Robert Tillman said he had no reason to gloat after winning a major victory to entitle his project. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Last week, the Board of Supervisors declined to vote on an appeal of an eight-story, 75-unit project that is to replace a laundromat at 2918 Mission St. Instead, the vote will take place once a study answers the question of whether the building is a historic resource. It will take at least four months.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, in whose district the project would rise, moved to table the project “to determine its potential significance as a historic resource.”

It did not take long for the pro-housing YIMBY (Yes-in-my-back-yard) camp to descend with fire and fury.

“Oh good, the Board of Supervisors just voted to delay a 75-unit housing project for 4-5 months to see if the 1991 parking lot & laundromat on-site is historic b/c neighborhood groups used the land once upon a time,” tweeted YIMBY staffer (and former Mission Local reporter) Joe Rivano Barros. “It was submitted in 2014 & now won’t get a hearing till summer.”

“This is not a good way to run a city,” tweeted Matthew Yglesias, a New York-based writer, citing Rivano Barros’s tweet.

The San Francisco Business Times ran an article titled: “’This is why housing is expensive in San Francisco:’ A Mission project will be delayed for months as the city studies a laundromat.”

Not exactly. It’s the tenant history. In fact, from 1971 to roughly the mid-’80s, the building was something of an incubator for local organizations, some of which exist — and, in fact, thrive — today.

The building was home to Mission Model Neighborhood Corporation, Mission Hiring Hall, Mission Education and Legal Defense, Mission Child Care Consortium, Mission Housing Development Corporation, and Central Accounting.

All of them were offshoots of the Mission Coalition Organization, or MCO, which, in the words of Ramon Barbieri, once the executive director at the Mission Model Neighborhoods Corporation, was a “political powerhouse.”

Some might even argue that the mostly-market-rate project — whose affordable component is about half the city’s requirement of 18 to 20 percent, thanks to a state loophole — is the epitome of the unchecked speculation and redevelopment the MCO had fought to ward off.

But the question remains: Is the building worth saving because of that urban irony or its former tenants?

“Anything that needed to be organized in the Mission at that time, happened there,” said Barbieri of the building.

Barbieri said he remembers when his and the other organizations moved into the building in 1971. Earlier, they had worked out of a temporary office on Shotwell Street.

The Model Neighborhood Corporation wanted to buy it, he said, but did not have enough cash in its coffers. “So the best thing we could do was remodel the place,” he said. “We made a deal with the [landlord] for very cheap rent to remodel it, and we got permission from the city to use money to do so.”

He also said it was a gathering place for artist and musicians. “There was a group of ladies, Mujeres Muralistas,” he said. “We gave them permission to put up a mural.”

Patricia Rodriguez was one of the “mujeres” in that group.

The mural that she and other muralistas created has since been painted over, but Rodriguez said that erasure sparked a movement to protect city murals.

“When Mission Model Cities moved out, the laundry moved in, and they erased it — it was a shock,” she said. “There were no laws then. We rallied the group of artists with Precita Eyes, and we made sure the art commission was protecting the murals. Now they’re protected.”

Mario Cabrera worked at Central Accounting, which did the books for organizations in the building. “It provided so many opportunities for people,” he said of the center where he worked from 1974 to 1977.

“When I got here (from Venezuela), I was lucky to get a job at the Model Cities building, and that helped me pay for bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” he said.

On an average day, he said, the center was very much abuzz with activity and a sense of solidarity. “There was a conviction that we were doing something great for our community,” he said. “We were creating unity among the Latin Americans.”

However, all of this history was difficult to notice during a recent stroll through the Wash Club. Several people milled around, minding their own business, glancing periodically at a small flat-screen TV playing Spanish music videos.

The whole place was an anachronism, although not of the period in question. Its washing machines and arcade games — Pac Man, Street Fighter, Metal Slug 3, and a claw machine — surely belonged in some kind of museum, but not one dedicated to community organizing in Mission in the ‘70s.

One patron, Kevin, said it was his first time there, and he had only come because he had a haircut next door and wanted to kill two birds with one stone.

