Community groups make play for coveted 16th and Mission site

Maximus Real Estate Partners, the developer that for nearly seven years has endeavored to build a 331-unit project 16th and Mission derided by opponents as “the Monster in the Mission,” has put the property up for sale. And now a group of community organizations say they’re bidding to purchase it.  

“The Plaza 16 stands victorious in its fight against the Monster in the Mission,” said Chirag Bhakta of the Plaza 16 Coalition, a consortium of activists and community organizations who have long opposed Maximus’ project.

On Monday, he was joined with other members of the coalition at Mission Housing Development Corp.’s office to make the announcement.“The victory sends a clear message that projects of this magnitude that don’t meet community needs are not acceptable and will meet opposition,” added Roberto Alfaro of the coalition.  

This means the project that Maximus first pitched in 2013 is effectively dead. The property is now up for grabs — and Mission Housing, a nonprofit developer and Plaza 16 member, confirmed that, three weeks ago, it sent a letter of intent to unspecified Maximus investors to purchase the property. The would-be purchase price is in the ballpark of the $41.8 million Maximus paid for the site four years ago.

In marketing materials, Colliers International is billing the property as a “large development opportunity” in the “heart of the Mission,” with “significant surrounding office tenants,” such as Airbnb, Uber, and Pinterest. The 58,000 square-foot property, it says, “is vacant with no leases encumbering the development opportunity” — the Walgreens on-site shuttered in December.   

But Plaza 16, which has long touted its own plans to develop the property into 100 percent affordable housing, said it is moving quickly to secure funding. Maria Zamudio of Plaza 16 said that, even as the coalition makes a bid for the land, a community planning process will commence to formulate plans for their project, which they have dubbed “the Marvel in the Mission.” Right now, that project is “a vision — it’s an aspiration of what we want,” Zamudio said. 

The tale of 1979 Mission St. is, in so many ways, the Mission District’s ur-development battle, with strange twists and turns befitting an issue only this supercharged and contentious. 

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Maximus Real Estate partners first submitted plans to build in October 2013, drawing swift and immediate community ire. At that point, Maximus hadn’t even purchased the property, and wouldn’t for another three years thanks to a lengthy legal battle with the Jang family, which had owned the land for decades. 

Maximus ultimately bought the parcel in June 2016, for just shy of $42 million. Around the same time, Maximus began funneling money into a lobbying entity known as Mission For All, hiring as consultants Mission figures Larry Del Carlo and Gene Royale to garner support for the project. 

First came the “I’m Not a Monster” BART advertisements (a teacher claimed she was tricked into being featured in one). And next came the revelations that the developer was paying San Francisco natives to rally and support for the project

This campaign, derided as crass astroturfing by project opponents, neither placated them nor ingratiated the developer with city officials. 

At a raucous February 2019 Planning Commission meeting held in the packed auditorium at Mission High School, developer representatives presented a community benefits package that saw the developer buying and granting the city two entitled properties in the Mission.

But, continuing a longstanding pattern, both city officials and street activists were annoyed by Maximus’ overtures — their offer would have involved giving the city land it did not own, and would have also not been financially viable for the city. In an era when construction costs, not land costs, are the hurdle toward development, Maximus’ offer would’ve given the city land it could not have afforded to develop. It was a non-starter. As was, it turns out, Maximus’ project. 

Of note, that February 2019 meeting was delayed after Mission High School’s principal initially canceled it; he told Mission Local that Maximus representatives at first misrepresenting themselves as members of the Planning Commission phoned him and warned of “disruptions.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen told Mission Local in 2019 that, during a meeting with Rosania, Maximus’ self-described “lead visionary” told her that if his company and the city couldn’t work out a deal, he’d take his argument to the voters via a ballot measure. That apparently did not materialize, and instead the developer has opted to sell. 

The timeline and rationale for Maximus’ decision to sell is not yet clear. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Regardless, on Monday, sitting in a conference room at Mission Housing Development Corp.’s offices on Valencia Street, the relief was palpable as the organizers looked ahead. “So much about organizing work is about making the impossible possible,” Zamudio said, noting that many times during their organizing the coalition had been advised to compromise — but didn’t.

“I’m incredibly happy and full of joy in this moment because our community has been committed to this fight for a very long time — even when we felt it wasn’t possible to win,” said Olinda Orellana, of Faith in Action Bay Area. “But we kept going and we kept fighting and we did make it possible, and we are celebrating victory.” 

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