Plans for 344 14th Street

In an ugly battle, developer compared activists to ‘RICO criminals’

A seven-story, 60-unit project will rise at 344 14th St. after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to reject a last-ditch environmental appeal filed by neighborhood activists opposed to the project, which contains eight affordable units.  

The 11-member board followed Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s determination that the activists’ case for environmental appeal did not have merit. But Ronen was clearly anguished when announcing her decision. 

“Unfortunately this isn’t the project we want to see in our neighborhood,” Ronen said, noting its low affordable percentage. “There will be eight homes that working-class families will have in the Mission, but that percentage is way too low.” 

But regarding the opponent’s environmental argument, she conceded: “I have read all the documents, I have wracked my brain … and I just don’t see it.” 

With the rejection of the appeal, developer Manouch Moshayedi of MX3 ventures can move forward on building the project he proposed five years ago. He did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Appellants Larisa Pedroncelli and Kelly Hill, whose architectural design business neighbors the project, argued in their appeal that soils were not adequately tested; “footprint of this foundation could substantially alter existing drainage patterns for the area;” and the project was approved under an outdated neighborhood plan — the 2008 Eastern Neighborhood Plan — and the “cumulative impacts” of changes since the plan was drafted, among other concerns.  

“Gentrification has caused unanticipated increases in traffic, automobile ownership and changed traffic patterns that have not yet been evaluated,” the appeal says. “The influx of high earners in the Mission has resulted and will continue to result in a substantial increase in the rate of automobile ownership and TNC (Uber and Lyft) use in the Mission.” 

“Quit telling us it’s accurate study,” Pedroncelli said at the lectern, supported by a group of 10 or so opponents 

The Planning Department said its study was plenty accurate. “It is our view that the appellant has not demonstrated nor provided substantial evidence to support a claim that the [evaluation plan] fails to conform to the requirements of [California Environmental Quality Act],” said Sherie George, a senior planner.   

Ronen and her peers ultimately agreed. 

Roberto Hernandez, a longtime community activist and often referred to as “the Mayor of the Mission,” yelled out after the vote: “Business as usual!” He continued to yell at the supervisors before being escorted out by Sheriff’s deputies. 

When asked for comment following the decision, Pedroncelli told Mission Local: “Don’t even start with me.” 

After five years, the battle had become ugly. Ronen mentioned an Oct. 1 letter from Moshayedi’s lawyer that, as she put it, “compared these hardworking activists to RICO criminals,” or, essentially, mobsters.  

The letter alleged that in July a deal had fallen apart: The two parties had allegedly agreed that Moshayedi provide 1,500 square feet of retail space to a community-selected tenant at $2 per square foot for a 20-year term; 10 percent discounted rent for any grocery store tenants; and a $10,000 contribution to fund a mural on one of the project’s walls.

Additionally, United to Save the Mission, a coalition of nonprofit representatives fighting gentrification, had allegedly asked for $2 million to be donated to the San Francisco Foundation or a “New Mission Community Loan Fund,” which is controlled by the Mission Economic Development Agency, a nonprofit that builds and preserves affordable housing.  

“The actions of appellant, through [United to Save the Mission], are similar to those now being challenged in federal court under the federal RICO statute, as developers have begun fighting back against shakedown tactics by organized project opponents,” wrote David H. Blackwell, an attorney with Allen Matkins, Leck, Gamble, Mallory & Natsis LLP. 

Ronen said she thought the characterization was “nasty” and “wasn’t only offensive to them, it was offensive to me and all of us that are struggling to take the seriousness of these conversations to heart — and to make thoughtful decisions about land use and housing in our city.” 

The supervisor also lamented that the negotiations had “stalled several months ago.” She said both parties had met with her, and she wished they could work out a deal between the parties in the past, but a deal never materialized and “those conversations would no longer be fruitful.” 

Update 11/13/19: The Mission Economic Development Agency’s land use policy analyst Peter Papadopoulos issued the following statement regarding Blackwell’s letter:

“Contrary to incorrect assertions by David Blackwell, a lawyer for the sponsor team, MEDA’s ‘Mission Community Loan Fund’ (Fondo Adelante) was in no way involved in the process related to the negotiation of the market-rate development at 344 14th St. — a process led by Our Mission NO Eviction.

