A Year in the Life of the Anti-Displacement Movement

© 2000 Tom Wetzel

This page chronicles some key events in the anti-displacement movement in the Mission district over the past year. I begin with some of the events in the late '90s that form the background for the movement that emerged this past year.

1995-98: Live/Work Loft Boom, Formation of CJAH

The scab Residential Builders Association had begun using the loopholes in the city's "live/work" ordinance to build highly profitable loft condos in the mid-'90s. (See Let Them Live in Lofts.) The influx of highly paid professional/managerial employees in San Francisco with the onset of the dot-com boom provided a growing market for upscale housing. The increasing failure of the South Bay communities to build housing for the growing high tech workforce in Silicon Valley also contributed to growing pressure on the city's housing stock, as evidenced by the huge growth in tech workers commuting south from the city to the South Bay as the '80s and '90s wore on.

The cheap industrial land in the Northeast Mission was a particular location for live/work construction, with hundreds of loft units being built around the neighborhood. At the same time, as a flood of higher income people were moving into the Mission, and speculators were selling small multi-unit buildings for Tenant-in-Common conversions, hundreds of people were being evicted. The loft boom, by making the area more attractive to a higher income population, were seen by many as a contributing cause to this growing displacement of the Mission's working class population. The live/work law had originally been designed for use by artists to develop mixed studio and living space. The RBA's mis-use of the law has come under increasingly vocal opposition since the mid-'90s. The first big live/work project in the Northeast Mission were Joseph Imbelloni's batch of live/work boxes near 18th and Harrison (photo below). The fight against these live/works led to the formation of the Coalition for Arts, Jobs, and Housing (CJAH). Activists associated with CJAH, such as Debra Walker, would play a role in the crafting of Proposition L in 2000.

Live/Work Boxes Next to Site of Former Mission Railway Yard

Writings on the Walls

The posters of the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project (MYEP) was one of the visible signs of opposition in 1998. Below, left, we see the first of several posters MYEP -- advocating vandalism of expensive cars -- wheatpasted around the neighborhood. On the right, social commentary on an abandoned Mission district factory wall.

Mission Yuppie Eradication Project

White Blight

May 14 (1999): Kevin Keating Arrested for Postering

On May 14th Kevin Keating -- AKA "Nestor Makhno" -- of the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project was arrested, allegedly after a late night postering adventure, and charged by police with "making terrorist threats." ( Chronicle article by Jaxon van Durbeken.) The charges were never pursued. ( Examiner article on the arrest.)

In June, the SF Weekly called a fake demonstration in Dolores Park to allegedly support gentrification in the Mission. The photo below, right, shows the counter demo of the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project and its supporters, as they crossed Guerrero Street on their way to Dolores Park.

As expressions of anger at the influx of upscale housing and evictions continued, the fight escalated to acts of arson, with the torching of the recently completed third floor of a live/work at 11th and Harrison. Shortly afterwards, beefy security guards were brought in to provide round-the-clock monitoring of live/work projects under construction at 17th and Florida, and 17th and Hoff.

Security at 17th and Florida

M.Y.E.P. Demo

August 9 (1999): No More Lofts!

In July of last year the Coalition for Jobs, Arts and Housing (CJAH) had prevailed upon Supervisor Sue Bierman to introduce legislation that would close the loopholes in the "live/work" ordinance. A "No More Lofts!" rally at city hall on August 9th backed this effort. (See Bill Carpenter's photos of that rally.)

That effort was thwarted by the pro-developer bias of the majority of Supervisors and the intimidation tactics of the Residential Builders Association.

Destruction of the Economic Base of San Francisco's Diversity

Paulina Borsook's article How the Internet Ruined San Francisco in Salon appeared October 27th, analyzing the destructive impact of the dot-com boom on the cultural and social diversity of San Francisco. The city's much-prized diversity, its ability to be a sanctuary for refugees fleeing Central American death squads or queer kids fleeing Bible Belt prejudice, as a locale for artistic experimentation and political activism, was predicated on its relative affordability -- which is now being destroyed.

October 29th (1999): Rage Against Rent

With evictions in the Mission reaching epidemic proportions, Mission Agenda and a number of other groups organized the Rage Against Rent march on October 29th (1999). The march was a protest against displacement through evictions, and against being priced out or burned out of homes. In the photo below, left, the march is proceeding north on Mission Street at 16th Street. Some of the demands of the march sponsors are listed in the leaflet below, right.

