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San Francisco Activists Irate That Developer Wants To Replace Burned Out Apartment Building With—Wait for It—More Apartments

Community members in the Mission District worry that the proposed market-rate development will spur gentrification.

STRINGERimages/Dreamstime.comSTRINGERimages/Dreamstime.comA deadly fire in San Francisco's Mission District has spawned a heated battle between a landowner looking to replace his burned down building with market-rate apartments and local activists willing to go to some extreme measures to stop that from happening.

On October 11, San Francisco business owner Hawk Lou filed a permit application to build a nine-story, 129-unit apartment building— of which 24 units would be rented out at below market rates—on a vacant lot he owns at the corner of 22nd and Mission Streets. This project would replace the three-story, 47-unit retail-residential building that had previously occupied the site before it was destroyed by a 2015 fire.

A net gain of 82 units in housing-starved San Francisco would strike many as a good thing. For local community activists, it's wholly unacceptable.

After the 2015 fire—which left one-person dead, and displaced some 60 mostly low-income tenants and 27 businesses—many in the Mission District nursed hopes that the building would be sold to a community non-profit who would then rebuild it more or less as it was, while also guaranteeing the displaced residents a right to return to their old home.

What Lou is proposing would essentially shut the door on this possibility, while allowing for even more tenants to take up residence in the neighborhood.

On Monday, less than two weeks after Lou filed permits with the city, some 40 people met to discuss how best to stop this project from ever getting off the ground. According to news site Mission Local, their plans "boil down to, essentially, making Lou's life hell so that he will come to the bargaining table."

Ideas for turning up the pressure on Lou included holding a press conference opposing the project, picketing a meat market Lou owns, and even going door-to-door in Lou's neighborhood attempting to shame him into abandoning his plans.

All three options met with group approval, according to Mission Local.

Before any of that happens however, a group of community members will "go pay him a visit," says Roberto Hernández, a prominent Mission activist who attended that Monday meeting, to Reason. "We're hoping and we're praying that [Lou] will come to his senses and recognize that you got to do the right thing."

Hernández levelled a number of charges against Lou, including that he kept his previous building in a poor state of repair, and that he had made a verbal agreement with the late Mayor Ed Lee shortly after the fire to repair the burned structure. (San Francisco law allows rent-controlled tenants displaced by fire the option of returning to their old units after they've been renovated.)

Lou did not respond to a request for comment.

Hopes that the previous structure could be saved were dashed after two subsequent fires broke out at the already charred building. The city ordered it completely demolished in February 2016.

This likely shut the door on any legal right Lou's former tenants have to return to a now destroyed building. Lou has also rejected offers from local non-profit Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) to buy the property, opting to build a market rate building instead. (Market rate units can be rented out to anyone at any price. In contrast, affordable units of the kind built by MEDA are heavily discounted and reserved for tenants falling below a certain income threshold.)

This has inflamed fears that a new, pricy building will spur gentrification in the predominately Hispanic, but rapidly changing, Mission District.

"We've had 10,000 people evicted from the Mission in the last seven years because of all the tech companies moving into San Francisco," says Hernández.

A recent study from a U.C. Berkeley graduate student who looked at formal eviction notices in San Francisco dating back to 2003 found no evidence that new construction led to a rise in evictions in the Mission District.

Missions activists' opposition to the project has not been mollified by its inclusion of 24 below-market rate units, given that these would be assigned by lottery, not reserved for the displaced tenants who previously lived at the site.

In addition to the squeeze that activists can put on Lou personally, San Francisco's permitting process gives ample opportunity to delay, appeal, or condition a development's approval. These tactics have been deployed by Mission activists to delay otherwise zone-compliant projects for years—including San Francisco's famed 'historic laundromat'—and to otherwise wring onerous concessions out of developers.

It's possible that using this process against Lou will eventually convince him to withdraw his project or otherwise alter it to make it more politically palpable. It's also possible that he will choose to fight demands made of him by activists, which would likely see the project end up in litigation.

