Updated: Feb 12, 2019
The Mission community advocates for 100% affordable housing. The developer pitches new proposals and threatens a ballot measure amidst an ongoing dirty tricks campaign. Mission residents will have their say on Feb. 7 when the 331-unit luxury-housing proposal at the 16th St. BART plaza comes to an informational hearing at Mission High School.
Following a long-running campaign by the Maximus Real Estate Partners team that to many appeared designed to confuse Mission residents, developer consultant Gene Royale released a new set of proposals in a controversial email just days before the Planning Commission Informational Hearing on the “Monster in the Mission,” the 331-unit luxury housing proposal at 1979 Mission St. proposed by Maximus.
In the recent email to more than a dozen people including neighborhood Latino leaders, a copy of which was obtained by MissionWord, Maximus consultant Royale pitched two possible development proposals in a preview of what would be presented on Thursday at the Mission-hosted Planning Commission hearing, calling the offer “the best community benefits package I know of.”
Along with two proposals for the project which Royale described as either 46 below-market-rate units along with “approximately 159 rent subsidies” for residents in single room occupancy hotels (SROs), or the purchase of two properties to be donated with “room for 192 affordable units,” Royale also included a third option - the threat that if the City didn’t accept either of the first two proposals, “we are preparing for a city wide campaign.”
This “city wide campaign” threat appears to mirror the city ballot measure idea Maximus raised in a recent meeting with district Supervisor Hillary Ronen as reported by the SF Chronicle.
Maximus had been expected to make a proposal at the Thursday hearing that would possibly involve giving the city two plots of land, 2675 Folsom St and 2918 Mission St, to potentially serve as sites for affordable housing builds, which would be in line with the “two properties” mentioned in Royale’s email. These land donations don’t appear to carry with them any actual affordable housing unit construction, which would need to be executed by the city. It’s unclear how realistic this land dedication proposal is, as it is not known whether the developer actually controls either of the two properties.
Prior to this current set of offers, the development team from Maximus LLC has in the past floated other project proposals for their 331-unit project with two 10-story luxury housing towers, including this previous proposal for the project that misrepresented the amount of affordable housing units in the proposal to be 31 percent when it was in fact only 24 percent.
Mission community reaction
Regarding Royale’s email, Marilyn Duran, an organizer with PODER and the Plaza 16 Coalition, who are opposing the project, told MissionWord that Royale’s outreach email was “half-hearted” and that it revealed that Maximus was “desperate for credibility.” So desperate, said Duran, that they would even threaten a ballot measure if the city were to listen to the “overwhelming opposition” of the community and oppose their project.
The February 3rd email from Royale also contained passages alleging that the “white left” had manipulated the Mission Latino community into demanding affordable housing at the 16th St BART Plaza, and characterized those opposing the Maximus proposal as having “xenophobia.”
In response, Duran said that Plaza 16, a coalition of more than 100 community groups and hundreds of residents, was made up of an array of community members, and that she and other organizers were following the lead of these community members who were clear in their desire for “dignified affordable housing” at the 16th St. site in the face of immense displacement pressures.
According to Census data, the Mission has lost more than 8,000 Latino residents since 2000. And a recent wave of displacement of iconic Mission businesses has touched off a renewed sense of urgency regarding the loss of the neighborhood culture and its economic ecosystem.
Duran, a Latina born and raised in the Mission, said she believes first and foremost in “housing our most vulnerable” and clarified that she is definitely “not a white progressive.”
“Build the Marvel not the Monster”
Chirag Bhakta, a Mission Housing staffer and longtime organizer with the Plaza 16 Coalition, also pushed back on the newest Maximus proposals. He characterized the latest proposals being floated by Maximus as “nothing new” and said it was more of the same kind of developer-serving project proposals that result from the current city planning processes.
Bhakta said the Coalition’s plans were not simply centered on defeating the current Maximus proposal, which he said would produce “a gentrified BART plaza that further destabilizes the area,” but also making sure that plans were implemented for the plaza that serve those who most need it.
Bhakta pointed to the extended community-based process that the Plaza 16 Coalition conducted in 2017 and 2018 with more than 300 neighborhood residents who participated for over 9 months to create a proposal for 100 percent affordable housing they call the “Marvel in the Mission.”
This kind of community process, he said, “gives the opportunity for people to play a role in developing their own neighborhood, especially for working class people and people of color.”
Bhakta said that Plaza 16’s organizing around the project was not limited to defeating the current Maximus proposal. “Our commitment is to the needs of the neighborhood and the people of the plaza,” he said.
The Marvel in the Mission
In contrast to the developer’s proposal for the site, community advocates and residents have advocated for a vision for the 16th Street plaza that includes 100 percent affordable housing, a community center, and a park space.
Plaza 16 Coalition advocates point to the 16th Plaza as an ideal transit hub site for affordable housing and perfectly suited to house the working-class and formerly homeless residents who would occupy these units and rely on public transit far more than wealthier residents.