Rage Against Rent March

Housing Coalition Demands

April 13th (2000): Bryant Square Round I (Origins of MAC)

The stealth build up of multi-media and high-tech office space in the Northeast Mission Industrial Zone was punctuated by two huge projects proposed in April of 2000.

The biggest development project to come along in the Mission in years was the Bryant Square project -- 160,000 square feet of multi-media and high-tech office space. This consisted of retrofit of a factory building (evicting a sweater factory that employed 20 Mission residents), and demolition of an artist loft structure for a five-story office monolith. Eighty artists (animators, filmmakers, photographers) were evicted to make way for this project.

The developer was Stein Kingsley Stein, financed in part by the late William Simon (Reagan's Treasury secretary). This huge project, after several years of luxury loft development and office conversion projects (such as the former Best Foods mayonnaise factory), provoked a huge reaction from all sectors of the Mission community.

Also in April, Eikon Investments, owners of the One Embarcadero luxuy apartment tower (see Let Them Live in Lofts), proposed to morph the fortress-like former National Guard Armory into 260,000 square feet of dot-com office space.

Staff people from local Mission non-profits and other activists came together to form the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition to fight these two projects. The groups involved ranged from tenant organizing groups like Mission Agenda and St. Peters Housing Committee, to the staffs of two non-profits dating from the early '70s: Mission Housing Development Corporation (MHDC) and the Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA). Another important group in the development of MAC is a local environmental justice group, People Organizing to Demand Our Economic and Environmental Rights (PODER!). The fight over Bryant Square also involved Community Alternatives for Bryant Square (CABS) -- a group of neighbors of the project who organized to downsize it and exact other concessions from the developer.

June 26th: Bryant Square Round II

After CABS got a majority of the property owners around the Bryant Square project to petition for the Board of Supervisors to overturn the Planning Commission approval, more than a hundred neighborhood residents and activists showed up to voice their passionate opposition to the project. Ignoring the neighborhood's concerns, the Supes "gave the finger to the Mission" (Sue Hestor) by voting 8 to 3 to approve the project. (See Bryant Square: Muscle Cars and Tenant Displacement.)

Now Under Construction

June 28th: Uproar at Horace Mann School

Two days later the head of the planning department and three of the planning commissioners faced an angry crowd at a neighborhood meeting called by the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition (MAC). MAC had aimed to get at least 200 people to show up. Instead, a raucous crowd of over 500 filled the Horace Mann School auditorium, chanting "moratorium" in response to the MAC demand for a moratorium on live/work and office development in the Mission. This was the largest community meeting in the Mission in two decades.

More Writings on the Walls

Future Squats
The third poster of the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project appeared around the neighborhood (in English, Spanish and Tagalog).

July 13th: 500 People Shut Down Planning Department

MAC continued to press its demands for a moratorium on office and live/work development at a rally at City Hall, attended by 500 people, and a march to the city's building permit center, which was shut down for about fifteen minutes or so by the protest. (Bill Carpenter's photos of the rally.)

July 27th: Party Crashing at the Armory

Eikon Investments, the firm that proposed a dot-com office remake for the Mission Armory, staged a party for the Internet business set, served by white-coated parking valets, and addressed by Da Mayor. Activists from MAC and the Digital Workers Alliance crashed the party.

It Comes With Gun Slots

August 12th: 1,000 Walk "to Defend Our Right to Live in the Mission"

Perhaps the high point of the Mission's summer of discontent was the caminata -- a walking tour to "defend our right to live in the Mission." MAC took about a thousand people to threatened sites in the Mission such as the Dancers Group rehearsal studio at 22nd and Mission (evicted since then). At the head of the march was a group of Aztec dancers (see below, right) and a flatbed truck from which speakers addressed the crowd at each stop.


The caminata gets under way along 24th Street

Aztec dancers on Mission Street

Peter Plate addresses the crowd
Mission novelist Peter Plate evokes ghosts of tenants who died in hotel fires as he addresses the multitudes.

August 15th: Dancers Group Eviction and Occupation

Dancer's Group/Footwork was a studio above the former Leed's shoe store at 22nd and Mission, used by about 1,200 people for dance rehearsal. The space had been an Arthur Murray dance studio in the '40s and had been in continuous use for dance since then. The evening of August 15th two thousand people attended a "Circus of Resistance," held in the street outside. Afterwards a couple dozen people illegally occupied the dance space. Eventually, on August 18th the police arrested the occupiers.

