Rendering of proposed building at Mission and 22nd streets

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.”

Support Mission Local and keep us covering all of the meetings that you can’t attend. 

Michael Toren

Michael Toren is a reporter in San Francisco. He can be reached at michael.toren@gmail.com

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39 Comments

  1. Does the proposal qualify for the state housing density bonus? If so, we can just skip over the cries of anguish and go right to the inevitable approval.

    1. Yes, all development projects in SF are eligible for State Density Bonus, guaranteeing an additional 35% number of market rate units (no additional affordable required), and mandating increased height for a project if needed to accomodate those additional units.

      1. That is not an accurate statement.

        Per State Law, no below-market-rate (BMR) units are required to be built on-site for any new project in San Francisco (or any jurisdiction throughout the State.)

        However, in order to offset the cost of providing, on-site, BMR units (at very deeply discounted 50% AMI levels), the State Density Bonus allows a project sponsor up 35% more units (depending upon the number of very low income BMR units provided.

        Additionally, the City is charging a hefty (up to30%) Inclusionary Housing Fee ($200/sf) on all the Bonus Residential Area. So not only is the City getting more housing overall, it is getting BMR units built on site and it is getting substantial Fees that are much sought after by non-profit housing developers that they can leverage over 3x to construct 100% BMR projects.

        It’s a total win all around for the City and those that understand that we have a chronic housing shortage (40+ years in the making) , but not for the anti-housing ideologues and NIMBYs.

        Remember — the surest way to gentrify a desirable place (one with economic, social and cultural opportunities) is to NOT build housing.

        1. I foresee two outcomes for this project. 1) Approval is required by state law, just as with the Valencia laundromat site. 2) The city cuts a deal involving an even bigger development, and this site gets acquired for 100% affordable housing. The latter is what happened with the “Monster on the Mission” project, which now essentially will serve as the off-site affordable housing for a ginormous condo tower at or near the SF Honda building.

          1. It is about time that something around the Market Octavia project went to something other than further gilding Hayes Valley.

            But there is something unethical about screwing another neighborhood–Western SOMA–hard while green-lighting even more luxury condos.

            That’s throwing good money after bad.

      2. Why don’t you earn your keep and organize to down zone the Mission for neighborhood stabilizatin sake so that we don’t see density bonus scams like this? CCHO got rolled in 2008 and we are paying the price for that poor choice.

        Clean up the mess you made before the FBI knocks on your doors.

  2. How completely out of touch. The techxodus is in high swing, these units will cater to no one.

  3. And the result of this opposition will be that no affordable units get built instead of 20%.

    100% affordable * 0 = 0 units
    20% affordable * 148 = about 28 units

    This type of opposition to building housing over the last 30 years is a major cause of gentrification. Let’s drop the idealism and make some progress here. Perfect is the enemy of good.

    1. Just to clarify, it would be 14% affordable assuming the developer also takes advantage of by-right State Density Bonus.

    2. They’ll enjoy an empty building. I’m not really sure they’ve been paying attention over the last couple of months.

      This is a seismic recalibration, the city no longer has a workforce willing to shell out top dollar for cramped accomodations.

        1. “Then why are 1 bedroom rents still over $1500?”

          Because prices are sticky on the way down.

          Because real estate is an illiquid asset, not a fungible commodity that responds quickly to falling demand.

          Because owners are afraid that if they lower rent, current tenants will demand rent reductions.

          Because landlords can write off losses against profits on other properties.

          Because many landlords have their mortgages paid off, and have all their other operating costs covered by current tenants.

          Because many properties use concession gimmicks (one month free! parking now included!) as a way to disguise the fact that they are renting for less.

          Because for many landlords with a mortgage, renting at lower rates resets their loan interest higher.

          Because a lot of units are held by REITs with deep pockets that can sit and outwait the downturn (and that can count on a bailout if things don’t pick up).

          Because building market rate units makes lower priced units more expensive, via gentrification. So, while high-end units are coming down in price, the dearth of affordable units means demand still swamps supply on the lower end.

          And on, and on, and on….

          Real estate is a racket.

          1. Thanks for all this theory, but it seems like your claim that there is “ seismic recalibration” happening needs some evidence in the form of lower rents.

      1. We’ll see. We are certainly experiencing a seismic event, but it is a bit premature to draw conclusions. What matters is what things will look like in 2-3 years, not what it will look like in 2-3 months. I think it is a relatively safe bet to assume that demand will come back over the long term (though that’s an easy bet since it isn’t my money!).

    3. Bingo

      “We call this building La Muerte, because it will cause the death of our community by pushing gentrification and displacement,” Actually fighting every development and thus achieving ZERO affordable housing is actually what is accelerating gentrification. La Calle is a fucking joke.

  4. Smack dab in the middle of this article is ad promoting another 100% affordable housing project 2 blocks away.
    Pointing this out in case anyone mistook this article for legitimate journalism.

    1. Shaun — 

      The editorial staff has no idea what the ads on the stories will be or, for the most part, who our advertisers are. It could be a housing development or a cafe or a web service.

