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foundation could substantially alter existing drainage patterns for the area;” and the project was approved under an outdated neighborhood plan — the 2008 Eastern Neighborhood Plan — and the “cumulative impacts” of changes since the plan was drafted, among other concerns.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.