Ani Rivera, Galeria de la Raza's executive director, addresses community members on Monday Oct. 29 in front of the gallery. Photo by Julian Mark

Update: Landlord serves Galería de la Raza with three-day pay-or-quit notice hours after press conference


Galería de la Raza, the longtime Latino cultural institution now facing imminent eviction from its space of 46 years, has drawn its line in the sand. It’s on 24th Street.

That was made clear outside the small gallery at 24th and Bryant Monday morning, where the gallery’s leaders, joined by Supervisor Hillary Ronen and 40-odd community members, vowed to fight the gallery’s landlord and attempt to stay in their home of nearly five decades.

Negotiations between Galería de la Raza and a representative of its landlord, Lily Ng, crumbled on Friday — even as Ronen stepped in to mediate the discussions that had begun earlier in the week. On Monday, the supervisor described the negotiations as “brutally unfair.”

After being notified of a purported 100-percent rent hike in August, the gallery tried to work out a deal in which it would downsize into a third of its space for rent equalling what it had been paying for both spaces — $3,127 per month for two spaces in the same building totaling roughly 4,000 square feet, said Ani Rivera, the gallery’s executive director. The gallery has been paying month-to-month rent on both the spaces and it has increased slightly over the past 46 years, according to Rivera.

Ronen’s office claimed that the landlord’s rep insisted the gallery sign a standard California Association of Realtors commercial lease — in which government-mandated changes to the building would fall upon the tenant. That meant that making the space compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and the city’s own Access to Business Entrance standards adopted in 2016 would come out of the art gallery’s coffers, even though it would only stay in the space for two years.

Rivera said the gallery has not received an assessment of the total cost of the improvements. Yet depending upon the scope of the work, it could be a lot: Sources familiar with the negotiations said this could be a matter of perhaps $1 million.

“Capital upgrades are usually not attached to a two-year lease,” said Ronen aide Amy Beinart. “You’d be negotiating poorly if you agreed to that.”

And this is a difficult ask. Most community art organizations don’t have this kind of money floating around — and the gallery has even less cash now then it had in the recent past.

According to its 2016 tax filings (the most recent on record), the gallery operated at a nearly $40,000 deficit that year — bringing in revenue of $127,000 while its expenses totaled $167,403. In previous years, it grossed more than $200,000 in revenue, and in 2013 it had nearly $500,000 in revenue.

Ng’s property manager and representative in negotiations, Quan Phan of GBA Realty, concurred that the sticking point revolved around the handicapped access improvements. He disagreed with characterizations of Ng as greedy or unreasonable.

The owners have been generous by allowing the gallery to operate out of the space for 40 years without asking for a penny of increase,” Phan said. For them to ask for an increase to help in the cost of maintenance, they become a greedy landlord when they open their mouth. I don’t think that’s fair.” 

Roberto Varea-Gutiérrez, who sits on the gallery’s board of directors, said the gallery is “deep in negotiations” with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) to secure space at its forthcoming development at 1990 Folsom, the current site of a parking lot and warehouse.

Karoleen Feng, MEDA’s director of community real estate, confirmed the negotiations. “MEDA has been working toward a lease that is affordable for Galería de la Raza and maximizes city dollars to their benefit,” Feng said in a statement last week. “At 1990 Folsom, we are excited that they will be part of anchoring the 16th Street corridor, as they are forced out of their 24th Street home.”

Meanwhile, the gallery is already holding programming at Folsom Street warehouse space. It hosted a Cumbiatón-Halloween party — a well-attended dance party with drinks and some artist booths — on Friday, only hours after the negotiations broke down.

Rivera told Mission Local that the gallery would “utilize” the Folsom Street space until the existing structure is razed for the would-be development.

The gallery is also eyeing another location at 24th and Folsom, according to Erick Arguello of the Calle 24 merchants association. If the fight to stay in its imperiled home ultimately fails, Arguello said, the gallery would be exploring long-term agreements either at the 1990 Folsom or at 2779 Folsom, near 24th, where a developer is proposing to build six units above an existing structure.

Galería de la Raza is named as the sole recipient of the 4,587-square-foot ground floor space in the development’s proposal that was submitted in March.

Regardless, the city is behind the gallery’s bid to keep its long-time space. Ronen said the gallery “has the entire city family with them and behind them.”