Another man with dreadlocks was folding his clothes. He didn’t want to comment because he was just passing through.

Elizabeth, 20, said she was unaware of the building’s history, but she said the building carried some personal history for her. “I used to come here as a kid,” she said, noting that she grew up in Bernal Heights. “My parents used to take us here on Saturday and Sunday.”

Just that afternoon, her mom had told her the laundromat was slated to come down. “I would miss it, it’s sad,” she said. “But it is what it is — San Francisco is not the same as when we were kids.”

She was impressed when told about the building’s history. “Maybe they could make it into a community resource,” she said.

Told that it would become housing, she asked if it would be affordable. When informed that it would be 11 percent affordable, she said: “Then, no. We don’t want more development that doesn’t have the community at heart.”

Cabrera, the accountant, Rodriguez, the muralist and Barbieri of the Model Neighborhoods, thought wiping the building off the map for market-rate housing would be tragic.

However, Mike Miller, the lead organizer with the Mission Coalition Organization in its earliest days, who literally wrote the book on the movement, showed no attachment to the building.

“I have no reason to think that building is a historic resource,” he said in an email. “The activities that took place within it are historically important, but that’s not about the building.”

Follow Us

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Keep fighting the good fight for the Mission Mr Tillman. History and common sense are on your side.

  2. Historical Significance? It is said that in 1967 Jimi Hendrix was eating a taco here in the Mission and he noticed some salsa and grease spilled on to his purple velour pants. The bass player of his band pointed out that there is a laundromat located on the corner of 25th & Mission and he should wash his pants there before the show. The night of the show Jimi walked on stage with his laundered pants and the band took notice that his pants looked different. The drummer told Jimi “Hey man, your purple pants have kind of a Purple Haze to them now that you washed them”. The rest is History.

  3. Just because the building has a little bit of art deco trim at the top makes it a historic resource?? You’re joking, right? This building has ZERO historical redeeming value. And I say this as someone who very much values and works to preserve historic structures in the city. We helped to preserve the Second Church of Christ Scientist and Golden Gate Lutheran Church on Dolores, two very iconic buildings that would have been torn down had the owners gotten their way (Willie Brown got a law passed many years back that allows for the demolition of old churches, so their being historic resources would not have saved them had we not intervened).

    The Missionistas will do anything to keep market rate housing from being built in the Mission. Better to leave the Mission trashy and crime-ridden. It’s 100% affordable housing or nothing. They live in a world devoid of economic reality.

  4. Mr. Robert Tillman’s proposed development looks like it will bring economic benefits to the Mission District at a time when San Francisco is in dire need of more housing. The local activists are only hurting themselves by grasping at historical straws to delay the project. San Francisco has long had a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business organization that can explain to Mission residents how such development will benefit them. Get that chamber and its members behind this project.

    1. Perhaps Ana could point out the strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) that was filed?

  5. Robert, your detailed reporting of the approval process is a case study for obstruction. I will email Supervisor Ronen today, to tell her to please support your project. (I live a few blocks away. My grandmother was born & raised in the Mission. There are two new residential developments on my block that no-one has officially objected to. I wonder why MEDA focusses on certain projects?)

  6. Planning left out the Latino Community’s resources out of the Historic Resources report required by CEQA when the area was rezoned. A Citywide Latino Context statement is in the process of being completed.

  7. Tillman I heard you threatened everyone with a lawsuit if they spoke against your project. And that you have set aside 250,000 to do so. Sounds like a SLAP lawsuit which are illegal.

    1. Ana, I have said repeatedly that I would use State Law, including the State Density Bonus Law, the Housing Accountability Act and the Housing Element Act, to defend my project if necessary. I have never in any way attempted to threaten anyone with a lawsuit for opposing the project. In fact, the only person who has been threatened has been my daughter, whom one of the protesters at my community meeting wished had been blown up in the Boston bombing,

  8. When I had my community meeting on January 6, 2016 and one of the protesters wished that my daughter (who was attending) had been blown up in the Boston bombing, I knew that getting this project approved would be very hard.