Bill Carpenter's photos of the Dancer's Group eviction party.

More Writings on the Wall

As the anti-displacement movement developed during the summer, graffiti, postering, and performance art attacking gentrification became much more visible.

The poster by the San Francisco Print Collective, below left, hints at the demographic bleaching of the Mission Distrct. These posters are next to the sidewalk dining area of the Universal Cafe -- an expensive restaurant in the Northeast Mission Industrial Zone.

Whiter Diners Too

Plague

September 7th: Artist Slammed to Floor at Planning Commission

The Planning Commission took up the Eikon Investments proposal to convert the historic Mission Armory to 265,000 square feet of dot-com office space on September 7th. The MAC presence began with a major rally at City Hall before the hearing. (See Bill Carpenter's photos of the rally.) During the hearing Jonathan Youtt, executive directory of the Cell Space gallery and performance venue in the northeast Mission, spoke for a few seconds after the beep announcing the end of his allotted speaking time, as speakers often do. In this case Anita Theoharis, Mayor Brown's hack who heads the commission, called for a Sherrif, who slammed Jonathan to the floor. This resulted in an uproar, with the assembled MAC members and supporters chanting "Shut it down!" Eventually, the Commission agreed to postpone the hearing on the Armory case to a specified time the following week.

September 14th: Partial Victory: Eikon Drops Armory Office Proposal

At the appointed time for the continuation of the hearing on the Armory, the Commissioners were not in the hearing room but camped out nearby at Stars, drinking martinis. Eikon Investments, it turned out, had decided to pull its office proposal for the Armory, as a concession to the intense community opposition.

September 18th: Mayor Brown Fires Dissident Planning Commissioner

After the attack on Jonathan Youtt, Da Mayor moved on to another type of smackdown. The movement for a moratorium on office and live/work development in the Mission and other nearby neighborhoods had led to negotiations between activists and the business community, under the sponsorship of the Chamber of Commerce. This had resulted in a proposed compromise...but a compromise unacceptable to the developers. Ever sensitive to his developer constituency, Da Mayor vetoed the proposed compromise as unacceptable. The activists then wrote a citizens intitive, Proposition L, and got it on the ballot by collecting 30,000 signatures in a frantic two week effort. Proposition L was to become the main polarizing issue in the city in the months leading up the November election. Mayor Browm, who had previously opposed any concession to Mission neighborhood sentiment, suddenly flip-flopped and put his own less stringent measure on the ballot as sucker bait, Proposition K. Da Mayor insisted that all his planning commissioners back Proposition K. Dennis Antenore, a consistent dissident voice in the reckless do-whatever-the-big-developers-want policies of the Brown administration, refused to go along. This led to Mayor Brown summarily firing Antenore.

September 21st: Occupation of BigStep.Com Offices

The first influx of dot-com office development had been in the Northeast Mission Industrial Zone. The Bay View Bank Building was the first major incursion into the heart of the Mission -- the Mission Street corridor. The Mission Street and 24th Street corridors are the main commercial and cultural heart of the Latino community in San Francisco, and many of the small businesses in these commercial strips are marginal. For example, produce markets are a common site in the Mission. A study of these markets by MEDA showed that only 16% had enough revenue to qualify for mortgage capital to buy their buildings. This puts them at the mercy of the current rental market. The incursion of high tech firms into this commercial district threatens to drive rents through the sky, as landlords drool at the prospect of much higher revenue per square foot.

BigStep
Photo by Victor Miller

The first major invasion of high-tech firms into the Mission was the takeover of three floors of the Bay View Bank Building by BigStep.Com -- a firm that provides e-tailing services and tools for small businesses. The Cort family, who had bought the building, used asbestos abatement as the excuse to evict two dozen community serving entities from the building -- immigration lawyers, nonprofits, etc. Luring BigStep.Com was the sign that the Corts needed that their strategy of "flipping" the building would work. MAC maintains, however, that this takeover is illegal. Zoning for Mission Street limits any one entity to no more than 6,000 square feet -- the equivalent of one floor. This is to maintain the office space in the Mission for smaller community-serving entities. To "enforce the law" (which the Planning Department has failed to do), MAC activists occupied the offices of BigStep on Sept. 21st, to present their case directly to employees. About 20 activists were arrested by police. A banner was also draped on the outside the building (photo at right).

