3:57 p.m.: Hundreds have packed into the auditorium at Mission High School. The audience is sprinkled with the highlighter-colored T-shirts of the Plaza 16 Coalition, the project’s main organized opposition. And Mission For All, the Maximus Real Estate Partners-backed community organization, are here in numbers, wearing mainly black and distinguishing themselves with large red stickers that read: “Build it. For the Community.”
Community members set up an altar at the front of the auditorium and sang a prayer. Meanwhile, planning commissioners chat on the auditorium’s stage — a makeshift dais with a blue tablecloth and microphones.
The hearing will soon begin.
4:40 p.m.: Commission President Myrna Melgar began around 4 p.m. by thanking everyone in the community for this “tremendous interest in the planning and future of our neighborhood.” “I hope that we can have a smooth hearing,” she said, “where everyone can have their voices heard.”
A project manager with Maximus, Rogelio Foronda, said, “while one project alone can’t solve issues facing the Mission today, you’ll see how the project proposals meet some of those concerns.”
He continued, “1979 [Mission St.] will be a benefit to the neighborhood and the city. And we’re to ask for the community’s support.”
He went through the details of the project — that it will, indeed, include 331-units, with 46 of those being affordable (roughly 14 percent). But most importantly, he went over his company’s community benefits package. First, he said, the developer offered to reserve those 46 affordable units for people previously living in SROs, and the revenue generated from ($1.15M) would go toward keeping SRO residents in place. “This was presented by Supervisor Hillary Ronen to the opposition, but it was rejected,” he said.
(Amy Beinart, an aide in Ronen’s office, clarified after the meeting that Ronen merely conveyed the proposal, but in no way endorsed it.)
He then gave the developer’s alternative proposal: to offer two sites — which it “has agreements to purchase” but hasn’t yet purchased — to build affordable housing. He did not say whether Maximus would build the affordable units on the land.
The Plaza 16 Coalition then presented its alternative plan — vehemently rejecting the proposal set forth by Foronda. Chirag Bhakta, a leader in the group, pointed out that Maximus doesn’t own either site, and has not committed to funding it. “The dirt is not useful to us,” he said.
Maria Zamudio of Plaza 16 then presented its alternative plan, dubbed “Marvel in the Mission.” In short, it is a 100-percent affordable project with ground-floor social services. She said they are in talks with an architect that has experience developing both open spaces and above BART stations.
4:50 p.m.: Proponents of the project have lined up on the left, while opponents have lined up on the right. Many on the left side wear Mission for All garb and speak on behalf of construction unions. Lined up on the right side of the aisle are many members of the Plaza 16 Coalition. The line on the right is much longer, almost out the door of the auditorium.
Commissioner Melgar warned both sides to stay quiet — or else they’d have to take a break. And if that didn’t work, they’d have to stop the meeting.
“On behalf of the Women’s Building staff and the community that walks through our doors, we are here [to ensure] that the Planning Commission not allow Maximus build the luxury tower known as the Monster in the Mission,” Thelma Ortiz of the Women’s Building. She noted that many of the people the social services center serves can no longer live in the community.
5:00 p.m.: With the newly constructed housing on top of the major transit up, it won’t only have an impact for the region but the entire Bay Area,” said Allie Cunningham of Mission For All, noting that she is a San Francisco native.
Melgar has to continue to tell members of the public not to diss each other while they’re speaking. Indeed, both sides continue to egg each other on, giving thumbs down and coughing when they disagree with a statement.
Opponents’ comments mainly focus on the shadow that the 10-story project would cast on Marshall Elementary school — but more so, that this project that they cannot afford will sit in the heart of the neighborhood. The project’s proponents, meanwhile, argue generally that the city needs housing “at all levels of affordability.” Many proponents have touted the benefits of the “mercado” proposed for the project, saying that it will promote “foot traffic,” largely echoing the language of a developer.
“The Monster is the worst project that has been proposed in my 25 years of working in the Mission,” said Luis Granados, executive director of the Mission Economic Development Agency, the neighborhood’s most active affordable housing developer.
Granados decried Maximus for setting up a “sham organization” (Mission For All), and named its purported chicanery of posing as a Planning Commissioner to discourage the original meeting planned for last November.
One man who grew up in the neighborhood said that just because he supports the project “doesn’t mean I’m a sellout.”
“As I look around the room I see longtime friends and family members on both sides,” he said.
Nevertheless, some opponents coughed “sell out” under their breath as he left the mic.
5:53 p.m.: Public comment stretches on. Despite what was shaping up to a raucous meeting, it has proven fairly tame. Subtle hisses, yes. But no shouting and not much anger. Except …
A young man named Steve Landers, who was wearing Mission For All garb and said he was a Mission native, mentioned the Warriors stadium being built at Mission Bay. “This BART station needs to be presentable for the thousands of fans that are going to use the shuttles for the games,” he said. “This is a beautiful city, but we have to step it up.”
“We have to work toward making our troubled areas better,” he added.
As he walked left the mic, someone yelled: “You should get a raise!”
Landers rebutted: “There’s nothing wrong with me getting paid for living and working the Mission!”
6:42 p.m.: Incredible. Rafael Picazo, a seemingly permanent fixture of nearly every anti-gentrification and police rally, said he switched sides. “At first I was on this side, now I’m on this side,” he said, first pointing to the opponents’ line, then proponents’ line. “Because I think we need housing now!”
7:15 p.m.: The proponent line is finished. But opponents’ line is still lined up to the back of the auditorium. The speakers were told that public comment would have a hard stop at 7:30 p.m.
7:45 p.m.: Most commissioners agreed that there was overwhelming opposition to the project — and were sympathetic to those community members. They also agreed that the meeting, separate and apart from the Maximus project, showed that the city needs a better way of building affordable housing.
“Our job as commissioners is to find balance, and I didn’t find balance tonight,” said Commissioner Rodney Fong, referring to the overwhelming number of opponents versus proponents of the project.
Likewise, Commissioner Dennis Richards was sympathetic to the community concerns. “As commissioner, my responsibility is to the residents who live here,” he said. “We need to have housing for the people who are living first.”
President Melgar, who works at the Mission-based community center Jamestown, gave the firmest answer on Maximus’ proposal. “I was skeptical that what was presented to us really doesn’t come up to my standards,” she said, noting that she expects Maximus to present an alternative that has been vetted by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. (The version presented tonight was not.)
“We expect to see a lot more than what has been provided,” she said. “And remain open to having the community continue to advocate for what the community needs.”
The remaining community members applauded and cheered.
All told, according to Plaza 16 organizer Chirag Bhakta, more than 1,000 people attended.