All that can be said for certain is that while this battle plays out, the site at 22nd and Mission will sit vacant, housing no one.

Photo Credit: STRINGERimages/Dreamstime.com

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A recent study from a U.C. Berkeley graduate student who looked at formal eviction notices in San Francisco dating back to 2003 found no evidence that new construction led to a rise in evictions in the Mission District.

    Evidence is not feelings. Come back when you have solid feelings on the subject, Mr. Graduate Student. (Although, 10,000? Seems like they should have settled on a more plausible number.)

  • Don't look at me!||

    What's so great about keeping things the way they are?

  • CE||

    Don't copy parts of other cultures you might like.
    Don't improve neighborhoods.
    Don't increase rents, ever.
    Don't make any progress that might eliminate outdated jobs.

    You can see why they call themselves "progressives".

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Keeping things the way they are rewards people who became cash rich or benefits rich by staying loyal to the existing system for years. Looking after them signals that loyalty to leaders will be rewarded. On the other hand, the next generation suffers when leaders fight to keep things the way they are, but they are relatively easy to abort if you catch them early enough.

  • BigT||

    It's conservative. And we know SF is very conservative!

  • darkflame||

    "We're hoping and we're praying that [Lou] will come to his senses and recognize that you got to do the right thing."

    And the right thing is whatever we tell you to do, so shut up and obey already.

  • ||

    Exactly.

  • darkflame||

    I wonder how long it takes them to resort to violence after Leo tells them to stick it where the sun don't shine

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    after?

  • esteve7||

    See the left loves from other countries, but not other areas within their own country. Also you have no right to tell me I can't build an apartment on my land because you don't like it. Fuck off

  • DesigNate||

    It's almost like they prefer to have a permanent underclass of poor people that they constantly promise free shit in exchange for votes.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    yep

  • ||

    "...Mission District nursed hopes that the building would be sold to a community non-profit who would then rebuild it more or less as it was, while also guaranteeing the displaced residents a right to return to their old home."

    Reminds me of an episode on WKRP years ago when Dr. Johnny Fever helped a mission look for an investors to rebuild a building destroyed (or something along those lines). Jennifer Marlowe stepped up and said she can line up some investors through her connections. When the wealthy group suggested something better in a better area of town, the group in need of the building balked at the idea and they argued.

    Anyway. The part in this kind of thinking is it's stagnant. Rather than welcome the idea at the chance of improving the community, they stay stuck in their insular ways.

  • Juice||

    on WKRP years ago

    So not a recent episode?

  • CE||

    4 years later, who's still around to move back into their old apartment?
    I've lived in as many as 5 or 6 apartments in a 4-year span.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    70% of Frisco lives, loves, and craps on the streets. They're all outside waiting for a handout at pre-2015 rent rates.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Keep it vacant except for a huge sign that says "Some people don't want housing here."

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    With their names and addresses on it.

  • Arcxjo||

    They only have one of those.

  • BYODB||


    Mission District nursed hopes that the building would be sold to a community non-profit who would then rebuild it more or less as it was, while also guaranteeing the displaced residents a right to return to their old home.


    These people really don't live in the real world at all, do they?

  • Don't look at me!||

    Turns out they are happier in their new place because they aren't near this lot of busybodies.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    You know who else wants to give displaced residents a right to return to their old home?

    Want to bet there's significant (read: 100%) overlap between the two?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You know who else compared the overlap between displaced people who wished for a right to return?

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    You know who else was protested when he didn't want minorites in their traditional homes?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Evidently there is a law in California that gives tenants displaced by fire a legal right to return to a remodeled apartment. But since the original apartments were completely destroyed and the building demolished, there are no apartments to return to.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    In other words, if you burn down your apartment full of dead beat tenants for the insurance money, make sure to do a thorough job. Oh that reminds me, I should call Tyrone back this weekend.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    I wonder how much it would cost to buy a cruise ship that's at the end of it's seafaring life and moor it in the bay as a floating apartment building.

