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Arts + CultureDeal saves Mission art space -- but at what...

Deal saves Mission art space — but at what cost?

Developer will relocate InnerMission — but will still demolish precious industrial space in the name of luxury housing

A venerable Mission arts space may be saved -- but only in exchange for a very bad project
A venerable Mission arts space may be saved — but only in exchange for a very bad project

By Steven T. Jones

JUNE 18, 2015 — Developer Nick Podell was scheduled to go before the San Francisco Planning Commission today seeking approval to demolish the InnerMission (formerly CELLspace) art and community space and the surrounding block of buildings along Bryant Street between 18th and 19th streets, and to build a few hundred mostly market-rate apartments in their place. That hearing has been postponed to Sept. 10 – but not before dozens of speakers denounced the plan and several commissioners talked of the problem of the loss of light industrial space in the city.

The newly wised-up developer is trying to deflect some of the activist opposition that has been roiling the Mission District these days. As part of his strategy, he’s hired an experienced City Hall lobbyist and has cut a “replacement for displacement” deal with the InnerMission owners that ended their opposition.

But based on today’s hearing, the central concern – that the Mission doesn’t need luxury housing, but does need the kind of space that allows artists and blue-collar jobs to remain in the city – clearly isn’t going away.

InnerMission owners Eric Reid and Mike Gaines — who went from quietly accepting their imminent eviction a few months ago to making a stand against the landlord/developer and helping facilitate an opposition movement called the Cultural Action Network — told me Podell has agreed to pay for the relocation of InnerMission to a new space (as yet unidentified), to fund renovations on that space, and to put up a substantial five-year operating subsidy.

“This gives us hope as artists,” Gaines said. “It’s a huge fucking win for art. It’s unprecedented what he’s done.”

“It saves our business and keeps us in the neighborhood,” Reid said. “The collective action of everyone has helped bring a developer to his senses.”

Yet given the nature of that collective action — which has been about art and community spaces, but also about gentrification, housing affordability and the changing character of the Mission District — not everyone is going to follow the lead of Reid and Gaines and support the project.

“We don’t want the artists and businesses displaced for market-rate condos. The Mission needs affordable housing, not luxury pied-a-terres for the rich,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the San Francisco Housing Rights Coalition, which is organizing in opposition to the project. “We want a moratorium on luxury housing and the building of 3,000 deeply affordable units in the Mission.”

The InnerMission owners seem to have abandoned that coalition in favor of a deal keeping their space.

“Art and culture is the cornerstone of this, at least for us. There are definitely other issues at play, but I have the obligation to the 120 artists who use that space on a weekly basis,” Gaines said.

But to Jonathan Youtt and other members of Cultural Action Network, that deal is not yet enough to end their opposition to what they’re calling the Beast on Bryant. “The Cultural Action Network is happy they negotiated this deal,” Youtt told me. “This is a good sign that the developer is willing to do relocation deals. But the project as designed is a terrible mess and it’s selling on PDR space that is needed by artists and workers.”

When I interviewed Podell back in March for an article on his project (), he was focused on his housing entitlements and dismissive of policies from the Mission Area Plan that call for the preservation of art, community, and light industrial (aka Production, Distribution and Repair, or PDR) spaces like the ones he’s proposing to demolish, even after planners had raised the issue in their staff report.

“This site was rezoned to allow for 100 percent housing,” said Podell, who initially proposed for just 44 of his 276 apartments to be offered at below market rates, the bare minimum required by the city’s inclusionary housing laws.

But since then, the simmering populist anger over the city’s gentrification, eviction and housing affordability crisis has boiled over, particularly in the Mission District, from which hundreds of activists have twice invaded City Hall recently and almost got the Board of Supervisors to approve an emergency measure creating a temporary moratorium on building in Mission.

The push for that moratorium, which would have stopped Podell’s project in its tracks, dovetailed with the creation of the Cultural Action Network during weekly meetings in InnerMission that started in April (see “The Art of Displacement in San Francisco, ), with the goal of making developers responsible for their impacts to the city’s art and culture.

The group created a change.org petition that has garnered 500 signatures to oppose a project it characterizes as “the demolition of 50,000 square feet of light industrial and artists’ spaces in the Mission so that a private developer with out-of-town financial backers can build luxury housing and a huge street-level parking lot.”

Podell seems to have woken up to the fact that his housing entitlements aren’t the end of the story, and he’s gotten some professional help. When I called Podell for comment, he had political consultant Boe Hayward — a former City Hall staffer well acquainted with the city’s volatile populist politics — call me back on his behalf.

“We’re working very well with our tenants now,” Hayward told me, confirming the deal with InnerMission, but saying the negotiations with tenants and other interested parties was ongoing and he couldn’t discuss details yet.

Reid and Gaines told us that Podell has also agreed to relocate another displaced tenant, San Francisco Auto Repair, and that he’s been negotiating with affordable housing advocates to increase the percentage of affordable housing in the project. But it’s going to take a large increase to satisfy many affordable housing advocates, who don’t want any more luxury housing in the Mission.

