Milo Trauss admitted the project at 2588 Mission St. was a “non-starter for some people.” It’s a 10-story, overwhelmingly market-rate building proposed by Hawk Lou, the owner of the site on Mission and 22nd streets where Lou’s previous building burned in 2015. Scores of tenants and businesses were displaced (including Mission Local), and one tenant died.
“Ha,” an audience member laughed in response to project spokesperson Trauss’ non-starter statement. “It is for everyone in this room.”
Indeed, many felt the proposal presented Wednesday evening at Mission Cultural Latino Center for the Arts was the complete opposite of what most in the room desired: A 100-percent affordable building, with retail spaces for businesses that serve a working-class, Latinx community.
“Who were you thinking about with your design?” Susana Rojas, executive director of Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, asked the development team, saying the project was not reflective of the Latino community. “It’s our process. It’s not the other way around.”
The city requires a preliminary community meeting for any housing proposal, to inform residents of the plans. Most of the 50 or so attendees Wednesday, however, knew the plans, and did not like what they saw. When they asked to speak to the owner about their criticisms, they were told he was absent.
Instead, Trauss, on Lou’s behalf, had originally planned for the meeting to occur “open-house style,” during which attendees could peruse stations with cardboard posters highlighting designs, and talk to the architects one-on-one. Wednesday’s participants found this, and Lou’s absence, “insulting.”
“A person died … and [the owner] doesn’t even have the respect to come here and face us. Then you’re going to railroad us with some paper cardboard and say that’s a meeting?” asked John Mendoza, the Calle 24 sergeant of arms. “You’ve disrespected us.”
After the crowd implored the development team to hold a group presentation so “everyone could be heard,” lead architect Ian Birchall volunteered to present, lecture-style, and answer questions. As all had predicted, the sensitive context of the project led to a tense, passionate meeting.
One woman said she’d ask what everyone was wondering: How much of the project would be affordable? Birchall’s response of 21 affordable units — out of 160 market-rate units, or 11.6 percent affordable — elicited multiple murmurs and head shakes from the audience. “No, no, no … ” Many spectators view a market-rate project as a catalyst to displacement and gentrification, given that the one- and two-bedroom units on this site would surpass a low-income person’s budget.
Instead, attendees from Latinx and American Indian organizations called for Lou to sell the long-vacant site to the city, so it can be developed into 100-percent affordable housing — a years-long request — especially for the seniors and families who were displaced by the fire.
“How many of you want to sell to the city?” Kevin Ortiz, of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club, asked the crowd, an hour into the presentation. A sea of arms shot up in agreement. “Sell it, sell it!” a small group of audience members chanted.
Another sticking point for the crowd was the matter of commercial leases. Community organizing director of HomeRise, Sara Shortt, lives nearby and mourned the former swath of businesses at the Mission Market, which was housed on the ground floor. Others missed buying flowers and cafecitos at 2588 Mission St. for cheap, especially from Latinx proprietors. “That was our mercado. Culturally, ours,” said Roberto Hernandez, the chief executive officer of CANA and a candidate for District 9 supervisor.
Trauss, a managing partner at GCA Strategies, and Birchall said a few aspects of the project could still be influenced by community input, including to determine the use of the 1,400 square foot community space along Bartlett Street. There would be a multipurpose room in the basement, an architect said.
But community members challenged the statement, saying that, for years, project developers knew the community’s demands and failed to uphold them. “How many times have I told you, this project is ugly?” Ortiz asked.
Several commenters brought up the circumstances of the fire, and the trauma it wrought on seniors and the more than 40 low-income tenants affected. One reminded the audience how Mauricio Orellana died, with his headphones on in a closet, at age 38. Tommy Jue, whom Lou had hired as contractor, had allegedly installed faulty fire alarms and was later sued by the District Attorney. Community members on Wednesday alleged Lou and his team are “profiteering” on the “blood” of Orellana.
“To come here and act like we need to get over it, that’s disrespectful,” one woman said.
Despite the outrage, the state has made it harder to allow community input to curtail housing in recent years. Save for eminent domain, it appears Lou may well achieve his project without the risk of city intervention or compromises with locals.
The project is expected to reach the Planning Commission before year’s end, Birchall said. The next time a community meeting happens, locals want Lou there, they said. Birchall closed the proceedings, thanking everyone for their “passion.”
“I wish there was a way we can convince you too that we care about the community,” Birchall said. “That’s a path we need to go down so far.”