1801 Mission St. Proposed site for the Creamery, March 2021. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Who needs caffeine when the mere discussion of a coffee shop amps people up? 

Plans for The Creamery, a coffee shop famed for hosting conversations that allegedly sparked tech companies like AirBnB, to move into the Mission came before the Board of Supervisors today as opponents argued that the proposal violated a 1970 California environmental law and would negatively impact the neighborhood’s environment.

The supervisors agreed in a unanimous vote that it did not. 

That vote, however, followed careful consideration of a presentation led by Ben Terrall, who filed the complaint that deployed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to oppose the project led by Ivor Bradley, an Irish immigrant. 

Bradley closed the Creamery in SoMa when his lease expired last August after 12 years at the space. As plans for a residential building that would displace his business were underway, Bradley found a new location at 1801 Mission St., which completed development in 2020. The commercial ground floor space on the corner of 14th Street has residential units above, and has been vacant for two years. Bradley will be its first tenant. Various other nearby commercial spaces remain vacant and for rent.

Terrall, a member of the anti-tech Cultural Action Network, argued that the alleged increased gentrification The Creamery would generate would create a negative impact on the local area and possible urban decay. He compared his filing on the Creamery to a successful CEQA appeal in 2004, which argued that the creation of two Bakersfield shopping centers, which included super-sized Walmarts and a gas station, would trigger negative physical impacts on the surrounding community. 

Supervisor Hillary Ronen said invoking the CEQA law was a tool frequently used by anti-gentrification activists, and added that the Creamery’s effects couldn’t be compared to the Bakersfield court case. “The court was able to uphold the Bakersfield [case] because of sheer size. I don’t believe that we have reasonable data to indicate that the small site would cause a spiral of closures leading to urban decay and blight.”

Ultimately, Ronen said, filling a long-vacant spot was better generally for the community, even if it started a little competition. She vowed to work with community groups to protect the neighborhood’s culture. “I understand the anxiety,” Ronen said about the Mission community. “I simply do not see how CEQA legally applies.”

Nevertheless, debate on the project was passionate, and a deluge of neighborhood organizers and anti-gentrification activists voiced opposition. Members from organizations like Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, United to Save the Mission, the Latino Task Force, and other cultural districts like the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and SoMa Pilipinas, said that “no one wants” more tech or expensive eats in the Mission. The most expensive menu item on the Creamery’s menu costs $11. 

Critics said Bradley’s shop would trigger a “Valencia-fication” of Mission Street, referring to a migration of upscale businesses and bars to Valencia Street. They further alleged that the Creamery would rob pre-existing coffee shops of clientele, which they deemed unfair considering Bradley said he can move to Colorado if this business move fails. “My people have cafes and little restaurants on the neighboring site, and I know they’ll lose way more business,” a self-described Mission organizer said during public comment. 

Indeed, two competing shops felt the same. George Salome, the owner of New Star Deli, which has served coffee, breakfast and lunch nearby on 269 14th St. since 1988, said there’s already a handful of cafes within a short distance of the Creamery’s location (Four Barrel Coffee is a brief walk away). “Legacy residents are being forced out,” Salome said. 

A block away on 1905 Mission St., the owners of La Noisette called in and concurred, adding that already the pandemic wreaked havoc on their business. “Continuing with this project will definitely eliminate us. We will not survive.”

A caller who supported the Creamery later pointed out that the allegations sounded reminiscent of the battle over Matcha n’ More, a proposed Mission ice cream shop that never opened after a competing ice cream business objected. 

Terrall’s final point was that the American Indian Cultural District, which is located in the heart of the Mission, was never notified of the Creamery’s relocation. New businesses are typically asked to do outreach and hold meetings before they open; the Planning Department requires businesses to notify neighbors within 150 feet. “The blatant disrespect of not informing the native community is completely unacceptable,” one caller said. The named representative for the American Indian Cultural District, Sharaya Souza, wasn’t present on Tuesday.

In the end though, the allegations of gentrification and business competition failed to meet specific guidelines laid out by the California Environmental Quality Act, said senior environmental planner Michael Li. He listed examples that would: if the Creamery’s location would damage a scenic resource that’s part of a scenic highway, or cause adverse change to a historical landmark. The shop does no such thing, Li said.

“There is no historical resource,” Li said. “It was previously a vacant lot that was used for surface parking and Christmas tree sales.” 

The hearing also allowed Steve Vettel, an attorney representing Bradley, to address the allegations and rumors swirling around the java spot. Two were that the Creamery changed zoning use to accommodate his cafe, and that Bradley planned on selling alcohol. Vettel clarified that 1801 Mission St. was already eligible to serve coffee with its urban-mixed-use designation, and that Bradley had sold his liquor license. Bradley wasn’t present on Tuesday.