September 25th: Eviction Day for 500 Bands at Downtown Rehearsal

The invasion of the industrial zones by high-tech uses was highlighted in a dramatic way by the announcement that the owner of Downtown Rehearsal was evicting the musicians from that warehouse building, used as music rehearsal space, in favor of dot-com office use or a telecom switching facility. The eviction, slated for Sept. 25th, was a stunning blow to the city's music subculture, with 2,000 musicians affected by this action.

October 19th: Planning Commission Buries Public Comment

Apparently the smackdown of Jonathan Youtt and the firing of Dennis Antenore wasn't enough bad publicity for the city's Planning Commission. Commission President Theoharis proposed to move the public comment section of the agenda, where citizens can speak on general issues about planning, to the end of the agenda, which ends at an unknown time, often late in the evening. After 27 activists spoke against this action, they were ignored and all but one commissioner voted in favor. The next day the Hearst Examiner, its patience running thin, editorialized: "Fire the Planning Commission!"

October 31st: MAC Releases Report on the Northeast Mission Industrial Zone

One week before the electorate's verdict on Proposition L, MAC released our report, "Hiddent Costs of the New Economy", highlighting the results of our grassroots land survey of uses in the Northeast Mission Industrial Zone. Despite so-called "protection controls" enacted the previous year, our report showed that the city has allowed this industrial area to be cannabilized for expensive office and luxury loft housing, driving up land prices and rents, threatening the viability of blue collar and arts uses, which require lower rents.

November 2nd: Symbolic Citizens Arrest for Polluting the Election

On November 2nd MAC members performed a skit and protested in front of the offices of the political consultants Barnes, Mosher, and Whitehurst (BMW) at UN Plaza. A number of members of the clergy entered BMW's offices to announce they were being (symbolically) put under citizens arrest. The protest was in response to the multi-million-dollar propaganda war being waged on behalf of the developers to defeat Proposition L and to defeat the pro-L candidates for Board of Supervisors.

Bill Carpenter's photos of the MAC protest

November 5th: Million Band March

The Downtown Rehearsal evictees and other musicians, in their own effort on behalf of Proposition L, organized a Million Band March, 2,000 strong.

During the weeks leading up to the November 7th election, much of the energy of activists was focused on the upcoming elections. At right we see a poster (produced by the SF Print Collective) urging a "Yes" vote for the three initiatives backed by the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. Proposition H, which passed, placed a limit on capital cost passthroughs for rent-controlled units. Proposition N, which was defeated after an Orwellian campaign of outright lies, would have ended a loophole on the condo conversion law, making Tenants-in-Common (TIC) conversions subject to the same annual 200 unit limit. TICs are a main vehicle of tenant displacement in the Mission and elsewhere at present.

November 7th: Narrow Defeat for Proposition L: But It Ain't Dead Yet

In the most expensive campaign on a citizen initiative in San Francisco history, developer interests funneled over $2.3 million in "soft money" to defeat Proposition L, with at least a half-dozen glossy four-color mailers to voters throughout the city. Despite the massive grassroots effort that had polarized the city around the issue of Proposition L, the developers' money did its trick, with Proposition L narrowly defeated by 1,300 votes.

But Proposition L is not dead yet. In the same election, the pro-L candidates for Board of Supervisor did quite well and the Mayor Brown/developer alliance-backed candidates did not fare so well. In the December 12th runoff election MAC and the Digital Workers Alliance are supporting the following slate of pro-L candidates:

Yes on L, H, and N

District 1: Jake McGoldrick
District 3: Aaron Peskin
District 5: Matt Gonzalez
District 6: Chris Daly (a co-founder of MAC)
District 8: Eileen Hansen
District 10: Sophie Maxwell
District 11: Gerardo Sandoval

The current strategy is to elect a pro-L majority on the Board of Supervisors to implement L via legislation. A progressive, pro-L majority, independent of the Brown/developer axis, would be a stunning setback for the big money machine.

Already Mayor Brown and moderate Board member Gavin Newsom (representing tony Pacific Heights) are jockeying to effect some "compromise" that will water down the provisions of Proposition L as far as they can get away with. That they are now talking "compromise" represents a flipflop from their previous position, and reflects the strength of the grassroots campaign for Proposition L.