In fact, Attorney David Blackwell’s Oct. 1, 2019 letter to the Board of Supervisors does not even correctly name MEDA’s small-business loan fund, but rather refers to a fictitious ‘New Mission Community Loan Fund’ as the basis for their allegation. It appears likely that the sponsor’s lawyer mistakenly conflated and confused the names of these two unrelated funds — the ‘Mission Community Loan Fund’ and the ‘New Mission Fund’ — the latter of which we have since learned is a fund set up many years ago by Mission leaders to hold potential community benefits funding.”

So, with that, Moshayedi had his first win since his five-year misadventure into the Mission District. Still ahead is his quest to offload a historic auto livery on 16th and Albion he bought in 2014 for $8.7 million — only to discover he could not build housing there.

He attempted to transform the building into an events space, but was rebuffed by community members. And now, Marin Preparatory School, a Spanish infusion K-8, plans to buy the building — if it can receive city approval and dodge any opposition. 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. Trying to force the developer to give “1,500 square feet of retail space to a community-selected tenant at $2 per square foot for a 20-year term; 10 percent discounted rent for any grocery store tenants; and a $10,000 contribution to fund a mural on one of the project’s walls”, plus a $2 million “donation” to MEDA??? Yeah, that’s extortion, and DOES sound like the type of RICO bs the Mafia used to pull on the East Coast and in Chicago! I’m tired of these self-proclaimed gatekeepers to this neighborhood constantly trying to pick pockets to enrich themselves and show how powerful they are, at the expense of the neighborhood, which is experiencing a severe housing crunch NOW, not in five years when any project can FINALLY pay all the appropriate “United To Save The Mission” bribes required to ever get anything built! Gentrification already happened! Rents are already through the roof! There will be no working-class people left here to help by the time these so-called “community organizations” get out of everyone’s way and let new housing of any kind get built! MEDA, United For The Mission, Hernandez, Ronen, etc: Get out of the way!! Let new housing get built already!!

  2. Marcos, Nothing prevents United Save the Mission from filing a CEQA lawsuit to block the project now that their administrative remedies have been exhausted. The only thing that caused the Board of Supervisors to deny the appeal was advice from the City Attorney that the City would likely lose any resulting lawsuit and pay attorney’s fees and, potentially, pay large damages.

    1. Robert Tillman: this project conforms to the Market Octavia PEIR. The problem is that the PEIR is practically, functionally invalid as a statement of cumulative or single project impacts while remaining legally valid.

      To be clear: the first shakedown was the TOD zoning that gifted enhanced buildable envelope in exchange for a minimal take, all justified by fantasy, fraudulent environmental clearance.

      The pathetic nonprofit shakedowns only occur within and are a function of that developer giveaway regime.

      It is highly likely that Breed’s Planning Commission, with a smattering of neoliberal Board appointees, would kill any moves for Planning Code justice at that point.

      It is highly likely that 8 supervisors in districts not forfeit to developers will take no steps to grant the Mission any relief in this regard because that would only turn the developers’ attentions to their districts.

      It is highly likely that the abundance of community organizers whose organizing skill set is limited to turning people out for hearings, taking their photographs and using those for the next grant application lack the will and capacity to organize San Franciscans, most of whom they hold in prejudicial contempt for their demographics, to win housing justice in The Mission.

      D6, 9 and 10 are the sacrifice zones for developers, the containment zone for all social problems. The politics and economics have this locked down. Those who claim they stand otherwise are not being forthcoming with the truth.

  3. Pressed by Supervisors Ronen and Peskin on what it will take to trigger an amendment to the Eastern Neighborhoods Area Plan given all the unforeseen changes and admittedly negative effects to the neighborhood under the current zoning requirements, Lisa Gibbon, SF Environmental Review Officer, put the ball squarely in the court of the Board of Supervisors. She said that if the Board wants to enact policy changes that reflect the negative impacts of the Eastern Neighborhoods plan, it is up to them to legislate those changes, but, until then, they must abide by CEQA laws. So, if you don’t like the status quo let your supervisor know that they need to support a change in policy.

