By Julia Carrie Wong

JUNE 13, 2014 — Last Friday morning, a group of 18 activists styling themselves “Minimus” huddled behind a stand of bushes on the grounds of ParkMerced, discussing an appropriate code word to signal the end of their upcoming protest. After a few half-hearted jokes about “safe words” were tossed out, a young woman spoke up. “Champagne,” she said. “Champagne means we leave.”

48hillsjuliawongIt was a reference to Robert Rosania, CEO of Maximus Real Estate Partners and a noted collector of high-end champagne. Minimus had carpooled to the southwestern corner of San Francisco to confront Seth Mallen, Rosania’s business partner, in his office. If all went according to plan, a friend in New York City would be visiting Rosania’s office at the same time.

Maximus is the developer behind the controversial plan to build a 350-unit housing and retail project at the corner of 16th and Mission Streets.

Carrying signs reading, “MAXIMU$ PROFIT$ MINIMUS BENEFIT,” “SETH MALLEN, WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE,” and, “FUCK YOU AND YOUR CHAMPAGNE,” the group rushed into 345 Vidal Drive, only to be met by an almost-empty office staffed by two confused employees. Mallen was not present.

A standoff ensued for about 15 minutes. One of the employees recorded the protest on a cellphone, while one of the protesters aimed his camera back at the employee.

Benito Santiago, a 63-year old educator for the San Francisco Unified School District who is fighting his own Ellis Act eviction, set a beat with his drum, and Erin McElroy manned the bullhorn.

After scribbling, “Save the Mission,” on a dry-erase board, the protesters chanted, “Maximus Out, La Mission in!” and wandered around the small office space. One protester took over the bullhorn to explain, “It seems like it’s just business as usual, but there’s violence that’s happening, and we’re here to make that visible.”

Eventually the group headed outside, where a security guard made it clear that the protest was ruining her day.

“Champagne,” the woman who originally suggested the code word shouted. “Champagne, we’re leaving.”


The Minimus protestors were inspired by, but not affiliated with, the growing Plaza 16 Coalition campaign to stop Maximus’s development in the Mission. (For background, read my March report on the project and the “Clean up the Plaza” campaign.)

The Coalition is primarily comprised of progressive community-based organizations, including Causa Justa Just Cause and PODER, but it recently received its first labor endorsement from SEIU Local 1021.

Last month, the Coalition brought about 200 people out to the Victoria Theatre to discuss organizing in opposition to Maximus. The group’s primary concern with the proposed development is that it will further accelerate the ongoing gentrification of the Mission. Members believe an influx of new residents who can afford $3,500-a-month rentals will lead to more displacement of longtime residents in the neighborhood. They also raise concerns about the development attracting businesses that cater only to wealthy patrons, and the shadow it will cast over Marshall Elementary School.

The Coalition has issued an ambitious set of demands, calling on Maximus to “abandon their current project,” and transfer ownership of the land to the community. The group calls on the city government to “reject all market rate housing developments in the Mission until housing needs for the poor and working class are fully met.” The Coalition also demands an end to police harassment of the homeless and SRO residents who hang out in the plaza.

The Coalition is holding a festival this Saturday, June 14th at the 16th and Mission Plaza, from 12-4pm. The event will feature musical performances, art projects, and food, and is intended to celebrate the existing community in the neighborhood.

Reached by telephone, Christian Letley, the spokesperson for Maximus, had no response to the Minimus protest except to say, “We were surprised.” Asked about Maximus’s response to the Plaza 16 Coalition, he stated, “We are listening, and we want everyone to be happy.”

  • Sam

    A “newcomer” buying or renting a new condo does not in any way displace someone in an existing home. Indeed, they may well create a job for that existing resident. While the project creates millions for affordable housing.

    The protest is misguided.