Studies show that wealthier residents drive more than less wealthy residents, and a recent Pew Research Center study published in January of 2019 showed that wealthier residents are also more likely to use ride hail companies like Uber and Lyft than the working-class. All of which points to the need to utilize transit hubs such as this one to house the working-class and formerly homeless who can be expected to use the public transit system more heavily, according to Bhakta.
“We’ll have 161 parking spaces next to Marshall Elementary, with more traffic causing congestion problems,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
As for how the Marvel in the Mission would be paid for, Bhakta pointed to a number of sources of funding including upcoming city and state housing bonds, potential MTC funds for transit-oriented-development affordable housing projects, as well as several large-scale philanthropic campaigns under way to build and preserve affordable housing in the Bay Area, including a Kaiser initiative and a recent pledge by the Chan Zuckerberg initiative to raise $500 million to pay for affordable housing around the Bay.
Bhakta pointed to the recent successes of both city and state affordable housing measures that were passed by the voters. “People want to fund affordable housing projects, he said.
With a significant pool of potential funding coming to San Francisco for affordable housing in the next few years, Bhakta said that a critical project such as the community’s proposal for affordable housing in such a vulnerable area of the north Mission should be able to find the funding.
“All we need is a small sliver to make the dreams of a neighborhood come true,” he said.
Monster shadows on Marshall Elementary
In addition to the gentrification and neighborhood displacement concerns related to the project, organizers also point to harm from the project casting a shadow on the neighboring Spanish immersion school Marshall Elementary, where many of the students live in the nearby single room housing units (SROs). This means that for those children especially, having access to quality outdoor play space is crucial, said Bhakta.
“The only playtime they get outside is at recess. This development wants to take that away,” he said.
Bhakta pointed out that community’s Marvel in the Mission design, created with pro bono architectural assistance, has taken care so as not to produce shadows on the school playground.
The Maximus team has acknowledged the concern regarding shadows on the school playground and at one point suggested possibly raising the playground in an attempt to get it out of the shadows. The project’s full Environmental Impact Report that will contain a complete assessment of the shadow and other impacts is not yet complete.
‘I am not a Monster’
An unprecedented ongoing dirty-tricks campaign by Maximus and its sponsored group “Mission for All” has left many, including City officials, puzzled as to the developer strategy. Things became so precarious that at one point Mission for All even launched a paid poster campaign that featured local residents supposedly in favor of the Maximus project announcing “I am not a monster.”
But one of the residents featured in the ad campaign, a teacher who grew up in the Mission, Nancy Ana Lucero, quickly came forward to declare that she had been tricked into participating and did not support the Maximus proposal that the campaign advocated for.
Lucero told MissionWord that she had been lead to believe the ad was “to promote affordable housing in the Mission” and said she felt “absolutely mislead” by the Mission for All team.
“I have worked and lived in the Mission for many years and am a part of the community. I know what the housing situation in the Mission is like,” Lucero said.
According to Lucero, the Mission for All representatives told her they wouldn’t take down her ad because she had signed a waiver. “They knew I felt betrayed and did not care whatsoever,” she said.
Mission for All finally relented and took down her picture, according to Lucero, after a friend of hers contacted the district supervisor, Hillary Ronen.
Maximus did not respond to MissionWord’s request for comment on this story.
A sustained dirty tricks campaign
Since the earliest days of the Monster proposal, Maximus has funded two “grassroots” campaigns -- both of which were quickly labeled “astroturf” by community leaders.
In addition to the activities of these two groups -- “Cleanup the Plaza” and “Mission for All” -- there have been allegations that the development team repeatedly misrepresented facts, from larger transgressions like the charge of impersonating a City Official, described below, to smaller ones, such as incorrectly stating that former Supervisor David Campos was co-sponsoring their March 2015 project meeting.
Original documents filed in 2016 for Mission for All show the group registered at the same downtown San Francisco address as Maximus LLC, and using the same lawyer.
A more recent 2019 filing with the Secretary of State’s office lists Larry Del Carlo, long known to be working for Maximus team on the 1979 Mission St. project, as the “Chief Executive Officer” of Mission for All.
Perhaps most concerning of the charges leveled against the development team is the October 2018 phone call that Maximus consultant Gene Royale was reported to have made to Mission High School principal Eric Guthertz. In the November phone call, Royale is said to have suggested to Guthertz that he should cancel the previously scheduled Planning Commission Hearing on 1979 Mission St. due to concerns about meeting safety. According to Guthertz, Royale represented himself on the phone to be a member of the Planning Commission - the city body that would be ruling on the Maximus development.
Maximus representatives have since denied this account, but Principal Guthertz himself recounted this story as accurate to the SF Chronicle. The principal, concerned about the school’s scheduled Open House that same night and worried about possible trouble after receiving the call, asked that the commission hearing be rescheduled, resulting in the current Feb. 7 hearing date.