The artists say they’re gotten the best deal they’re going to get, one that allows them to remain in San Francisco. Gaines also runs the Vau de Vire Society, a circus-inspired dance and performance art crew that has been headquartered in this space for at least seven years, when Gaines began taking over for the failing CELLspace, which had operated here since the ‘90s in an underground and somewhat illegal art space.

Gaines and Reid, who also runs Theater MadCap and is one of just a handful of African-American business owners in the Mission, founded InnerMission here three years ago and have been pouring money into renovations and permitting issues and hosting a wide variety of art and community events.

“We feel like we struck a landmark compromise between developers and artists,” Reid said. “This is a fantastic deal for the artist’s community. There are other issues that have come up, such as housing, but we can’t really address that. Originally, it was ‘save the art spaces,’ but now it’s drifted and they want 100 percent affordable housing and saving of the PDR spaces.”

That’s exactly what the Mission community leaders want – and they have allies. In an almost unprecedented move, the Building Trades Council strongly opposed the project at today’s hearing and it’s vowing to get the San Francisco Labor Council to oppose it as well.

And it doesn’t seem likely that a deal with one arts organization, which will cost the developer a tiny fraction of the huge profits he’s going to make off this project, is going to end all the opposition, even among the allies InnerMission has worked closely with.

“They’re focused on the micro and that’s fine,” Youtt said. “But when you pull out and see the macro, this project shouldn’t go through.”

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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50 COMMENTS

  1. Ed Lee and London recommend approving; urban blight (why losing sight) of arts in San Francisco! Every square foot even sidewalks, are profits for NAIOP and BOMA S.F!

  2. I’m an existing resident for 36 years but I’m no loser victim, I was smart enough to BUY MY PROPERTY I OWN !

  3. Speculators built EVERY building in this town, they can’t uproot anyone who is an intelligent self enabled person. Loser victims only have themselves to blame.

  4. I asked you to cite direct evidence. Some vague allegation of a report somewhere doesn’t nearly cut it.

    You displaced low-income people of non-whiteness in the Mission, and then try and cloak your greed and NIMBYism in phoney posturing.

    You are busted, marcos the gentrifier.

  5. There is no evidence to support your claim. Nor is there any direct link that can be credibly demonstrated.

  6. Market rate housing plopped into a lower income community displaces lower income residents. But you hate existing residents, so you’re comfortable with that.

  7. Nobody is uprooted by the building of new homes because they are built on unused land, and nobody’s home is lost.

  8. The people we need to take care are the people this city needs, and not those who merely think it’s cool to live here.

    How desirable you are depends on the economic value you can add.

  9. But again, new build does not displace anyone. What displaces people is when we do not build new homes, and then frustrated newcomers instead buy an existing building and Ellis, TIC, OMI or condo it.

    New build isn’t just speculation. It meets a real demand

  10. We don’t build to any bubble. We build because there is demand. and that demand has ridden out every market cycle we have had since the 1840’s

  11. Nobody spends money in the Mission with the intent of displacing anyone. And I doubt that it can be proven that it ever causes it even inadvertently. Putting money in the pockets of existing residents should help them to pay their bills.

    Moreover, there is always a natural migration of people in and out of any neighborhood. The Mission used to be majority white, then majority Hispanic, and now it is genuinely diverse with no one ethnicity dominating.

  12. What’s the point of a bubble if we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of it popping? Bring on the glut of available housing. We should be so cursed here.

  13. Well, do feel free to call Janet Yellen’s office and try to make your case. Beyond that, you might as well propose policies to combat the weather. The city has few knobs it can turn, and the biggest one is supply.

  14. We subsidize so many things in this society, including tax breaks for rich corporations. So many things … I urge you to get familiar with that data. The cotton subsidy alone is over 1 billion. Often it comes down to how well you lay your lobbyists. What, you don’t have lobbyists? Well, here is your evidtion letter – see you in Stockton.

    It’s less about subsidies. It’s more about limiting speculation, keeping profits reasonable but not ridiculous, about smart, bold, forward thinking planning, and by not forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of SF residents who already live here and are in need of housing.

    Why should a city prioritize housing for wealthy newcomers? Yes, that backlash has significant momentum now.

  15. Anyone is welcome to come and spend their dollars in the neighborhood. No one in their right mind would physically displace existing residents to spend that money though.

    The trickle down propaganda is based on refuted economics. Meanwhile longtime residents are trickling out as most people are one life event away from having to move far away…

    Your argument about quality of life for low income residents doesn’t take into account cost of living (including housing), let’s start there. Even the higher minimum wage makes no dent.

    The Mission has been vibrant for decades. You’re probably thinking of ‘success and prosperity’ as luxury condos, high end dining, and cocktails – which is a complete ‘failure to understand’.

  16. Exactly, marcos/foghorn helped gentrify the Mission by outbidding locals for a previously affordable home.

    He is dressing up his greed and NIMBYism in the false cloak of caring for the very kind of people whom he helped displace.

  17. Affordable housing requires huge subsidies. The voters will let you know in November how badly they agree with you, and whether they want to pay more taxes to fund that.