  4. What these “activists” fail to comprehend is that these 60 units means 60 fewer older-stick housing will be purchased or rented out by new arrivals.

    Also, what is the estimated additional cost that a 5 year delay by MEDA adds to the final price of this much-needed housing?

    1. “What these “activists” fail to comprehend is that these 60 units means 60 fewer older-stick housing will be purchased or rented out by new arrivals. ”

      There is no evidence that building luxury condos leads to a net decrease in evictions and displacement from existing real San Francisco housing. The gentrification impacts of luxury condos is felt all around the neighborhood. It can be argued that this probably leads to a cascading series of displacements and evictions elsewhere. That might have a greater net impact than the impacts of the fraction of occupants of new housing who would have otherwise cannibalized existing housing stock and displaced existing San Franciscans, our neighbors.

      The real crisis is that those who purport to stand up and speak on behalf of “the community” have no democratic legitimacy, no demonstrated base of popular support within the neighborhood, at least from those not getting paid to advocate, and their record is one of charging a minimal extortionate toll so that business as usual can continue.

      Charging the minor toll is the business as usual that has led to the loss of the Mission on the watch of Ammiano, Campos, Ronen and their nonprofit supporters. After decades, Hernandez is reduced to yelling at supervisors. I bet that that seven figure sinecure for running Carnival ain’t going nowhere, services rendered and such.

      The Mission deserves better.

    2. I’d like to see the stats on this. I mean, I certainly do not want to live in a new “modern” apartment. I love the old place I live in. And I am sure many do not want to rent or buy one of these new high rise condos either.

      So saying that every new expensive unit is stopping an existing unit from being remodeled and sold is not proven. And I do not buy the notion that many who own older units in SF will not try to sell or rent them to the highest bidder if they can.

  5. As predicted, a bit of hand wringing accompanied by some bloviating from the usual suspects, but ultimately the BOS had to deny the bogus appeal and approve the project.

    It was particularly pleasurable to witness Supervisor Ronen having to eat crow, exercise her “Supervisorial Perogative” ( the project is her District, after all! ) and be forced to make the motion denying the appeal.

    P.S. BTW, Attorney David Blackwell’s letter was absolutely brilliant — it totally put Ronen and her merry band of extortionists on their heels, out of their minds, and in their place.

    Fun stuff!

  6. We are in a housing crisis. We need a lot more housing, and a lot more housing near BART stations. What is Ronen’s problem??

  7. Ronen was spot on in her attacks on the Market Octavia, and by extension Eastern Neighborhood, CEQA work in the late 2000s as being invalidated by eventualities to clear new development. The program EIRs were practically fraudulent when they were produced. History has revealed them as scams.

    The Board should look into invalidating that CEQA work. But they fear crossing for-profit developers and their non-profit bases that depend on in-lieu fees, so that will not happen.

    As far as the “community activists” go, the arrangement where “community benefits” are extorted by private actors who threaten to oppose a project unless the toll is paid is not only ethically abhorrent.

    This arrangement does not work,
    – not on a project-by-project basis,
    – not for any moves towards more justice for existing residents from new projects and
    – not by mitigating any impacts on existing community residents via the resources that arise from these shakedowns

    Supervisors need to preempt these shakedowns by fixing the zoning environmental work so that they transform from works of developer pornographic fiction into a reality based comprehensive set of policies.

    Part of this means ensuring that the “community benefits” schedules are fortified for bigger takes from more profitable projects and that these takes transpire in open session in a public process.

    If United To Save The Mission as a front for a nonprofit extortion racket is all we’ve got to fight luxury condos, displacement and eviction and for housing and economic justice, we’d best prepare ourselves for nothing but luxury condos and displaced Latinx families moving forward.

    This crew has had more than a decade to get his right. They have no clue. How many more bites at the apple will they get before supervisors take matters into their own hands? What will it take for them to prioritize the interests of their constituents, in development matters on the front end, not project by project, not their favorite nonprofits which get paid piece work, by the project?

    I am not sure that I’d characterize this as a RICO operation, it is more like an antitrust problem, illegal restraint of trade in political participation by supervisors and nonprofits on behalf of for-profit developers.