    • Paul

      The pressure created by an influx of high income “newcomers” on existing low income housing is enormous. Indeed, displacement of existing residents of homes in the Mission is ongoing. Big money sales of sights like this, and the former body shop building on Mission @ Albion between Valencia and Guerrero, to developers of “condos above retail” will escalate that pressure. Potential jobs, at what may or may not fill the future retail space, will not save existing residents from being pushed out of their homes.

      You view, Sam, maybe self-serving if not merely misguided.

      • Paul

        spelling correction: “sites” not “sights”. Auto-fill technology not perfect.

  • Jonathan

    I am glad to see the Mission district fighting back. The skyrocketing rents, evictions, and mass displacement of citizens has to stop. No more luxury highrise housing, so long as we have thousands of homeless on the street, and thousands more folks crowded into tiny, inadequate SROs without even private bath or kitchens. San Francisco needs to address affordable housing issues, not build luxury highrise condos or apartments which simply exacerbate the problem of gentrification.

    • hruski

      This project will create 50 affordable housing units on a site where there are 0. Why are you fighting affordable housing in the Mission?

      • Jonathan

        Maximus is not about affordability for the Mission residents, its about maximizing their profits at the expense of the people they want to sweep out. This project needs to be 100% affordable, not 12% crumbs, which most long term residents in the neighborhood still can’t afford to rent.

        • Steve Kopff

          Jonathan when you buy your own land to develop then go ahead and knock yourself and make it 100% for affordable housing. Pushing your own demands on others who are already providing a balance of market rate and affordable housing? That says more about your lack of willingness to compromise than anything about Maximus.

          • Jonathan

            Steve, 12% affordable is a joke, the median income for Mission District is much lower than rest of S.F, so locals won’t be able to afford the so called affordable housing. Like Professor Emeritus Benjamin Bower said about you as a force for gentrification in Oakland: “People say they move into a neighborhood because it’s diverse, and that’s great, but the question is, how long will it be diverse? It has more to do with market forces than people being nice to each other on the street. There’s no way you can have property values go up, gentrify the neighborhood and keep the lower income families in that community. It’s just not going to happen.” He was referring to you, right? Don’t forget, as a member of the LGBT community, 29% of homeless in San Francisco are members of the LGBT community, many of them with AIDS. I don’t feel sorry for rich billionaires who want to get richer still, I do feel compassion for the homeless, the LGBT community that suffers, the low income people, the people being evicted and displaced. You are well off, please try to understand and have compassion.

          • Sam

            ! agree, Steve. i think a lot of this opposition to more expensive new homes is predicated on envy. The attitude seems to be: “If I cannot afford it, then it should not be built”.

            But these new units actually help poorer folks stay in their existing homes. If I am looking to plop down a million to buy a home in the Mission then, if there are no new homes for sale, then I will buy an older unit that has probably been created by an eviction, TIC or condo conversion.

        • BP

          You will never find any entity, profit or nonprofit, with both the money and will to make a “100% affordable” project at this site, given the current costs inherent in building it. There is no way for your demand to ever be met.

          • Jonathan

            Community Based Non Profit Housing Developers do it all the time, they have the skill and expertise to coble together multiple funding streams to create deeply affordable housing that benefits the community, as opposed to for profit billionaire housing that benefits Maximus and the well off. As for Sam’s comment, its Maximus which is driven by envy and greed, not low income folks who are just trying to survive.

          • Sam

            No, Jonathan, if the parties you cited had the ability to fund the socialization of housing, they would do it.

            What you really seek to create is a world where outcomes are not dependent on effort, contribution or ability. And typically Americans will not vote for that.

            It is very expensive to create homes in Sf, because of excessive regulations and taxes. That makes it inevitable that the only people with the fiscal power to create homes are those who expect a reward for doing so.

            If you and your kind could replace them, you would. But you cannot, because you have not.

  • Steve Kopff

    So tired of the G-Word and scapegoating! Talk about beating a dead horse to death. How about try covering a different angle?

