At the end of a long and tumultuous Thursday afternoon meeting about a proposed 331-unit development with 14 percent affordable housing, neither Mission locals nor planning commissioners were fully convinced that the project was the best way to address the city’s housing crisis.
“When I think about our work, and the future of our city, I want to see projects that reflect and honor the past, the present, and the future of our city,” said commission member Milicent Johnson in front of a packed audience at Mission High School. “We need to move past the way we’re operating right now, where we’re not easing the pressure for the people who are being displaced, who are made to feel like they don’t belong here. Because they do.”
Before calling an end to the four-hour meeting, Planning Commission President Myrna Melgar, added, “I am skeptical that what was presented to us really doesn’t come up to my standards. I urge the community to keep demanding what they want.”
The audience burst into applause and cheers.
Earlier in the evening, one speaker challenged the Planning Commission, saying, “Gentrification is not inevitable. You have the tools to stop it. Will you?”
The seven-member Planning Commission convened the meeting to allow Maximus Real Estate a chance to share its latest building plan and for opponents to offer a counter-plan.
But after three hours of public testimony, it was clear the meeting was about something bigger than the six-year-old proposal for the 16th Street BART Plaza that opponents referred to as the “Monster in the Mission.”
The night began with Rogelio Foronda, a project manager with Maximus, describing the proposal, with its 46 affordable and 285 market-rate units. The top floor will be set back to reduce shadows on a local elementary school, he said. Moreover, he added, Maximus will offer subsidized rent for local micro-businesses and it will paint the building with warm colors, he said.
Maximus representatives also said it would buy two nearby parcels of land on which to build affordable housing. How the affordable housing would get paid for, Foronda did not say.
The opposition was not impressed.
Members of Plaza 16, an organizing coalition leading the opposition, spoke next, demanding what they have stood by since the project was first proposed six years ago: nothing short of a 100-percent affordable housing development with social services on-site. They called their alternative “the Marvel.”
“We held nine months of community meetings to figure out what people affected by gentrification wanted in their neighborhood, and the Marvel is the result,” said Chirag Bhakta, one of the group’s leaders. “This is housing that can actually be lived in by the people who built it.”
Tonight, in what they called an act of love, Plaza 16 set up free childcare and trays of burritos in the cafeteria. The group buzzed with an energy that could barely be contained and, toward the beginning of the meeting, cheered so loudly and for so long that Melgar put them on notice.
“Save the exuberance for after the meeting,” she scolded.
Proponents of the development made up a much smaller group. They wore reflective vests and held signs that read, “Build it!” and “Good for Workers = Good for Housing.” Drawn from the local carpenters’ union, and from Mission For All — the Maximus Real Estate Partners-backed community organization — they argued that all housing matters, and that any development with work for union members is good.
“We need jobs and housing, and this project will deliver both,” said one of the supporters, who asked to use only his first name, Jacob.
Out front, dozens of police officers stood by in case the meeting got out of hand. It didn’t.
Still, emotions ran high.
“My brother went to this high school,” said one woman, speaking quickly. “He is an auto mechanic but he can’t afford to live here anymore.” She added that she hoped the commissioners knew what it felt like to be from a place but no longer recognize their neighbors.
“The Monster is not going to open its doors to my brother,” she said. “It’s not going to open its doors to the people who are from here.”
The speakers who advocated for the project largely identified as longtime San Francisco residents. They said the development will make the neighborhood safer and more vibrant, creating jobs and much-needed housing.
Those entreaties failed to impress the opponents. Or many of the commissioners.
“As commissioner, my responsibility is first and foremost to the people who already live here,” said commissioner Dennis Richards. “Studies show building market-rate housing doesn’t bring down housing costs.”