The interior of Mission Cannabis Club's lounge, which opened in June 2021. Photo by Annika Hom, July 8, 2021.

Cutting edge

It’s ribbon-cutting season, baby! 

That’s right: Mission Housing and BRIDGE Housing officially unveiled 490 Avanza, the affordable housing unit at 490 South Van Ness Ave., with quite a snap (or a snip). On Thursday, the developers gave Mayor London Breed the honor of wielding a pair of scissors bigger than my face and cutting the red ribbon, to roaring applause. 

“It’s hard to believe that we’re having a ribbon-cutting every few months in the Mission,” said Mission Housing Executive Director Sam Moss. Residents who qualify to move in earn between 30 to 60 percent of the city’s area median income, or were formerly homeless. 

About 200 people will file into some 81 units, and tenants are completely overjoyed. John, a new Avanza tenant, called out his gratitude to the speakers from the crowd of spectators. 

“John’s got me crying up here,” Moss said. 

He continued that the project would not have been completed  without the help of BRIDGE Housing. “No one wanted to invite us to the dance a long time ago, and we forced our way in the door, and now no one can get rid of us,” Moss said. “BRIDGE housing is the one that opened that door up.” 

Brad Wiblin, the executive vice president of BRIDGE Housing, spoke about how easily Avanza’s celebration could have belonged to someone else. The “shovel ready” property at 490 South Van Ness was prepped for a market rate development with 12 affordable units until the Mayor’s Office of Community and Housing Development, under late Mayor Ed Lee, scooped it up. 

The city took some grief because they paid a lot. But in hindsight, it was a pretty good deal,” Wiblin said.  

Wiblin said he got the “band back together” with Mission Housing, with whom BRIDGE had successfully partnered to open La Fènix at 1950 Mission St. That too, had its own virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony just a few months ago.  

And, thanks to a 2015 San Francisco law that created the Neighborhood Preference Plan, low-income and minority Mission residents had first dibs on the units. Thirty-five of the 81 units were reserved for District 9 residents. 

But that law originally faced pushback by potentially violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act. It took a team of delegates on Mayor Ed Lee’s behalf to lobby for it in Washington D.C. Breed was a part of that. “I flew out on a red-eye to D.C.,” Breed recounted on Thursday. She told the feds about her story growing up in a rapidly changing Fillmore, where Black people were priced out of newly propped up affordable homes. “They changed their mind.” 

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen thanked her for that trip and its present impact. “There are so many families in the Mission that are living in tiny SRO hotel rooms — four, five people to a room. That’s always been unacceptable, she said. “But during this year of pandemic, when kids had to open up their computers and be in a tiny space for 24 hours a day, that is cruel.”

The space will also host the new headquarters for the Mission nonprofit Asociación Mayab.

Stepping onto the stage in a beautiful embroidered traditional Maya dress, Asociación Mayab’s executive director Lydia Candila spoke to the crowd in Spanish, while a Maya interpreter translated. “The name Avanza is the future of our indigenous community” that has a “golden dream to give you a better life for your family that you left behind,” Candila said. 

Of the project’s roughly $80 million price tag, $45 million was taken care of by the Mayor’s Office of Community Housing Development. The Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, federal low-income housing tax credits, and a combination of city, state, and private sources supplied the rest. 

At the ceremony’s end, there was one more surprise. “You haven’t been to the rooftop yet!” said Marcia Contreras, the deputy director of Mission Housing to the crowd. There waiting was a reception fit with champagne, Chile Lindo empanadas and Cocina SF food. 

Who could turn that down? 

A pipe dream 

The inside of the Mission Cannabis Club lounge has booths to sit at. Photo by Annika Hom, July 8, 2021.

One of the best ways to ruin a good high is by getting up to do, well, anything. Mission Cannabis Club understands these first-world woes. A month ago, it officially held a soft opening for its lounge — a joint where stoners can shoot the shit for a few hours. But its grand opening event sparks July 16, 2021, with a caterer and a big presentation. Even Supe Hillary Ronen got an invite, a manager told me. 

I learned the lounge — a room that has been itching to open for the past three years — may have already usurped McDonald’s for the morning crowd. Already, a group of five or so people have decided to regularly congregate there to get their morning fix, said Matthew Carruthers, a manager. “Yeah, with their coffees. Maybe their bosses aren’t so weed friendly,” the handlebar-mustached Carruthers said.

As any good journalist would do, I had to see it for myself. I ascended the staircase that’s currently adorned with black and gold balloons in light of the occasion.

As soon as you step inside, you can pick up a bowl or lighter. It’s free to enter and hang, but everything smoked must be purchased downstairs. There was lo-fi blaring, two flatscreens with neon glowing animation repeating on a loop, a sign that said only slightly apologetically, “Sorry, we’re stoned.” 

With a maximum capacity of 58 people, there are numerous booths, including a large one that fans out and takes center stage. A bar is prepped with stools and a water filler station. As one client wandered in excitedly, a Cannabis Club employee fetched her a glass. 