  • Charles

    Here is a new angle how about the rich pay their fare share. Tax cuts for the wealthy is an abomination, corporate welfare is and abomination, when your secretary pays more as a percentage of her income than you do in taxes and the rich send money overseas to hide it from being taxed and 1% of the population controls 42 % of the wealth it’s time for them to pay their fare share. Those who benefit most should contribute more. and for my judeo-christian friends “A camel has a better chance of passing through the eye of a needle than a rich man has entering the kingdom of heaven.” Even 2000 years ago everyone knew that you had to hold the rich accountable because left to their own they will just be stricken with greed and the need for more at any cost without regard to society. People are basically evil and power and money make then tyrants, it should be the mission of the government to protect the people from threats domestic and foreign, and rich people are a threat to the well being of everyone on earth.

    • Sam

      Charles, it isn’t the wealthy who will be living in a condo black at 16th and Mission. The likely pricing for such a building will be for middle-income folks, with 50 units for low-income. There will be very few, if any, high-income folks living in this project – maybe just the penthouse floor, if that.

      Rich people do not threaten you at all. In fact, they create wealth more than they consume it. Stereotyping people based on how successful they are isn’t a great idea.

      • Russo

        Don’t be disingenuous, John. The rich keep the lion’s share of the wealth they create. That’s why the wealth disparity is now on par with the Gilded Age. The super-rich are job destroyers and offshore tax cheats. Those aren’t stereotypes.

    • BP

      Uh … okay, but nowhere in there did you actually explain why a need for higher taxes on the wealthy equates to a need to kill this particular construction project.

    • The deep truth here is that land values are the “obscured object of desire.” It’s no good saying that the cost of labor and the cost of building materials should be subsidized or cut down. Labor deserves its reward. However, Land Values are not a product of individual effort, but are, instead, generated by the growth of community. Land values belong to community, and when public policy aligns with that fact and perspective, then most of this “gentrification vs the community” tangle will come clear.

      Socializing land values fully will 1) end land speculation, 2) enable the elimination of taxes on buildings, building materials, and the labor that builds housing.

      At present those who oppose gentrification focus on meanie greed-heads without paying attention to what constitutes greed. Building housing is not greedy. Seeking the unearned value of land is greedy. Seeking a return for design and construction labor is not greedy. Angling to translate the rising value of land–a value that rises with the growth of community–into private income is greedy.

      Check out a free walking tour with The Commons SF that addresses real estate and justice . . . thecommonsSF(dot)org

  • Capp St.

    I like at 16th and Capp (half block from said intersection). I can’t express how much I want plaza demolished, but I will try. There is absolutely nothing of value, substance, or even moderately redeeming quality happening at that intersection? The housing has already been increased, so to say this is going to raise rents is a farce. The Walgreens, Burger Kind, etc businesses on the corners are blights and utter shitholes of chains that have forgotten their stores there. What happens at the plaza on a daily basis? Flagrant and uninhibited drug use, public urination, pan handling, grifting, loud drunken conversation, and generally unsavory behavior. I would like to also highlight the most pungent and persistent smell of urine. Rain is a true god send.

    Fuck these protest. Demolish the plaza. IMPROVE the neighborhood. Especially for those kids at the aforementioned elementary school that have to walk through the human wasteland to attend.

  • SFrentier

    OMG, some of you guys (like Jonathan, David) need a reality check. You basically want the gov to take over private property in SF. Cuba did that over half a century ago, and it’s been a colossal failure. So unless you can get serious funding for your housing non profits to buy and ‘gift’ low cost housing to a select few, you’re going to need a different attitude.

    Fools like Erin McElroy need to pull the bull horn out of her ass. (It’s telling how she comes from a wealthy family- dads some pharma exec- so she must be motivated to displace her white guilt.) Her, and the people incessantly complaining about being displaced from the mission need to grow up: what gives you the right to demand to live in a specific apartment forever that you do not own? Mission getting too expensive? Move to Daly City or Oakland. Both are very close to SF. FFS take some responsibility for yourself and stop trying to mooch off private landlords and property owners.