    Community Meeting on New SF Mission Housing Turns Ugly

    Community Meeting Over Mission Housing Proposal Heats Up

  9. Oh please. This is yet another example of MEDA and Calle 24 extortion tactics and a primary reason why housing is so expensive in San Francisco. Mr. Tillman, at least you can rejoice in the fact that community opposition to MEDA is growing exponentially due to all their recent bullying tactics and backward thinking.

    More importantly, if this building is determined to be a historical resource, will that mean that the housing can not be built there?

    1. I think that we need to give the architectural historians a chance to do their work. Then, we will see what the alternatives are based on the results of that work.

  10. Obviously a racket. Is there a class action lawsuit folks can bring to bring down Calle 24 MEDA and Hillary Ronen and make them follow the law.

    1. Rosie, Insofar as I can tell, everything that Calle 24 is doing to oppose my project is entirely legal. The problem is that the system strongly favors obstruction and delay.

      Here is the lasting economic impact that Scott Weaver/Calle 24 managed to impose on San Francisco (not including any of my costs) by cut and pasting a 3 page letter and paying a $597 filing fee:

      (1) a 7 month delay in my project, thus eliminating 7/12 of the roughly incremental $500K/year that San Francisco would receive in property taxes and ongoing fees = about $292K.
      (2) 7 months of 75 units of new housing, including 8 very low income units, not be available = direct impact on 150 to 200 people.
      (3) one month shut down of the environmental planners (the most scarce resource in the Planning Department) while they worked on the appeal response = $100K to $200K.
      (4) One month delay of most projects being reviewed by the environmental planners, which imposes carrying costs on developers, many more lost months of unit occupancy and large property tax losses to San Francisco. Assume 6 projects delayed for one month = $100K/month of carrying cost = $600K. I am not sure how to calculate the loss of those units for a month or the lost property tax revenue to San Francisco.
      (5) Indirect effect on rents, evictions and increased construction costs from the delay in all these units not being on the market. Large, but very difficult to calculate.
      (6) Discouragement of new projects.

      The total cost could easily be in the $2 million or more range. Now you know why housing is expensive in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  11. No. Is that building historic? No. You know it, I know it, anyone who looks at the building knows it.
    I’m pretty shocked that Ronen would support such a clear abuse of the system.

  12. Robert, you raise an interesting point, and maybe future developers can benefit. Calle 24 didn’t raise the historic significance issue in the past 4 years becuase they didn’t have to yet. they were able to hold this up without using this tool. now that they are running out of options, they are bringing out the historic significance appeal. It’s a good strategy on their part to get what they want. If they raised all the issues they had at the beginning, the approval process couldn’t be delayed as long. They know better than anyone how to play this game. .

    If this was brought up 4 years ago, would it have added 4-5 months to the process or would this review be in conjuntion with other reviews? Developers should just ask for historical review, environmental review, neighborhood review, etc… at the beginnning stages to get everything out of the way up front. If this was done, Calle 24 couldn’t do anything to delay further and you may have already started construction.

    1. Here is the assessment of the Planning Department from its March 14, 2014 Preliminary Project Assessment of the project:

      Historic Resources. The commercial building at 2918 2922 Mission Street was constructed in 1924. It was included in the South Mission Historic Resource Survey and was given a rating of 6Z, indicating that the property is ineligible for National Register, California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR), or local designation through survey evaluation. As such, the building would not be considered a historic resource pursuant to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, and this topic will not require further evaluation as part of the proposed project’s environmental review.

      That is why there was no further historical work done. Further, I have owned the laundry since 1998 and the property since 2005. In that entire 20 year period, the first time that this issue was EVER raised by ANYONE was on January 30, 2018, i.e. only three weeks ago. In other words, I was completely blind sided. By the way, the Historical Resource Evaluation is costing me $8,456.00 in direct costs.