      You’d think this would be a familiar experience for anyone who’d ever picked up a newspaper or read a news website.

      Best,

      JE

      1. Joe, The Mission is currently awash in large-scale affordable housing projects. And The City is currently out of funds to build more. These seem like important details to cover in any article quoting Erick Arguello’s attempts at branding.

        Also, has Mission Local uncovered how AzulWorks became a MEDA subcontractor yet? Because I’m thinking that the recently uncovered corruption extends out into the non-profit world, too.

  5. I completely understand that there’s a need for more affordable housing, but it’s asinine to deny the fact the there’s also a need for market rate. All or nothing BMR is not a strategy; it’s only

    If Calle 24 and other groups (including our district supervisor) are so serious about getting affordable housing built, why are there more active projects in the neighborhood, more city parcels and vacant lots being acquired?

    We need less opposition and more guidance and direction. Regardless of the narrative about the lot’s past, it’s literally been a hole in the ground for half of a decade; let someone build the damn thing.

  6. Let’s get this straight: a member of the supervisor’s office is suggesting that all developers hold on proposing any new housing until after COVID-19 is over, which might be years away? Instead of taking advantage of what might be a period of unusually low construction costs?

  7. This crowd needs to get busy demanding a rezoning of the Mission so that there does not need to be a project-by-project fight.

    If there did not have to be project-by-project fights, then maybe the community organizers would organize the community towards self determination? Ain’t that a larf!

    If Planning could rezone Central SOMA within a few years, then the Mission deserves nothing less.

    1. I imagine it’s because the neighborhood doesn’t need to be rezoned and these activists only have leverage if they fight one development at a time. They don’t really have a strong enough argument for formal restructuring which is why they refer to developments as “La Muerte” and use dramatic language.

      Unfortunately, it’s a somewhat successful tactic commonly used by obstructionists (i.e. activists and neighborhood groups) to extort and persuade—even without the rest of the community asking for it.

    2. The goal of nativist extortionist groups like Calle 24 is to strip people of their property rights — and to make other dependent upon the “largesse” of groups like Calle 24.

      Furthermore, the surest way to gentrify a desirable place (one with economic, social and cultural opportunities like San Francisco) is to NOT build sufficient amounts of housing. If you fail to do this, then those with more money will out-bid/out-pay those with less.

      Over the course of the past 4+ decades, SF has continually made housing creation evermore difficult, uncertain, time-consuming,and, therefore, inordinately expensive.

      SF policy makers have done this at the behest of so-called neighborhood activists, NIMBYs and an assortment of anti-housing ideologues, and it has led directly to today’s chronic shortage of housing and absurdly high housing costs.

      Reactionary organizations like Calle 24, MEDA and United to Save the Mission, not only want to double down on these failed policies — they seek to make them even worse.

  8. If the developer really is a murderer arsonist he should be arrested and tried for his crimes and not be allowed to build this while free

    1. There is no evidence that suggests the developer did this (as far as I can tell) and should never have been allowed to be used as an argument against building on this lot in the first place.

  9. Asking a private owner to build 100% affordable units is not feasible and essentially saying build nothing. Welcome to the world of leftist NIMBYism.

  10. The city hardly needs more Legoland luxury lofts and especially not in the Mission, which has too many and are being vacated with the techxodus.

  11. What’s wrong with 20% affordable units? There’s a housing shortage. Building more housing is good.

    1. Marc,

      This is San Francisco — specifically, the Mission District — you’re thinking waaaay too rationally.

  12. Supervisor Ronen PROMISED to get 5,000 affordable housing units built over the next 10 years if she won her election. Thus far, less than 500 have been built in the last 4 years since she was elected. If anyone failed so poorly at their normal job they’d be fired. She should be the one that Calle 24 should be “ashamed” of. Does anyone here now why she has failed so poorly at her job?

  13. Calle 24 is a moral hazard, and Eric Arguello needs to grow up.
    The project team just needs to Jump through the planning hoops and build the project. Leave these activists and 20‘s yr olds who have littke-no knowledge of building costs and feasibility in the dust. They‘ll figure out these things by the time they‘re 40-50…
    As for Ronden, she got her hands slapped on the last project and cost S.F. tax payers millions. Out w Ronen and her aid – useless.

  14. My biggest problem with it is that it’s just another soulless box. Is that all they teach architects these days? Oh boy, it has a pop of red, that must make it different. How about drawing something I can’t build with legos?

  15. The people opposing this project could – repeat, could, meaning not should – also argue that the proposed design is another grotesque shitbox. Who comes up with the same hideous building over and over and over?

  16. Very sad. We need more housing for all income levels to solve the housing crisis.

  17. Eric Arguello IS A TRAINWRECK.

    Market rate housing of today is the affordable housing of tomorrow. If all developments continue to be blocked by La Calle and others our shortage will grow. We will need the techies to build all the robots capable of performing what our essential workers do today if this continues.

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