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.”