The melody coming from Francisco Herrera’s guitar was the same as it was three weeks ago, when he sang a plea to community members: “Organize, my brother, organize, my sister. If we organize, we can change the world.”
The message at Tuesday night’s second meeting hosted by United to Save the Mission was slightly different, more straightforward.
“No more monsters in the Mission!” the activist sang in front of a crowd of about 40 community members, who gathered to discuss the building of luxury housing units on Mission Street, such as the 300-plus units planned for 16th and Mission streets.
The goal of Tuesday night’s meeting at Centro Del Pueblo was to come up with ways to take action on six principal concerns that were raised in the first meeting: too many upscale bars and restaurants, red bus lanes, lack of support for small businesses, exclusive spaces created by gentrification, bias in policing, and lack of affordable housing.
Community members split into six groups in the center’s auditorium to suggest two actions each that the activists could take to address these issues.
Carlos Bocanegra, a lawyer at La Raza Centro Legal, began the meeting by announcing that Supervisor Hillary Ronen was discussing a cultural corridor for Mission Street, similar to the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, which would recognize the street as a “special-use district.”
The announcement got a loud applause from the crowd.
Erick Arguello, the second speaker at the meeting, said he helped convince the city that creating Calle 24 was necessary for residents to feel like they played a role in how the community was being shaped. He said some of the concerns being brought up in the Mission today are similar to those brought up on 24th Street.
“The average [attendance] for a lot of these community meetings in the city is about 20 to 30 people,” Arguello said. “We’re continuing to get high participation at these meetings, which will give us better outcomes [in establishing a cultural district].”
While Arguello went over the agenda from the first meeting, the most senior person in the room, Ismael Palacios, 89, who wasn’t at the first meeting, interrupted to give his two cents.
“We’re living in a time where that white elephant has been elected president,” Palacios said. “Now, more than ever, we must unite against the greedy in power!”
Palacios, a Spanish-only speaker, came to San Francisco 45 years ago from El Salvador and has been a citizen since 1974. After the father of four was injured on the job 20 years ago, he moved into Section 8 housing, where his rent is controlled. With a bum right knee, he has trouble climbing stairs and his only source of income is a disability check.
He says he’s one of the lucky ones to remain.
After both organizers spoke about half an hour into the meeting, Bocanegra, the crowd-pleaser, sent the crowd to a table across the room where a stack of pizzas sat.
“I don’t know about you, but I can’t think on an empty stomach,” Bocanegra said to the group.
Over slices of pizza, each table presented their action plans to the other groups, and everyone voted on the organization’s first action.
Pressuring the Planning Commission to get a cultural district for Mission Street was by far the most popular choice.
It was a no-brainer for Susan Cieutat, a Bay area resident of over 30 years.
“It’s a marvelous neighborhood with a very unique culture,” Cieutat said. “What you see at the Brava Theater and the Mission Cultural Center is not what you see at the Orpheum and the Great American Music Hall.”
Cieutat, who doesn’t live in the Mission, cares about the troubles facing the Latino community because she enrolled her daughter at Marshall elementary. She says that because the language immersion school is 80 percent native Spanish speakers, her daughter learned about a way of life that diverged from “mainstream culture.”
“It’s an incredible, valuable thing that this city has going for it that we’re going to lose if we don’t act very, very assertively and aggressively to preserve it,” she said.
Bocanegra says getting the cultural district will be a long-term process. They’ll have to spend long hours on working groups with the city. But he says once the process is over, they can add protections for small businesses and housing.
Bocanegra and the other activists say they will be taking their concerns to the Planning Commission’s meeting next Thursday.