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Canceled meeting on ‘Monster in the Mission’ development sparks dueling rallies

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Chirag Bhakta with Mission Housing Development Corporation leads a chant as community members march down Valencia Street to protest the proposed building project at 1979 Mission Street in the Mission District on Nov. 1, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The sudden cancellation of a public hearing on a proposed 331-unit housing development at 1979 Mission St. laid bare deep divisions within the community over the project, despite recent revisions.

Plans for the development at the 16th and Mission Street Bart Plaza were first submitted by developer Maximus Real Estate Partners in 2013. From the onset they were challenged over their lack of affordability by community groups united as the Plaza 16 Coalition, who dubbed the project the “Monster in the Mission.”

Last year, the coalition asked the Planning Commission to hold a hearing on the project in the Mission District, so that community members could weigh in. But that meeting’s cancellation this week sparked two competing rallies Thursday — one led by Plaza 16, calling on the developer to provide a 100 percent affordable project, and the other organized by the Maximus-funded group Mission for All, aimed at moving the project forward as is.

SEE RELATED: Dueling groups stage separate rallies on controversial Mission housing project

Both sides placed the blame for the cancellation of the meeting, which was set to take place at Mission High school, on each other.

“We all came here today for a different reason — to speak truth about the ‘Monster in the Mission,’” said Chirag Bhakta, community engagement coordinator with the Mission Housing Corporation and an organizer with Plaza 16, addressing some 60 people gathered outside the high school at 18th and Dolores streets on Thursday.

Instead, Bhakta said, a representative of Maximus called Mission High School Principal Eric Gutherz and warned him that the planned meeting would get rowdy — and potentially violent.

He also initially “misrepresented” himself as a member of the Planning Commission, Bhakta said.

“Someone from the developer called posing as a planning commissioner to the Mission High School principal and said that the Plaza 16 Coalition … are going to bring protest, confrontation and incite violence at this hearing, at this school,” Bhakta said.

He added that attempts were made to relocate the hearing to Everett Middle School, but that the principal there also refused to hold the hearing because of safety concerns.

That narrative was “categorically” denied by Maximus spokesperson Joe Arellano, who accused Plaza 16 of using “misinformation and lies to cancel a meeting that they in fact demanded in the first place.”

“We have evidence of opposition members essentially saying that they are going to go out to the principal at Mission High and roast him for holding the meeting,” Arellano said. “All of a sudden the permit was pulled.”

Arellano said that Maximus had proposed different meeting locations — at the site of the proposed development and at City Hall — but that the coalition rejected both offers.

He added that the allegation that a Maximus representative had misidentified himself “is again the level of tactic that Plaza 16 will stoop to to prevent this meeting from occurring.”

But Gutherz told the San Francisco Examiner he did indeed miss a call from Maximus representative Gene Royale, co-founder of Mission for All, who informed the school’s secretary that he was a city planner.

“The message I picked up was that Gene Royale was from the Planning Commission and they said that the meeting wasn’t safe,” he said.

Gutherz said the phone call wasn’t the only reason he decided to pull the permit for the meeting; an open house with dozens of prospective new families was scheduled that same day and he had concerns about the events conflicting. He said heis still willing to host the public hearing at the school at a later date.

Planning Commission President Rich Hillis declined to comment on the reason for the meeting’s cancellation, but said that the commission is “anxious to reschedule the hearing and to hear from the community and from the developer.”

In a statement published on Thursday, Maximus announced that it had updated its proposal for 1979 Mission St. to build below-market-rate (BMR) housing on-site and “provide ongoing financial aid to low-income families at risk for eviction in the Mission District.”

The original proposal for the site suggested that 41 apartments would be for sale, and that funds generated from these condos would be used to build 49 BMR apartments elsewhere in the community.

The revised plans propose two 10-story market-rate buildings and 46 BMR units in five-story townhomes along Capp Street. Rental income from these units would be reinvested in the community, generating upward of $1.15 million annually to help subsidize rents for 159 low-income Mission households.

Arellano said this change was an effort to address displacement concerns and homelessness in the community and to assist “individuals who are most at risk for eviction.”

“It is the same plan they had — they only want to provide 46 units for Section 8 people. It’s not affordable housing, they are going to get market-rate rents because it is a voucher, ” said Dairo Romero, a community organizer with the Mission Economic Development Agency, as the Plaza 16 protesters marched from Mission High School to the project site, waiving signs that read “No monster in the Mission.”

At the scheduled meeting, Plaza 16 had planned to present a community proposal for 100 percent affordable housing at the site, according to Romero.

“I know that the issue is the money, but this city, when they want to do something, they have the money and resources to do it,” he said.

Simultaneously, some 100 people gathered at the steps of City Hall for a counter protest organized by Mission For All demanding the project finally move forward.

Documents filed with the California Secretary of State show that the Mission for All, LLC was created in November 2016, and that a nonprofit under the same name was created in July 2018. Both list the name of an attorney in San Rafael, while one has an address registered to Maximus.

Carrying signs that read “Build it,” protesters identified by a Mission for All organizer as residents from the Portola District arrived on buses to rally for the project’s construction. Others were members of local carpenters unions.

“We want to solve the problem — everybody says the housing is so expensive, build more housing, but here the permit has been waiting for a long time,” said Hazel Lee, a member of the S.F. Shanghai Association who lives in Potrero Hill. “We want the Mission to improve as beautiful as we can — we don’t want to see the homeless. We want to see it beautiful.”

Gregory Mack, a paid organizer with Mission For All, said he was born in the Mission District and that “developers like this don’t come around often”

“Where do you find a developer who has stood their ground for all these years to make sure that all the community is heard?” said Mack, addressing the protesters through a megaphone. “Money isn’t on their agenda when it comes to getting this development built, community is.”

Mack told the San Francisco Examiner that Mission for All started off as a letter gathering campaign in support of the development, but that it has since evolved to an organization providing jobs, internships and development opportunities for the community’s youth.

Mack said that he is in support of 100 percent affordable housing, but that “it just can’t happen” at the site.

“What are we left to do? Fight for what it is that we want out of it. There’s good community benefits coming out of this, but [Plaza 16] doesn’t even want to come to the table to hear any of it,” he said.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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