. and 2675 Folsom St., two other projects approved after a deal was made.
“The community is losing more than it’s gaining, and I think that’s the source of a great deal of frustration,” Weaver said.
He said it won’t take very much longer before neighborhood activists decide to go whole hog and take a developer to court for, say, being out of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
“I don’t know when is going to be the breaking point where people will say, ‘that’s it,’ but I don’t think it’s too far away just judging from people’s frustration,” Weaver said. “At some point, we’re just going to have to say, ‘enough is enough.’”
One group has already been projecting that message: The Plaza 16 Coalition, a vocal opponent of the 1979 Mission Project at 16th Street, has repeatedly vowed to reject any proposal on that site that is not entirely below-market-rate. A hearing date has not been set for the project, but opponents have already made a request to the Planning Commission that its hearing be held in the Mission District. It’s unclear whether that request will be granted.