“We really want this place to be about the conversations,” Carruthers said. I can see it now: Dude. Let’s get tacos after this. Dude, yes! That sounds dope. 

Opening hasn’t been easy. Back in 2012, when the Club was a wee dispensary known as Shambhala Medical Cannabis Collective, it could’ve gone up in smoke. Federal officials tried to force the owner, Khader “Al” Shawa, to shut down, along with two other Mission dispensaries, in a federal crackdown. But Shawa saw the light at the end of that hazy, hazy tunnel, and it paid off two years and loads of litigation money later.  

“He’s one of the first ones to take on the feds and keep the shop up now,” said Peter Maggs, the Cannabis Club general manager. 

And it’s not alone. Urbana has a smoking room in its Mission location. Union Station, which will debut near 16th and Mission streets, also has skin in the lounge game. Another, called 560 Valencia, aims to open its dispensary and lounge in early 2022. 

The Club will be free to smoke in from 9 a.m. to about 9:30 p.m. Maggs recommends the Ms. Gloria and SF Cultivators for flower, though “there’s something from everyone.” Anyone’s welcome, but those who pay more get member access and some club-exclusive perks. Members can purchase lockers to store their stash, get discounts on products, and score merch — “wait, I should say streetwear. Shirts,” Carruthers said, clarifying. Looking me dead in the eye, he emphasized, “There’s no free weed.” 

Run the numbers

It’s all out in the open. 

After a brief hiatus due to a delayed permit renewal, the Valencia Street closure returns this weekend. The flyers were posted for the appropriate three days, and staff are getting arranged to head out onto the streets. So, expect Valencia to be closed for the remaining Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays noon to 9 p.m. this year, on blocks touching 16th through 21st streets.  

The closure could include more blocks, however. An application is filed to extend it to 22nd and 23rd streets, but more outreach is needed and the fire department needs to weigh in. The application also asks to lengthen the closures to Thursday nights and Sunday days, also through the end of the year.

So, how might people be feeling about this? Back in April, the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association surveyed the businesses and residents for about three weeks, and it was overwhelmingly positive. 

In total, 835 residents took the survey. That included about 125 residents on blocks closed to cars, 113 residents on blocks that haven’t been closed, 81 small business owners or employees on blocks that were closed, and 56 small businesses and employees on blocks that haven’t been closed. Nearly 500 community members weighed in, too. 

The results show that more than 70 percent said it “brought them much joy” and about 65 percent of respondents visited the closure more than five times. That deserves a loyalty punch card!

The street closure revived dozens of jobs, too, said Manny Yekutiel, the owner of Manny’s, at 3092 16th St., and a member of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association. These include servers, prep staff, and waiters. 

“It’s been transformational for the community,” Yekutiel said. “It’s one of those things that has not been perfect, but it has saved businesses.”

If you ask a handful of neighbors, the phrase “not been perfect” is a bit of an understatement. About 5.2 percent of respondents said they hated it and roughly 16 percent said it frustrated or inconvenienced them. 

The Reasons Against aren’t exclusive to Valencia, nor new to street closures or even Shared Spaces; if “street closure criticisms” were a Family Feud category, you’d probably guess them right away. Surely, some residents griped about the noise. (A few of our reporters have heard those complaints as well.) Others were peeved that partiers left trash in their wake. 

The merchants are trying to get the Department of Public Works to help coordinate cleanup, and the merchants themselves are aiming to do more to pick-up to be “respectful,” Yekutiel said. Even noise complaints dwindled once merchants advised the performers and musicians to become more mindful of the surrounding community. An attitude any preschool teacher would approve of, I’m sure. 

However, neither of these were the main criticism. Instead, people complained that that not all of Valencia was activated for the closure. Talk about FOMO. For example, “on 16th and 17th, there’s heavy utilization. Near Locanda, there’s no use.” 

Yekutiel has a suggestion for that, too: mom and pop vendors can sell their wares on the street. That may be for the next iteration, though. 

I have a feeling you will want to have your say if you haven’t already, so here’s the survey. You’re welcome. 

Housekeeping: What you missed and what I’m reading

From us, to you, with love

I went back to the lovely Census data and mapped out some information for you. Long story short: segregation is increasing in the Bay Area. Is that true in the Mission? Find out here

What I’m reading

Lauren Hepler strikes again. Using a fascinating study and some stellar quotes, Hepler aptly draws back the curtain on yet another possible cause that contributes to the Bay Area’s infamous housing crisis. Did you know for every three jobs posted, there’s one new home approved?

While eviction moratoriums and rent debt have been stealing the spotlight, Erika Paz at CalMatters reveals another pandemic-induced scourge to face low-income Californians. Credit card debt is soaring, and so is the success of online debt settlement companies. But some California politicians think they went too far, and have introduced a bill to implement regulations. This is a shining and thorough explanatory piece that examines an overlooked topic.

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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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