The Mission is so gay â€"let's keep it that way

  • by Sue Englander
  • Wednesday August 20, 2014
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The LGBT community has been able to call many neighborhoods in San Francisco "home," and a prominent site of gay life has been the Mission. Those of us who call the Mission our neighborhood, once the Castro became pricey beginning in the mid-1980s, have reveled in its diversity, its great inexpensive food, and its numerous LGBT clubs, restaurants, bars, and shops.

We are part of the mix here. The city's only LGBT synagogue, Sha'ar Zahav, is in the Mission. We hang out at the Lexington bar, Virgil's Sea Room, and El Rio; sun in Dolores Park; go to events at the Women's Building; shop at Community Thrift and Good Vibrations; and patronize Rick Gerharter Photography in the Redstone Building. El-La, the Latino Transgender Community Center, moved to the Redstone about five years ago. The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club proudly meets in the Women's Building. We have a legacy of LGBT political representation by Supervisor David Campos and by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). The Mission is so gay.

We like the fact that, for many years, it has been a refuge for those of us who needed an affordable and vital city environment. We loved and do love the Mission for what it is " a place where low-income people from the homeless to single-room occupancy hotel residents to renters to homeowners can live and prosper in relative comfort.

For the last 10 years, we have watched as our friends, neighbors, nonprofits, and small businesses have been evicted, priced out, displaced, and shunted aside as rents climbed, as developers moved in, and as the area became a desirable place for those relying on tech buses to whisk them down the Peninsula to their Google, eBay, and Facebook offices. The ongoing threatened evictions of women such as 98-year-old Mary Phillips and her caregiver Sarah Brant from their apartments on Dolores Street point to the risk for vulnerable seniors and the disabled to their now-stable living situation. Vanguard Properties is Ellis Act-evicting Benito Santiago, a 64-year-old disabled Filipino, a teacher with the school district, from another building on Dolores Street. He was born and raised in San Francisco, and is an artist. He has lived at his home for 37 years. He has nowhere else to go should the eviction go through.

Just recently, Vintage Idol has left 16th Street, and my special-occasion restaurant Woodward Gardens announced it was closing due to a prohibitively high rent. Valencia 16 Market was recently shuttered. We are still smarting from the relocation of Adobe Books (now on 24th Street after 25 years on 16th). Esta Noche on 16th will soon become a bar for a more upscale crowd. Theatre Rhinoceros was forced to leave its stage in the Redstone Building due to financial problems. While nonprofits like the Gray Panthers have moved to the Mission when it was evicted from its Market Street office, can the next wave of nonprofit evictions from the Mission be far behind?

Now developer Maximus Real Estate Partners has announced its intention to build a 350-unit project of market-rate condominiums for the site at 1979 Mission (southeast corner of 16th and Mission), which is in close proximity to the 16th Street BART station and currently contains a Walgreens and a plaza. It is used by SRO residents as the closest thing to their living room. Its benches provide a bit of respite when walking up Mission from downtown or shopping at the many fruit and vegetable stands in the area. This condo complex is the largest market-rate development in the history of the Mission district.

Aside from the fact that this "Monster in the Mission" would dwarf the now-defeated 134-unit "Wall on the Waterfront" due to its massive footprint, it is another example of the zero planning philosophy of San Francisco's developers and the planning commission. Instead of investigating an area's needs and those of its residents, the advocates of these behemoths assume that the city services, bus and light rail ridership, and need for parking spaces will merely adapt once the high rises are built and the tenants move in. Communities should have the opportunity to work cooperatively with the city to manage space, services, issues of capacity and affordability, and long-term environmental and cultural effects. Certainly this particular complex is not being built to serve the current Mission residents. Most LGBT people do not typically have the income to even dream of paying $1 million for these luxury units, much less $3-$4 million. We insist that the development of the Mission proceed on the Mission's terms as a whole community of which we are a part.

To add insult to injury, Robert Romania, the notorious CEO of Maximus Real Estate Partners, and his wife Ruth, are big donors to Republican Thom Tillis, whose current run for the Senate in North Carolina against incumbent Kay Hagan (D) is essential in the Republicans' attempt to take control of the Senate. Tillis was a big supporter of North Carolina's constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages that passed in 2012.

The Harvey Milk club believes in equitable development that creates healthy, vibrant, communities of opportunity and of cultural development on the terms of those who live there. We believe this requires thoughtful, intentional, and community-based strategies to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color participate in and benefit from the decisions that shape our neighborhoods and transit-orientated development.

We, along with District 8 Democratic Club, San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, SEIU Local 1021, CARECEN, Causa Justa-Just Cause, Codepink SF, Eviction Free San Francisco, Instituto Familiar de La Raza, Mission Economic Development Agency, Mission Small Business Association, PODER, Redstone Labor Temple Association, San Francisco Lowrider Council, and the Western Regional Advocacy Project have joined the Plaza16 Coalition to resist this affront to the Mission and to its LGBT residents.

What can you do? Come to the next community-wide Plaza16 meeting on Thursday, August 28 at St. John's Episcopal Church, at Julian and 15th streets at 6 p.m. The Harvey Milk club is an endorser of the Plaza16 Coalition, and also welcomes you to join us. Come to our next political action committee meeting on Tuesday, September 9 at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street at 7 p.m. and our next general meeting on Tuesday, September 16 at the San Francisco Women's Building, 3453 18th Street, near Valencia.

We are the Mission. Viva la Mission.

 

Full disclosure: Virgil's Sea Room is co-owned by Milk club Co-President Tom Temprano; Rick Gerharter Photography is a longtime freelancer for the Bay Area Reporter.

 

Sue Englander is a member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

 

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