    You would have to keep a crew on board of course, and keep all the systems running and provide transportation to and from the ship and all of that might make it uneconomic but it would be worth crunching the numbers.

    Of course the no-gooders would complain about that as well. "Argle bargle view shed argle bargle inequality argle bargle ecology!"

  • DaveSs||

    I don't think it would work.

    Would take a lot of renovating...teeny tiny bathrooms in the cabins, no private kitchens.
    You'd probably lose 2 out of every 3 cabins if not more to make them more apartment like.

    Moored in the bay you'd also have to keep it fueled to provide electricity for the cabins, deliver fresh water, remove waste water, and remove refuse.

    Attached to the dock you'd have some kind of mooring fee, and you could probably hook up to shore power, water, and water waste handling.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    Given what people in the Bay Area are willing to pay and what comforts they're willing to go without means maybe not as much would have to be spent improving the livability of the cabins.

    If the land sealord is upfront about the conditions and he still manages to fill his vacancies, well then who can complain?

    Throw a hotplate and a small fridge in each cabin and use the onboard kitchen to provide buffet breakfast and dinners each day and you'll solve the food issue.

    Yes, there is the operating costs as a moored vessel versus as a docked vessel to consider. As a moored vessel it might cost more to keep the ship running but as a docked vessel there might be more regulatory interference by the city. There's no way to know what the cost difference might be without getting serious about it, and maybe someone has and found that it's just not workable.

    Still though it's a fun thing to turn over in one's head.

  • SRoach||

    [quote]If the land sealord is upfront about the conditions and he still manages to fill his vacancies, well then who can complain?[/quote]
    I know this, and you know this, but we're talking about San Francisco. Who could complain? Why everyone. Of course. Don't you know that they have a "right" to better housing?

  • Juice||

    I remember a while back, I lived in SW DC and would walk my dog along the waterfront and see the houseboats. I saw one of them for sale and it was super cheap and it was actually pretty nice inside. I thought, hell yeah, that would be pretty cool because it was pretty much a 2 BR apartment for 1/4 of what it would cost for an actual condo. But then I looked into it more and the marina fees were outrageous and so was the insurance. And then I thought about the upkeep and what it would be like in winter and I realized why the price of the houseboat was so cheap.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    In Cali you could get halfway there with solar and wind (in the bay) in terms of electricity.

    You'd never get it past the city council and other protest groups. Even if it got people to stop crapping in the streets, housed 1000 homeless.

  • Sevo||

    "I wonder how much it would cost to buy a cruise ship that's at the end of it's seafaring life and moor it in the bay as a floating apartment building."

    "A former San Francisco mayor wants to put the city's homeless on a Navy ship"
    [...]
    "A former San Francisco mayor is rocking the boat with a new proposed solution to the city's homeless crisis. Art Agnos, who led the city from 1988 to 1992, wants to create a temporary shelter aboard a retired Navy ship."
    https://www.businessinsider.com/
    san-francisco-homeless-navy-ship-2016-9

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    That would probably work.

    I bet even the proggie hordes would contribute to a Kick-them-out-starter campaign to get the homeless off of the streets.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    Ah, except for the part about mooring it at SFs prime tourist spot. That's a horrible idea. Maybe moor it out at Angel Island?

  • SRoach||

    Nah. Prime tourist location. Paint "Future artificial reef" on the side but make sure the materials to maintain it are available in the hold and in good condition. That would be wire brushes, "needle guns", welding gear and bits of metal, paint, lots of paint, lots of paint brushes.
    I figure it'd sink inside of a decade from lack of maintenance. Since nobody would own it, and nobody would get a commensurate reward for pitching in to keep it afloat.

    Or, maybe they could just tow it to Venezuela.