That is now especially true as Mayor London Breed is throwing her support behind Galería de la Raza. The mayor on Monday directed the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, as well as the San Francisco Art Commission, “to explore and exhaust every option as we work to get the Galería a fair and reasonable lease so they can continue their important work in the Mission.”

“We will be fighting … until Galería gets a fair and reasonable lease,” Ronen said. “We will not leave this space until that happens.”

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9 Comments

  1. Fight the power, Ms. Ng! Don’t let the “city family” dictate to you. Sadly for us tax payers, I feel this “negotiation” is just a way to get the city to subsidize the galleria’s rent until they move in with MEDA.

  2. This wouldn’t be the first time that the enormous expense of “accessibility work” has sunk a small business — either via lawsuit or the threat of lawsuit by accessibility-advocate lawyers, or by the prohibitive cost or space requirements of required accessibility work.

  3. $500,000 revenue in 2013? If they had similar expenses to other years, they would have made 300K+ in profit. What did they do with this money? In 2013, they could have easitly used this money for a down payment on housing that was very low priced at that time. anyone living in SF for 10+ years knew this at the time and those with a little money or those willing to do an intereest free loan took advantage. If you were a business, you especially should have known this as it’s your JOB to understand the marketplace in which you do business. Why isn’t the gallery being held responsible for not making this business decision to secure their future? Why help a business that obviously doens’t know how to make good business decisions? They will be in the same boat later on down the line unless they change how they operate.

    Businesses come and go. How many businesses have been around for 100+ years? answer, not many. It’s very difficult to go on forever as a business. Eventually, you need to close up shop and move on if you can change with the times.

    For what it’s worth, I like this place and hope it survives. They need folks with some business sense. I’ll give you an actual business idea that could help this gallery. Start a campaign to have folks donate $10/month. You should easily be able to get 400 people which would generate $4000/month. Throw these folks a party twice a year with exclusives to see the art first or meet the artists. Limit it to the first 400 folks that sign up so it seems exclusive. It has worked for other businesses that are way less popular. If this place is as important to many folks as they think it is, this will be and ease thing to accomplish.

  4. Are you sure that a landlord can pass through ADA upgrade costs onto the tenant without having that written into the lease? I’ve never seen it go down like that.

    The ADA retrofits I’ve seen done in the city are the responsibility of the permit applicant and are based on the estimated cost of the project. If you’re not pulling a permit, you’re usually not mandated to make any upgrades.

  5. The landlord subsidized this business for decades with below market rents and now the gallery is saying the landlord is the bad guy?? This kind of attitude will simply make it harder for all non-profits to rent anywhere, as landlords will not want to deal with entitled non-profit tenants who refuse to accept the terms of the lease they signed.

    And bringing Hillary Ronen in to “negotiate.” Ronen has lost any semblance of legitimacy and trust she may have had when she “negotiated” in bad faith with the landrymat on mission street. Nobody wants to “negotiate” with the mission mafia.

  6. Ahh, so they there those of us who must use wheelchairs under the bus!! This is such a typical play: Able-bodied people vilify the ADA and those pesky people who can’t walk up stairs door for daring to want businesses to update their physical structures to be accessible to everyone 27 years after the ADA became law!!! It does NOT cost a million dollars to become wheelchair-accessible… That’s misleading the public in other to draw up sympathy this business does not deserve. After forty years, they SHOULD expect to have to pay for building maintenance. Apparently they are so precious to the local Latino community that it’s okay for them to continue to discriminate against people with physical disabilities?? This is all nonsense! If a business cannot sustain itself by doing business, it should not continue to exist. If the neighborhood wanted them here so badly, they’d spend more money there. Let MEDA and Calle 24 pay their rent, if they feel they’re so important… But don’t you dare act like it’s okay to continue to let this business shirk their responsibility to the law, the Americans With Disabilities Act!!

    1. The ADA does not put the responsibility on tenant businesses. For what it’s worth, I’m all for ADA upgrades and think the laws to implement them are fair.

      I am also aware that tenants often do pay for the upgrades. This usually happens when the tenant wants to do a build-out to correspond with their business, or when an existing tenant needs to do upgrades that aren’t maintenance related.

      20% of any permitted upgrade costs must be toward ADA compliance. If the upgrade is to exceed $155k then the building must meet full compliance.

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