    The last two times they were asked, they said NO.

  18. Housing shortages cause displacement, and neither local nonprofit developers, nor condo-owning transplant-bashing transplant 48hills commenters, have shown any particular capacity to solve them.

  19. He’s just playing the classic SF game of hating on everyone who arrived after you did. Which is especially entertaining when it comes from white male condo-owning tech workers in the Mission, like foghorn/marcos.

  20. “They want to build affordable housing.”

    And “they” haven’t shown any ability to actually do so at scale – which is why the demand to stop market rate development (and the BMR development it produces as a side effect) rings so hollow.

  21. You really hate people who move into the Mission. Where does the hatred come from? Existing residents are fuel by nothing by hatred for the “others” even if they are just people working for a living.

    I can play your game as well…

  22. I love San Franciscans, and support what they vote for. They voted for a pro-development mayor, more new homes and city-wide planning.

    They never voted for the city-wide planning process to be hijacked by a small noisy mob of local unelected activists with a narrow NIMBY agenda

  23. New build doesn’t displace anything other than an overgrown plot of empty land, or maybe a surface car lot or closed gas station.

    Our population is growing. Displacement happens only if we do not respond to that by building more homes.

  24. You really hate San Franciscans. Where does this hatred come from? Conservatives and libertarians are fueled by nothing but hatred.

  25. I can’t take you seriously unless you include a tangentially relevant chart from the St. Louis Fed.

  26. People are at risk of displacement because the market drives a dump truck full of money up to the house of developers who produce housing. Like Krusty the Clown, developers are not made of stone.

    Word salads about variables and planning are the problem, not the solution. The solution is to take profit out of the equation. The best rent control and eviction protection is abundance.

  27. the Headline is wrong, Tim. the Deal doesn’t save any “space”. it just provides the InnerMission Group 5 years of rent subsidy in some new rented location. after that … good luck.

    The “space” that needs to be saved is of course the 20 year Cell Space mostly recently occupied by InnerMission, and as much of that classic factory building as possible for other PDR. Cell occupies just 1/4 of it.

  28. You exaggerate. New residents create new jobs and business opportunities for locals. The poor in SF have a very good standard of living compared with the poor in places without a success “problem” like Detroit.

    You fail to understand who is bringing success and prosperity to the city and the Mission. You take for granted that others take risks and build prosperity and a vibrant tax base. Take away the winners and all that is left are losers.

  29. This isn’t just up to the local residents. The Mission is not a jurisdiction. Planning is a city-wide function.

    And this deal is a compromise. You know – one of those thing that left-wing extremists can’t do, rendering them useless for purpose

  30. Except that nobody is losing their home here.

    These are new homes for which there is great demand.

    And the Mission is hardly short of artists. They are everywhere.

  31. Does anyone think that MEDA and the Planning Department’s “Mission 2020” plan is going to be able to address these crises? Does anyone know what MEDA and the Planning Department are cooking up on our behalf behind closed doors?

    Why are MEDA and the Planning Department not conducting an open, public process to buy residents of the community into the process of planning for our future?

    MEDA and the Planning Department got it wrong over and again in our community, they will not get it right until residents are empowered to give them sufficient hand-holding through the process so that our interests are paramount.

  32. “We” do not need more housing, period. “We” need comprehensive planning that moves forward coherently especially when it comes to housing for folks who are already here and are at risk of displacement.

  33. There is also a severe shortage of space for artists & PDR space. Nobody wants to build no more housing. They want to build affordable housing.

  34. We need housing. Period. There is a severe housing shortage in this city and the lunactics want to fix this by building no more housing.

  35. The reason relocation of the remaining businesses, which does not include the family run restaurant Tortilla Flats Cafe that closed at the end of May, or the union workers who just lost their jobs at the ACT prop and scene shop, is not the end of the discussion is because we are talking about destroying an entire block and building over 200 luxury housing units. The negative impact of this influx of rich people on a working class neighborhood is huge. Prices for food and housing on surrounding blocks will skyrocket, transportation, parks/open space will be impacted… there needs to be a plan with vision to preserve one of the culturally richest, affordable neighborhoods remaining in SF. At todays hearing, the Planning Director said that currently, the Mission has 60% affordable housing. Any new development must be 60% affordable just to preserve that, and not backside further after years of luxury development with barely 12-16% affordable housing stock being built. We need a commitment to build 100% affordable housing in the Mission, to start catching up. 8000 low income FAMILIES have been displaced with 5000 upper income residents. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. 3000 of our school children are homeless, in the richest city in the USA. We are in a housing crisis, and this rampant development of luxury housing in the Mission has to stop.

  36. The proposed project should include space for artists. They should not be forced to leave the Mission.

  37. Organizing works! Kudos to those who put their blood, sweat and tears into this deal….not to mention hundreds of hours. Developers are typically clueless to what makes good cities, good neighborhoods or good social sense… since they follow the money. But what if the city demanded the developers FIRST relocate groups, businesses and renters BEFORE they are allowed ANY building permits? Can’t SF attract wealthy social conscious developers?

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