  • CE||

    A great idea. Take it on a 3 hour tour of the Bay every month or two so it's not a residence. Probably way cheaper than building a new tower.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Some families in the Netherlands live in docked boathouses. I think there's also a London community of boathouse residents.

  • creech||

    Sounds like a great place for compassionate SF to house the 7,000 or so Central Americans coming to the City to find work.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    What will they do with the other 128 apartments?

  • sharmota4zeb||

    These logistics don't make sense. Why don't Central Americans move to the Panama Canal Zone to work and live there as newly minted Americans?

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Where have these displaced tenants been living the last several years? Why would they want to pull up stakes again when/if this new building is completed 20 years from now?

    What a bunch of loons. Don't call it Frisco. Call it Insan Francisco.

  • DaveSs||

    Certainly

    They probably would get it back at the rent controlled price they were paying before it burned down.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Good point. If not true now, it probably will be soon. With back payment for all the excess rent they've paid in the meantime, plus interest.

  • Sevo||

    ""We've had 10,000 people evicted from the Mission in the last seven years because of all the tech companies moving into San Francisco," says Hernández."

    That's just a good start.

  • Longtobefree||

    So tax all those companies 200% of world wide earnings until they move to another state. Problem solved.
    Do I have to do all the thinking?

  • Arcxjo||

    There's a $1000 Leaving Town Tax.

  • SRoach||

    Only 1K? They would save that on the cost of taxes from one fiscal year alone. Probably one fiscal month.
    Not to mention cheaper rents. That's nothing. Heck, they could probably save that much just avoiding a minimum wage hike on their kitchen staff and janitors.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    "And a $5,000 fee if you want to take your boys with you," says the toll collector.

    "What are you talking about? I never got my wife pregnant. We used birth control," replied Billy Goat Gruff.

    "Birth control is what we're talking about," the federal agent explained.

  • ||

    The sad thing about this "movement" is that the Mission has already gentrified. That ship sailed like 20 years ago. In the early 90s you didn't go to the Mission unless you wanted to buy heroin, get mugged, or perish in a drive-by. That had already changed by the mid 2000s when the neighborhood filled up with dot-com hipsters. What these people are trying to save has been gone for a while already and - yeah, I'll say it - wasn't worth saving in the first place.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Even Paterson is improving. There was a prostitution bust recently. I support the legalization of prostitution, but folks should wait until it's legal. Until then, stick to buying women rings and bracelets that they can pawn. The crime was so bad on Broadway, the Presbyterians removed their bushes to prevent lawbreaking. According to the article, "church members say hookers and vagrants use the shrubbery to hide their illegal activities, including shooting and smoking drugs."

  • Longtobefree||

    "The Mission District wants . . . . "

    Like guns killing people, I don't think so; maybe "some politically motivated, freedom hating activists wants . . . . "
    Has anyone checked to see if those opposed to the creation of housing even live in the district?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Basically the entire San Francisco area has become unfit for human habitation because of an infestation of moonbats.

  • CE||

    Nice pile of rubble you got there. Be a shame if you built something useful on it.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    I thought $15 minimum wage was supposed to fix all the problems?

  • SRoach||

    One, he should get out of that cesspit of human misery and collectivism.
    Two, he would put up a sign that says "Future home of [24] below market apartments".
    When they balk, delay, or whatever, remove the top number to leave the sign saying "Future home of [23] below market apartments".

  • SRoach||

    would---should. Typo.

  • DesigNate||

    I like the way you think.

  • RoyMo||

    The Mission cound be gentrified? What next? Williamsburg? The 6th Arrondissement? The borough of Westminster? The Capitoline Hill?

  • BigT||

    Stopping gentrification put the 'progress' in progressive.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    "Gentrification?" ROFLMAO. San Francisco is already one of the whitest cities in America!

    Nobody despises minorities (especially black people) and wants to keep them out of their neighborhood more than San Francisco liberals.

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