Mission District community members promised Thursday night to fight “tooth and nail” against a proposed eight-story building at Mission and 22nd streets, the site of a 2015 fire, that would include 148 rental units, 28 of them affordable.  

The first pre-application meeting, held via Zoom, was led by real estate consultant Kim Diamond and architect Ian Birchall, both hired by Hawk Lou, who owns the property at 2588 Mission St. It has been vacant for years following a 2015 fire that killed one person and displaced some 60 residents, mostly low-income immigrants. Local businesses were also displaced, including Mission Local.

“We call this building La Muerte, because it will cause the death of our community by pushing gentrification and displacement,” said Erick Arguello, president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District and a veteran community activist, during the comment period. “We are 100-percent against it, and we will fight tooth and nail to make sure this project does not happen. If Lou is hearing (this), I just want to say: Lou, I am so ashamed of you.”

Arguello said he was “appalled” when he saw the proposed building and called for the site to be replaced with 100-percent affordable housing.

Other community members also referred to the building as La Muerte, or Death, and set their Zoom backgrounds to show a black banner reading “No to La Muerte.” They asked if displaced tenants would have the right to return to the building, but Diamond declined to answer.

“Ian and I are here really to present the project, and we’re not able to answer that question or make a comment about that,” she said.

Read: Do displaced tenants from deadly fire have the right to return?

Diamond said Lou was listening to the call, but he declined to speak.

The 80-foot-tall building would include a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments. No vehicle parking would be provided.

The site plan also includes a glass screen to frame the existing Dharma Mural on the neighboring building, which was painted after the 2015 fire and was funded by one of the Mission’s most detested landlords. Birchall said the glass could be etched with messages related to the mural and “provide nighttime lighting effects.”

Lou first proposed a nine-story building in 2018 and that, too, faced opposition from Mission residentsThe previous building sat derelict for more than a year following the 2015 fire. It was finally demolished in 2016, leaving a gaping hole in the ground. 

Read: And investigation One fire in a real estate empire rife with issues

The virtual meeting was, at times, surreal. It was configured such that chat messages could only be seen by the hosts, who read the questions aloud before answering them. The hosts recorded the meeting, but refused to enable the Zoom feature to allow other participants to save a copy of the meeting themselves, saying instead that anyone could email them for a copy of the recording.

“‘This project is a gentrification bomb.’ Thank you for your comment,” Diamond said, reading community feedback from the chat aloud while nodding in the video feed.

“‘It’s a garage-free project, not a car-free project, and will make our terrible parking situation in the immediate neighborhood much worse.’ Okay. Thank you for that comment,” Diamond said, nodding again.

“‘I am disappointed you’re working for a murdering arsonist. All [people] working on this project should quit. Hawk Lou should build 100-percent public housing on this site. Every displaced resident should have the right to return.’ Okay, thank you for your comment,” Diamond said.

An hour into the meeting, feedback and questions submitted through the chat feature were exhausted and people were unmuted one at a time to voice feedback directly.

Save for one caller, everyone who spoke — perhaps some 20 people — opposed the project.

“The Mission is being decimated. We have lost so many Latinos because of the gentrification that has been going on,” said Susan Cieutat, a 20-year resident of San Francisco. “[Birchall] talked about community spaces in the building? There is going to be no community to occupy those spaces because the community is being displaced at a ridiculous rate.”

“The Mission is a gem that is being destroyed, and it is being destroyed by gentrification,” she said.

Arguello objected to the meeting taking place over Zoom, saying it “disrespected” the Mission community as it faces “the biggest crisis we have experienced in nearly a century.” 

“Not waiting for a live public meeting is very hurtful, and we’re not going to forget,” he promised.

The Mission District has seen the highest number of coronavirus infections of any neighborhood in the city, and Latinx people, despite only making up 15 percent of the city’s population, account for half of all COVID-19 cases in San Francisco.

“Thank you, Erick. I see lots of clapping,” Diamond said, narrating the video feed of everyone dialed into the Zoom call.

Amy Beinart, a legislative aide for Supervisor Hillary Ronen, also expressed skepticism about holding pre-application meetings on Zoom during a global pandemic.

“To do this during a time when the Mission community is so hard hit by COVID just felt very out of touch,” she said. “I’m a little surprised you went ahead and scheduled it at this point.”

Beinart said it was also the second pre-application meeting she had been to in the last couple of weeks where the property owner was either not participating or silent. “It just seems to be a strange kind of new way of presenting a project,” she said.

Because there is a potential for an appeal to be filed, Beinart said Ronen must remain neutral and cannot express an opinion on the project. “What is most important is she is not conflicted out of participating in an adjudicative process later on,” Beinart said.

Other Zoom callers said scheduling the meeting for the night before a three-day holiday weekend was a tactic on the part of the development team to ensure there would be fewer participants.

“I know it’s not a perfect forum, these Zoom calls, honestly,” Diamond said. “There was no good time to have this meeting. We’re not able to submit our planning application unless we have the meeting, so we knew it was not perfect.”

“We did have to proceed,” she said. “And I understand people are upset about that.”

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