City officials confused about developer’s community-benefits proposal; Planning Department says the offer is not official


For weeks, Mission community members braced for a highly anticipated Planning Commission hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Mission High School, meant to address community concerns with the proposed 331-unit project at the 16th and Mission BART plaza.

Yet last week’s meeting was abruptly canceled after the school’s principal claims he received calls from individuals posing as Planning Commissioners who later revealed that they were associates of Maximus Real Estate, the developer of the 1979 Mission Street project.

So, instead of a raucous hearing, the afternoon witnessed dueling rallies that exposed divisions in the community over how and when (or if) the project will get built.

On one side, the Plaza 16 Coalition — composed of several Mission-based organizations — stood in front of Dolores Park and made the demand from which they have refused to budge since the project’s initial proposal: Build 100-percent affordable housing on the site, or else they’ll will continue to fight.

“No Monster in the Mission!” the group of around 100 protesters from the Plaza 16 Coalition chanted as they marched down 18th Street Thursday afternoon. They were referring to the project’s pejorative nickname, “Monster in the Mission.”

“We all came here originally for a different reason,” Chirag Bhakta, an organizer with the coalition, told the group before it set out to march toward the plaza. “We all came here to speak truth — our truth — about the Monster in the Mission.”

“Everybody here knows why this hearing got canceled — that the community demanded this hearing over a year ago to the Planning Commission,” he continued. “And after five years of organizing and protesting and demanding housing for our people, Maximus was going to come to the community to face a Planning Commission hearing today.”

That didn’t happen.   

And only hours later, on the steps of the City Hall, a group called Mission For All — whose workers are subsidized by Maximus Real Estate, the project’s developers — chanted: “Just build it!” and “Who are we? Community!” They were joined by the union Carpenters In Action, and a group of elderly protesters of Asian descent. More than 100 people were present at the rally.

“They’re coming into our neighborhood and they’re building housing and building people at the same time,” said Angelica Santiago, an organizer with Mission For All and a Mission District native.

Santiago, who Mission Local this year reported was involved in a situation where a teacher said she was tricked into participating in a Mission For All ad campaign, said she directs a crew of 20 young Mission and San Francisco natives who do advocacy work for the project.

“I’ve been in my community my whole life,” Santiago said.

Some of the commotion revolved around Maximus Real Estate Partners announcing its revised community-benefits package for the 16th and Mission project, which now would include 46 below-market-rate units reserved for families currently living in SROs. The revenue from those units would go toward rent subsidies for 159 Mission District households.

Other components of the package would the inclusion of a “Mercado” merchant and food hall for local shopkeepers and vendors, as well as space for local artists to show their work.

The previous proposal included 49 condominiums, the proceeds of which would go toward building 49 affordable rental units.

Maximus’ publication of its community benefits proposal caught city officials off-guard. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who presides over the Mission — and whose predecessor, then-Supervisor David Campos, helped to galvanize opposition to the project — said Maximus shared the details of the package with her months ago. She wasn’t blown away then or, apparently, now.

“I let them know that I had significant concerns about the details and whether their scheme for the affordable component was financially realistic,” the supervisor said in a statement. “I don’t understand why they have been sitting on this for months.”

A Planning Department spokesperson confirmed that the revised community benefits package has not been officially submitted to the city.

Ronen continued: “The community asked for a public meeting, and I support that request.”

Yet the day saw both ends of the community claiming the other side instigated the meeting’s ultimate unraveling. “The 16th Street coalition (Plaza 16) tried to say we were the ones who pulled the plug and we were the ones who didn’t want to have the meeting — but that’s not true,” said Gregory Mack, a Mission For All organizer and employee of the organization.

“We’ve been trying to get in front of the Planning Commission for a fair opportunity to speak our voices,” he continued, “and we haven’t had the opportunity.”

Members of Mission For All, like Santiago, said they have friends rallying on the other side. “In real community, you agree to disagree — you don’t attack each other, you don’t put each other down. We’ve been on the other end of that a lot of times,” she said. “From people claim to be apart of our community and care about our youth came and told us ‘why are you at community meetings,’ ‘who are we,’ that we couldn’t eat with them.”

Mike Cabezzas, a Mission District native who owns Current Culture and Design, a clothing store in the Outer Mission, waved a “Just Build It” sign at the City Hall rally. “I have friends on both sides and I’m stuck in between,” he said. “I’ve seen developers that don’t care about me — that don’t care about none of us. I’ve learned through these guys that they’re here for us.”

Cabezzas said he liked Maximus’ proposal for the Mercado where he would be excited to sell his products. “Who else is doing that?” he said. “On the other hand, other developers aren’t doing that.”

“It’s just too much tension,” he said.

At a community meeting on 24th Street two weeks ago, Mission activists contemplated potential clashes at the now-canceled hearing with Mission For All members, who they still considered members of the neighborhood.

“This whole Mission For All organization they’re community people, correct? They were raised here, born here,” said Rafael Picazo, a community activist. “Why is there that divide? How did that happen? How did they separate from who we are here today?”

Picazo said he knew many of the young members of Mission For All. And, ultimately, Picazo called for peace and respect from both sides.

“They’re our kids,” he said.