Celebratory group photo of commenters and organizers after the exceptions were approved 7-0.
Celebratory group photo of commenters and organizers after the exceptions were approved 7-0. Photo by Christina MacIntosh. Taken Jan. 26, 2023.

The San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday afternoon voted unanimously to greenlight construction of “The Village,” a six-story, 79-foot-tall building that will provide support for San Francisco’s Native American community. Services at the future site will include youth programming, elder support, dental and medical care, and group housing units at 80 Julian Ave. near 15th Street.

Photo from The Village website, https://www.thevillagesf.org/building.

The building required exceptions from the commission as a result of its size and many uses. It is a project of the Friendship House Association of American Indians, which currently provides substance abuse recovery and youth programs at 56 Julian Ave. The proposed expansion has been supported by a coalition of tribal organizations, some of which will also reside within the new building. The Native American Health Center will operate the medical and dental clinics on the third and fourth floors of the building, and the American Indian Cultural District will have an office.

Photo from The Village website, https://www.thevillagesf.org/building.

The public comments period brought both eloquent speakers and tears, from both speakers and city officials. The commenters included several employees of The Friendship House and the Native American Cultural District, as well family members of Helen Devore Waukazoo, the founder of Friendship House and the original visionary of The Village.

The commenters drew on their personal experiences as Native people in San Francisco and demonstrated the several methods in which The Village will affect positive change for the community and beyond. It will provide visibility in the neighborhood and the city, argued Sharaya Souza, executive director of the Native American Cultural District, who implored the commissioners: “Don’t let us be invisible.”

It will also reinforce a sense of self for Native San Franciscans, said Pamela Flores, director of community development and partnerships of the cultural district. She described the feeling of invisibility she experienced while growing up Native in San Francisco and invited commissioners to imagine being a Native youth here. She said that The Village would provide the feeling of “finally seeing yourself.”

The commissioners were also emotional, with Sue Diamond saying that the testimony struck a “raw nerve.” She added that it was the “greatest honor” of her time on the commission so far to approve a project like this. Theresa Imperial teared up in her comments, saying that she was “overwhelmed.”

She went on to say that she had “never seen so many exceptions” needed for a project, but that they were “well worth it.” “Thank you for fighting on,” she concluded. “Don’t stop fighting.” Commissioner Joel Koppel also thanked the group, particularly for showing up in person. “Rarely are seats filled,” he said, “let alone with people as passionate as you.”

The only questions the commission had were about when they’ll get to see the project. Suzanne Brown, the project manager from Equity Community Builders, said that electric and gas work would begin later this year, and construction early next year. The projected completion date is sometime in 2025.

After the exceptions were granted by a 7-0 vote, the group of organizers and commenters gathered outside of the chambers. Gabriel Pimentel, executive director of the Friendship House, said he was “dumbfounded by the overwhelming and sincere approval by the commission.”

Like the other commenters and commissioners, Sequoia Nakai, a high schooler and granddaughter of Helen Devore Waukazoo, looked to the future: “The village is supposed to be finished the year I graduate high school. I feel like I can come back and help with the youth center.”

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Christina A. MacintoshReporting Intern

Christina grew up in Brooklyn and moved to the Bay in 2018. She studied Creative Writing and Earth Systems at Stanford.

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  1. This looks like a worthwhile project. I hope that the City can be as flexible for future projects even if Native Americans aren’t involved. In fact, maybe they needed so many exceptions because we have too much red tape.

  2. Huh, I guess no one objected to any shadows being cast by this 79 foot building. It’s a typical objection raised for many other projects.

  3. Why doesn’t the city of SF donate the building to the Native American Community as a beginnig offering of reparations owed to all Native Ameicans since the US Government stole all their land. Give their land back. We all know that will never happen.

    1. Any evidence a majority of voters support such race-based handouts?

      Or race-based housing projects for that matter?

      1. Did the voters of SF approve the pending city of SF proposal to give out race based handouts of $5mil to each qualifying person?

          1. Not at that amount (per person), but we will have a form of reparations here in the city and probably the state too. My guess is that most of it will come as educational and housing grants and that it will be administered by non-profits like APRI.

  4. F’ship house used to have a dental clinic in the 56 Julian building that predated the new treatment structure that was available to non-natives as well. Always nice to have my dental insurance reimbursing a public health clinic.

    F’ship leadership was needlessly abusive when they evicted 11 artists, tenants and small biz people in 2002 from 50-65 Julian, including us, probably at the behest of Brown or Rosen, to make way for the treatment center, and that was wrong.

    I am glad to see our former North Mission block becoming an indigenous village.