Those in support of the coffee shop also expressed frustration regarding the multiple challenges to open a business in San Francisco. One caller implored the supervisors to focus on other issues, not “micromanaging the selling of scones.” Another said, “What kind of city do you want to be?” 

This is the second hearing the Creamery has faced. In March, Terrall triggered a discretionary hearing at the Planning Commission. Then too, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the Creamery, as long as Bradley agreed to hire within the neighborhood, to provide his store with multilingual menus, hang cultural art, and to make the diverse community feel at home. 

Bradley has pledged to do so.

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Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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16 Comments

  1. Terrall’s grasping for straws with the native community argument .. ‘blatant disrespect’ angle. By all means, let the rot and decay on that corner continue until the Ohlone tribe rallies to build a casino (which I’m sure Calle 24 would also object to given it would challenge the nightly drinking and gambling at Garfield Square Park).

  2. United to Sell The Mission is the same agglomeration of the same handful of nonprofits who would set up a toll booth and extort developers to finance their agencies. This provides the illusion of a community organized against gentrification but in reality it is nothing but the same handful of agencies, leaving Mission residents on our own to face the ravages of the market.

    These nonprofiteers could organize to rezone the Mission from the shitty gentrifying luxury condo land use plan to something more just and equitable. But rezoning is off of the table, the agencies know that if “they go there” that they’ll lose their funding.

    At the end of the day, if this is what passes for community organizing and resistance, best to stick a fork in the Mission, because outside of a few institutional affordable housing buildings and nonprofits, the days of the people who live here and make the Mission what it is are numbered.

  3. It used to be crazy to me that people in this city (especially the mission) would rather have ANOTHER storefront remain empty long term than have an actual business move in, because that business was previously successful. Now its just disappointing.

  4. “My people have cafes and …”
    What’s with the ‘My people’ reference ?
    is this the latest incarnation of racism?

  5. Been a resident of this block for 5 years. We used to buy Xmas trees from the lot before the bldg went up. Thank God common sense prevailed here. Coffee shops are where we get to know our neighbors.

  6. Alternate headline: Serial abuser of the DR and CEQA processes, Ben Terrall gets the boot from a unanimous Board of Supes

  7. Apparently even the Board of Supervisors has a limit to how far they are willing to go to appease members of the far left who see gentrification, racism, and destruction wherever they look. Perhaps some of them read this quote from Democratic strategist James Carville (reprinted in The Week, 5/7/21, from Vox.com):

    “Wokeness is a problem and everyone knows it. It’s hard to talk to anybody today – and I talk to lots of people in the Democratic Party – who doesn’t say this. But they don’t want to say it out loud. Large parts of the country view us as an urban, coastal, arrogant party. It’s damaging to the party brand. We won the White House against a world-historical buffoon – and we came within 42,000 votes of losing. We lost congressional seats. We didn’t pick up state legislatures. So let’s not have an argument about whether or not we’re off-key in our messaging. We are.”

  8. The Cultural Action Network, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, United to Save the Mission, the Latino Task Force, MEDA, and other cultural districts like the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and SoMas Pilipinas essentially function as exclusionary nativist hate groups.

  9. Clearly the ones opposing this project are blind, because anyone walking through that area, knows what is obvious: homelessness, stolen goods being sold on sidewalks, filthy pavements encrusted with human/pigeon feces and gum spots, loitering, and open-air drinking and drug sales. But yet the “offended” Native American community would prefer that over a space that’s been vacant for two years??????

    I’m so glad the Supervisors called BS on the shenanigans, and I hope the coffee shop moves in and gentrifies that disgusting stretch of Mission to the max. Tired of the NIMBY’s and low-rent neighbors who prefer squalor over progress.

  10. $60k in delays is now established as the “best alternative to no agreement” when being harassed by these shakedown artists.

  11. Do any of these activist stop to think that “Latinos are Techies too”. Do they stop to think that Latinos are advancing in Tech and beyond? Get your mind out of “the Hood” and break the stereotype.

    1. True that!
      Work experience: Latino owned software company out of El Paso.
      The Mexican heritage CEO was super smart, super successful and the nicest gentleman you’d ever meet.
      Lima Peru is a hotbed of offshore coders.
      Lots of Cubans step on U.S. soil and go straight to Miami and start coding courtesy of a decent educational system provided by that “terribly oppressive regime”.

      On the flip side – gotta recognize the limited educational opportunities many immigrants were forced to endure in their home countries. And the younger generation saddled with the dysfunction of the SFUSD. But it can be done – how to do it is all on youtube these days (seriously).

  12. As a former resident of the Mission for 40 years, and now a resident of Mission Bay, I really regret the manner in which “The Creamery” was treated by some in the Mission Community. It was a delightful spot on the edge of Mission Bay…a comfortable old style cafe until it was basically forced out by a soon to be developed high rise. We would love to have the cafe still here. Now it has become another San Francisco refugee.

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