      1. Robert, I apologize as it looks like you did try this upfront. Keep fighting the fight. You are getting more supporters everyday. Please keep providing the numbers behind the scenes. Most voters in SF are fiscal idots. They don’t realize that all these delays cause housing to be 20-40% more expensive than it has to be. If people reporting the news would have included these types of numbers for the past 10-20 years, people might be more educated and we’d have much more affordable housing in this city. You are changing moreminds everyday. Keep up the great work!!

  13. The California Density Bonus Law is not “a state loophole” but rather an integral tool for building affordable housing statewide that San Francisco ignored for 38 years. The characterization of it as such reflects an impulse to repeat politically-charged assertions without any examination whatsoever.

  14. Here is the lasting economic impact that Calle 24 managed to impose on San Francisco (not including any of my costs) by cutting and pasting the text of a 3 page letter that they have used in previous CEQA appeals and paying a $597 filing fee:

    (1) a 7 month delay in my project, thus eliminating 7/12 of the roughly incremental $500K/year that San Francisco would receive in property taxes and ongoing fees = about $292K.
    (2) 7 months of 75 units of new housing, including seven very low income units and one low income unit, not be available = direct impact on 150 to 200 people.
    (3) one month shut down of the environmental planners (the most scarce resource in the Planning Department) while they worked on the appeal response = $100K to $200K.
    (4) One month delay of most projects being reviewed by the environmental planners, which imposes carrying costs on developers, many more lost months of unit occupancy and large property tax losses to San Francisco.
    (5) Indirect effect on rents, evictions and increased construction costs from the delay in all these units not being on the market.
    (6) Discouragement of new projects.

    The total cost could easily be in the $2 million or more range, not to me, but rather to the San Francisco economy. Now you know why housing is expensive in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  15. THANK YOU Robert Tillman for not only providing stellar rebuttal but also being the voice of reason. Interesting that these concerned parties have waited until now to rally to the defense of the historical value. I call BULLSHIT … its nothing more than pure obstructionism. And as Robert has pointed it, its been a laundry facility since 1991 which means there has been 27 YEARS in which to designate the building. Its clearly NOT a historical resource in and of itself, it simply acted as the home base for various and sundry Mission entities. Are these same concerned citizens going to identify each and every location that housed those same entities since that time (for those that still exist) and have those sites designate? I think not …

  16. 1. In the entire 4 year history of the project, including during both of its Planning Commission Hearings on September 14, 2017 and on November 30, 2017, the issue of “historical significance” was never raised. Even in the original CEQA appeal letter from Calle 24, the “historical significance” issue was not mentioned. Only now has Calle 24 raised this issue as a last minute pretext to block and/or delay the project.

    2. If a building once having had Mission community organizations as tenants makes it “historically significant”, then development could be blocked at every location where one of these organizations once resided, thus making most places in the Mission off-limits to development. Further, I doubt that any landlord would want to lease space to any of these organizations in the future for fear of forever being blocked from developing.

    3.The existing building on the site is a 5,200 square foot single story concrete structure with no basement. The current coin-operated laundry was installed in 1991 per plans on file with the Department of Building Inspections. Extensive infrastructure in the floors, walls and ceiling is required by a laundry, including electrical wiring to all washers and dryers, gas pipes to all dryers, boilers/ tanks for producing hot water, exhaust pipes to and from all dryers, drainage of waste water from all washers, floor drains, overhead lighting, and overall facility ventilation, requiring the building to be completely gutted during its conversion. The only remaining pre-1991 portions of the building are parts of its concrete shell and roof. The building exterior has been fully or partially repainted on numerous instances, sometimes as often as several times per year, as it is the frequent target of vandalism and graffiti. Such repainting/cleaning is required by the San Francisco Graffiti Ordinance. Owing to the complete interior demolition of the building in 1991 and to the frequent paint scraping and repainting, there is no physical evidence remaining whatsoever of any previous occupancy or of any previous use of the building. I have owned the laundry business since 1998, and the property since 2005, and there has never been any murals on the building exterior during my ownership.

    4. Per the South Mission Historic Resource Survey the building is listed as Code 6Z, Found ineligible for NR, CR or Local designation through survey evaluation.