    • SFrentier, the proposal is not for gov to take over private property; rather, the proposal is to remove all taxation from earned income–from work, from business, from investment in goods and services, from management of apartment buildings!–and instead retrieve the value of community-generated land values for the community.

      The proposal is to eliminate subsidized land value ownership . . . and most other subsidies.

      Land, unlike stuff made by people, has no production cost because it is not produced. The value of land is not produced by ownership of land, but by the growth of community. In the truest sense of the word conservative (meaning to conserve value to the creator of value), land values belong to community.

      The city paves streets and land values are buoyed. A restaurant opens in the neighborhood and land values are buoyed. Hard-working folk move into the neighborhood and land values are buoyed. Subtract these elements of “location, location, location” and land values fall. A poodle could own an unimproved parcel of land in such a neighborhood and the value of the parcel would follow the rise and ebb of the community. . . the point being that mere ownership of land does not account for its value.

      What Cuba failed to do was use the market to determine land value and then collect that value as public revenue. Instead, Cuba and Socialists abhor the market and remit land use issues to technocrats cum fascists who determine who gets to do what where.

      The proposal is to oblige the owner of land to pay its full potential market rent to community, then turn him loose (pending zoning considerations the community may prefer) to build or not build, rent or not rent. The corollary is to remove all taxes levied upon the building, remove all taxes upon building materials (and other manufactured goods), and to remove all taxes upon the labor employed in building and maintaining the building (eliminate the income tax). No Socialist state ever contemplated such a proposal, certainly not Cuba. With this information in mind, you must see that bringing Cuba and Socialism into the discussion is absurd . . . except to bolster the argument in favor of a freer market for the provision of goods and services. The mere ownership of land is neither good nor service; in fact it is analogous (in a theological discussion) to the priesthood where the priesthood stands as the necessary interlocutor with the godhead. Priesthood = monopoly of God, Mere landownership = monopoly of Nature.

      The proposal is not to eliminate private title to land, however, because private landownership does result in appropriate care for location, location, location; instead, the proposal is to eliminate private income from the ownership of land.

      check out LeonPhat(dot)com

  • SFrentier

    “The proposal is to oblige the owner of land to pay its full potential market rent to community”

    What exactly do you mean by this?

  • SFrentier

    I just read your web site. So you want to “tax the land”. Why not just nationalize it then? If you tax it to full utility, what’s the point of private land ownership?

    You want more rational housing in SF? Phase out rent control. RC benefits anyone with rental seniority. They can be wealthy and they benefit. What’s the point of giving a tech engineer who has rented in the mission the last 5 years a $1000 discount on rent? SF has tried for over 20 years to restrict landlords, strengthen RC, etc. it has not helped. RC keeps so many units off the market at any given time, indiscriminately benefiting anyone with seniority. It’s a failed system that’s proven it’s futility, and hence has been eliminated in so many cities and countries. But SF supervisors are too chicken shit to call that out. Easier to pander to greedy tenants wanting to protect their “deal.”

    • Rentier,

      It’s an anticipated and logical question you pose: Why not just nationalize land if you want to nationalize land values?

      The answer is straight forward: To nationalize land would be to concede control of land to a committee that would be likely–as all monopolists are–to distribute land use subject to bribery and private advantage, whereas nationalizing the market value of land (with transparent publication of the tax paid) would ensure that land use would follow the market demand for land.

      The tax would be something on the order of 90+% of the potential market rent for the parcel (minus any improvements value). Leaving something less than 10% of the rent with the landowner would serve as a service fee paid to the landowner for the trouble of collecting the rent from renters or leasers or himself, forwarding the 90+% along to the appropriate jurisdiction. This service fee consideration saves government the bother of creating an extensive collection apparatus. The service fee consideration would be adjusted whenever there arose a palpable competition amongst landowners for land values as a revenue stream.