November (2000): Grant Building Tenants Organize

The Grant Building, at 7th and Market, is a building filled with artists and activists in the Skid Row area of the city. An out-of-town speculator recently bought the building and is ordering all the tenants evicted, in an attempt to "flip" the building to more high-end clients, paying many times the current rents. About 70% of the tenants have formed the Grand Building Tenants Association, to resist their eviction, and have joined up with MAC's sister group, the South of Market Anti-Displacement Coalition (SOMAD).

Check
"Check": Commentary on the setback dealt the the Mayor Brown/big developer axis in the elections? The machine's candidates came in behind in four districts and are facing stiff challenges in three others. They squeaked out a narrow victory on Proposition L, at a cost of over $2.3 million, but now face efforts to implement it via legislation.

November 30th: Zing.Com Blockaded

At 11:30 AM Mission Anti-Displacement Coaltion members "moved in" at the live/work building illegally used as office space by Zing.Com (an online photography firm), at 17th & Bryant Streets. Furniture and padlocks were used to block all the entries to the building. After more than two hours Zing management finally signed a complaint and the police arrested a dozen MAC members blocking the doors. The blockaders were enthusiastically supported by over a hundred people from the Mission Anti-Displacment Coalition and the Day Laborers' Program, which has its makeshift hiring hall one block away.

As with the BigStep occupation, MAC was demanding that the city enforce existing laws. By converting a 48-unit live/work building to office space, the city loses out on the fees that office developers are required to pay for affordable housing and childcare, as well as losing the 48 units of housing.

Blockade
Richard Marquez, left, and Renee Saucedo, speaking, are among the MAC members blockading the doors to Zing.com.

December 2nd: Dot-Com Union Busting in the Mission

About 80 people marched outside the offices of Etown on Mission Street, near 16th Street, in support of workers trying to unionize. Etown is an online consumer electronics "e-store." This is one of the first efforts of dot-com workers to unionize in San Francisco, or anywhere in the U.S. The workers are organizing with the Northern California Media Guild, and with help from the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, both affiliates of the Communications Workers of America. The marchers were mostly supporters from other unions. Among the people speaking in support of the Etown workers were Chris Daly, Sasha McGee of the Digital Workers Alliance, and Renee Saucedo of the Day Laborers Program (all members of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition). Etown had recently laid off a number of customer service workers, which the union supporters claim is an attempt to quash their union-organizing effort.

Dec 12th: Huge Defeat for the Big Money/Developer Forces!

In a major shift to the left in city politics, a grassroots campaign that united many progressive groups and anti-displacement and tenant activists secured victory for all but one of the candidates backed by the anti-displacement movement, running in opposition to Mayor Brown's big business/developer-backed slate. The Board of Supervisors will now have eight Supervisors who endorsed Proposition L. The immediate task of the anti-displacement movement is likely to be that of ensuring that the new board majority follow through and implement the main thrust of Proposition L via legislation. The eight pro-L supervisors will constitute a sufficient majority to overturn a veto by Mayor Brown. This victory was secured despite the fact that the plutocracy poured $5 million into their campaign against Proposition L and the progressive candidates that backed it -- the most expensive local election in San Francisco history.

The results of the vote:

Jake McGoldrick: 52.1%
Aaron Peskin: 58%
Matt Gonzalez: 65.5%
Chris Daly: 81%
Sophie Maxwell: 55.4%
Gerardo Sandoval: 60.9%

In District 8 Mark Leno edged out Eileen Hansen by 51%. Leno is a gay businessman appointed originally by Mayor Brown but who has sometimes distanced himself from Brown's policies. Leno is a moderate liberal who endorsed Proposition L and voted against the Bryant Square project. Of the eight supervisors who "gave the finger to the Mission" in April by approving the Bryant Square project over intense community opposition, only two have survived in office.

December 14th: Planning Commission Approves Largest Mission Live/Work

The developers-uber-alles stance of the Planning Commission continues. Despite neighborhood opposition, and in violation of the alleged "protection" of the Northeast Mission as an industrial zone, the Planning Commission voted to approve the largest-ever live/work loft project in the Mission. This is a 64-unit project occupying an entire block -- the former site of a Lonestar concrete batch plant at 16th and Harrison.

Concrete Batch Plant Site

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