As this new February informational hearing date approached, Mission for All began posting its flyers up and down Mission St. with a design that imitated the color and layout of the Plaza 16 postcards that were already being distributed throughout the neighborhood. This copycat campaign resulted in Plaza 16 making the decision to switch to a different postcard in yellow and orange to try to eliminate confusion.
While Mission for All can most recently be seen doing some things in the neighborhood that residents consider helpful, such as a recent event that fed the homeless, the ongoing confusion they have created appears to have left many MIssion residents wary of the group. In March 2018 their strategies once again came to a head when artists realized they had been tricked into participating in a Maximus-funded project through a Mission for All event called “Made in the Bay,” El Tecolote reported.
By early 2018 the ongoing actions of Maximus and their Mission for All team were already beginning to catch up with them. In February of that year -- shortly after the incident with the teacher -- the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee passed a resolution opposing the project. The resolution cited, among other things, the shadow the project would cast on Marshall Elementary School’s playground, the “ripple effect of gentrification and displacement” that the project had caused around the site, the ”campaign of alternative facts about the project” waged by Maximus consultant Jack Davis, and Mission for All’s “harassment and intimidation of local youth.”
Before “Mission for All” there was “Cleanup the Plaza”
Long before Mission for All was formed, the SF Bay Guardian confirmed that Jack Davis, part of 1979 Mission St. development team, was in fact a part of driving a suspiciously-timed 2014 campaign to “cleanup 16th St BART plaza,” which serves as the front porch to many single room occupancy (SRO) tenants from the surrounding dormitory-style buildings.
The Guardian also uncovered that Davis’ roommate, Gil Chavez, was coordinating this cleanup campaign. Chavez asserted to the paper that Cleanup the Plaza and Maximus were only “in communication with” the developer but not funded by them. Shortly after, 48 Hills confirmed with Davis that he was being paid by Maximus.
The largest luxury project proposal ever
The 331-unit Monster proposal is the largest in the history of the Mission, only nearly equaled by what in the end became the 326-unit “Beast on Bryant” project at Bryant and 18th Streets. This Beast on Bryant project, after an extended community advocacy negotiation driven by more than 100 residents, finally concluded in 2016 after a series of appeals and finally a City intervention that resulted in the two-building outcome - a 196-unit luxury housing project and a 130-unit affordable housing project now known as 681 Florida St.
In the end, 40 percent of the total housing units in the former Beast on Bryant development were scheduled to be affordable and the combined buildings will also retain 40 percent of the original blue-collar space. Fourteen thousand square feet of that blue-collar space will be offered at subsidized rates. The market-rate housing units began construction at the site recently, and the affordable housing units are slated to begin construction by the fall of 2019.
Ripples of displacement
While the 1979 Mission St project does not directly displace any existing residential tenants, the Grand Southern Hotel around the corner which houses vulnerable residents in its SRO rooms was put up for sale for a time shortly after the Monster proposal came forward. The firm marketing the SRO building at the time, Vanguard, promoted the impending arrival of the luxury towers at 1979 Mission St as a key selling point.
Plaza 16 members also point to the fact that already the neighboring 105-year-old Redstone Building was put up for sale at a price of $25 million, sending its nonprofits and arts organizations scrambling to try to save their community center with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). And commercial tenants immediately across 16th St from the Monster site, including Rainforest Action Network, were displaced from their offices.
At the 1979 Mission St. site itself Burger King has already left and closed its doors, and City Club has moved across the street, reportedly as part of a potential agreement with the developer.
Community advocates counter that rather than stabilize a neighborhood, there is growing anecdotal evidence that new luxury projects often begin a circle of displacement from the time they are proposed. And a recent Federal Reserve study calculated that for every five percent increase in the housing units built in a desirable neighborhood, rent prices only decrease by a half of a percent, leading advocates to conclude that a neighborhood such as the Mission cannot “build its way out.”
First of its kind hearing in the Mission
Feb. 7 marks the first Planning Commission hearing to be held in the Mission regarding an individual development, coming at the request of the Plaza 16 Coalition.
This upcoming hearing will be informational only as the Planning Commissioners will not be ruling on the project until a later date. The hearing will begin with a brief presentation by the Planning Department followed by a 10-minute presentation by Maximus LLC’s development team. Plaza 16 representatives will then present for 10 minutes as the officially recognized opposition to the project proposal.
The remainder and majority of this four-hour hearing will be reserved for members of the public to express their views regarding the project to the Planning Commissioners for one minute each. The Planning Commission is limiting the speaking time of each person to only one minute because the school space is only available for four hours and hundreds of residents are expected to speak.
The Planning Commission Information Hearing on 1979 Mission St will be held at Mission High School Auditorium at 4pm on Feb. 7. Plaza 16 has announced they will be rallying at 2:30pm at 18th and Dolores Streets.