      The corollary, as noted elsewhere, is for the abolition of taxes on earned income. No longer taxes on building materials and labor (including building and business management). No longer a penalty (property tax hike) for improving a building. For instance, add a second or third floor (community zoning permitting) to a structure and there would be no added tax obligation. Wow! Contributing to the community no longer treated as an offense! Developers would pay no fees for building housing.

      And with such a plan would come the end of rent control because the control of land rent, which is the mother of all control would be at an end (that’s the defining role of a king, isn’t it, the control of land rent: King George collected an access fee from colonists for their merely daring to brave the peril of a crossing and then hazard hewing a livelihood from the wilderness of Nature. How much more wicked it would have been had King George had laid claim to an already developed (European-style) land and charged the colonists and natives both for daring to use “location, location, location.”)

      Take away land rent from the income ledger of slumlords and the slums will disappear. Leave slumlords all the income from their slum structures, but take away their land rent income and they will toss it all over, making way for genuine developers who will gladly build to suit the market for safe, wholesome housing (if that goes untaxed) without needing to make a buck (beyond that service fee mentioned above) from land rent. Why, even today where there is a tax on labor and building materials there are good and decent builders who will lease land from another private party in order to make a livelihood by building and renting housing or office space. Imagine how much more vigorous the market supply of builders there would be if they were told: No permit fees, no building fees, no tax on your work or materials; instead, we the community will do handsomely with the land rent and that’s the end of your obligation.

      The sweetness of it is this: the sales price of land is proportional to its private income potential. Thus, where land rent tax is high, sales price of land is low, which makes the acquisition of land by actual users incredibly easy. This proposal will actually increase land ownership by leaps and bounds by dramatically reducing the debt for land ownership scale, and banks will make interest income not from land value debt, but from loans made to purchase materials and labor.

      Rentier, this is not pie in the sky. In the absence of this social arrangement there will be the poor made poor by the kingly role of privatized land rent, with the result that do-gooders will look at the effects, not the cause, and call for rent control and subsidies and heavy taxes on hard work in order to set things right. So long as there is the kingly role there will be the sort of poverty that drives do-gooders to cast about for intrusive, scape-goating, liberty-diminishing, but well-intentioned public policy.

  • SFrentier

    Tell you what. I’ll endorse nationalizing the “market value” of land, as soon as you can also nationalize the market value of private and public business enterprises. Deal?

    • Rentier,

      I’ve done my best (and I’m done with this thread, perhaps we’ll meet on my walking tour of SF real estate . . . http://www.TheCommonsSF(dot)org) to present you with an alternative to being merely frustrated by perennial social do-goodism.

      I’ve presented a centuries, even millennial old solution that squarely addresses justice, efficiency, and the deepest element of American independence spirit, namely to be free from the kingly privatization of the economic rent of land (make no mistake, the authors (and Declaration signers) of the American independence story cynically or ignorantly preserved the kingly privatization of land rent calling it American freedom to do unto then present humanity (Blacks and unlanded whites) and future humanity what the kings of Europe and elsewhere had done to drive people west across the Ocean).

      With this proposal you could probe and counter-attack the intellectual integrity of do-goodism by supporting an end of monopolistic land rent income in exchange for the end of taxes on work, consumer goods, and genuine capital (land is not genuine capital for it is not made by people but is a gift of nature).

      So I am puzzled by your farewell rhetoric. You know that I am more robustly opposed to taxes on work and capital than you are. Why challenge me to strive for the nationalization of the entire economy as a condition for your taking up the land rent proposal? Perhaps you simply mean that in the USA nationalizing land rent is as likely as nationalizing all work and business. That may be so, yet as July 4 approaches what more positive evidence can there be of being filled with the spirit of liberty and freedom and manliness (humanity, I should say) than to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, namely to strive that the physical world itself is not considered the prior economic realm of some portion of the population as an advantage over others. A level playing field, and then play on.