Monster in the Mission spends $300K on signatures

Developer pays for 'grassroots' effort to build support for a project that many Mission community groups strongly oppose

I was out of town when the latest chapter of the fight took place. As Local reports, the developer (Maximus, which also owns Park Merced), tried to hold a meeting with local merchants. It was closed to the press — maybe because the last time Maximus tried to hold a community meeting, it didn’t go so well.

We don’t know how well this one went, either. We do know that Joe Arellano, a spokesperson for the project, told Local that “advocates and staff had been gathering the support of thousands of people who have signed a petition backing the project.”

The developer has spent more than $300,000 gathering signatures in support of the project

That’s clearly part of the new strategy for this project: Build what the developer can say is a significant amount of community support for a development that has been unpopular in the community.

But it’s important to understand a little about where that “grassroots” support is coming from. And thanks to some recent amendments to the SF ethics laws, we can get a bit of a sense.

The recent event — and the lobbying effort — has been paid for by For All, which is not a nonprofit or a political organization. It’s a Limited Liability Company, chartered in 2016 in California. Documents at the Secretary of State’s Office show its address as the offices of Nielsen, Merksamer, a San Rafael-based law firm that specializes in campaign finance.

For All is entirely owned and funded by Maximus, the documents show.

For All filed the required disclosures with the SF Ethics Commission, and as of August 11, 2017, the LLC has spent a total of more than $300,000 — just in the past four months — on lobbying, and most of that has gone for paid canvassers to gather signatures in support of the project.

Larry Del Carlo, who lives in Concord, Gene Royale, who lives in Daly City, and Charles Goss, a Sacramento political consultant, have also been paid as consultants.

Now: There’s nothing wrong with hiring paid political canvassers. Campaigns do it all the time. You rarely see this kind of money, in this short a period of time, though, unless someone is trying to gather signatures to put something on the ballot.

That’s not what’s happening here. Instead, For All, LLC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars sending people door-to-door to try to drum up support for a project that many of the existing grassroots political groups in the oppose.

Again: I see nothing illegal here. I see nothing that hasn’t been done by others, on all sides of issues, many times. (I’ve worked as a paid canvasser myself, way back when, for Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Greenpeace.) I think people who do political work should be paid.

But the scale is pretty dramatic; there’s ton of money going into this effort. And the grassroots opponents of the project have nowhere near this level of resources.

So when Arellano talks about the “thousands of people” who have signed petitions for the project, just remember that his boss has spent more than $300,000 in four months in one neighborhood to get those signatures. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in San Francisco politics.

  • sebra leaves

    This is pretty amazing. Why is a developer spending $300K to "fake" community support? What is he planning to get out of the deal? Is this about money or something else?

    • Владимир Владимирич Владимиров

      > What is he planning to get out of the deal? Is this about money or something else?

      Developers spend money to build things, in order to make money. It's not a shadowy conspiracy

      • goodmaab

        Maximus flipped Parkmerced for a cool 200+million, its the entitlements, than he either sells or retains a portion for his pockets…. Robert Rosania (Mr. Big-Boy) likes to ensure he makes a good bundle on any project….Most units that are "affordable" end up being "off-sited" or placed with an in-lieu fee, therefore circumventing the process of on-site retention of affordable units… The Monster in the mission, should not go forward, instead the community vision should be the realized project. The Marvel in the Mission! (See Plaza16.org website)

        • Владимир Владимирич Владимиров

          I went and read the website.

          it says

          > The Plaza 16 Coalition spent months facilitating a collaborative community planning process to come up with a positive alternative development we call the MARVEL in the Mission.

          There is no way this org and the city will come up with the money and actual planning and permit allocations in the next 1,000 years.

    • goodmaab

      "green-$-greed" and developers promoting themselves by hiring SPUR / SFHAC or other lobbyists and parties that will profit to sign in support vs. the existing community opposed…

      • LVLHeaded

        maybe, *just maybe* SPUR and SFHAC are composed of individuals who went to school, grad school, and sometimes to get doctorates in architecture, planning, urban development, and *might*(bear with me here) think that building dense housing next to transit is a good thing as it reduces driving, cars on the road, emissions, and creates a vibrant urban city. Or you know, shills, conspiracy, and whatever some wacko wrote on a blog is much more trustworthy.

        On a side note, profit does not always equal greed or shady dealings. it's literally how the entire world works and how housing is built. even affordable housing is derived from the profits of other companies or because people profit in other industries and can make donations. i don't blame you for your skepticism, but sometimes things are really not that complicated. this project makes a lot of sense. build it.

        • goodmaab

          So the 300k you would agree would be better spent on transit changes vs political paparazzi and glorified ads (ex Parkmerced) in addition to some form of invested long term strategy of providing rent subsidies on site vs continual "in-lieu" and displacement efforts.. 😉

          • LVLHeaded

            It's private capital, it's not my job to "care" how they spend it. I DO CARE that they have to spend money on a ridiculous PR campaign when that money could have been spent towards improving or building the project more efficiently. The units get more expensive every time there's a delay or frivolous lawsuit. Lawyers and architects bill longer, interest accrues on loans. Where do you think this money comes from?

          • goodmaab

            Money laundering, pyramid schemes, banks that are criminal and a few more unsavory real estate developers who pocket sales from flipping Parkmerced and park it into their next flipped site or project.

            You are understanding the fact that it's rob Rosania aka "mr big-boy" ?

          • LVLHeaded

            You dodged every one of my points. Please stop diverting to Mr. Rosania. Seeing as how everything you mentioned is speculation and there aren't any formal charges against him I'd suggest you stay on topic. And that's what every smart company does, take their profits and reinvest them in the company.

          • goodmaab

            A) article is about the monster in the mission and lobbying tactics owned and proposed by rob Rosania

            B) the fact is that the developer remains a concern due to his lobbying on prior developments claiming they were deteriorated beyond repair / not a single unit was past rehab. Similar to many predatory investors.

            C) it is also known that many of these developers use funds and banking support from questionable means or unknown sources (usually hidden in complex and shady banking LLCs etc)

            D) they can make promises and spend money on whatever they want in the existing super hyper inflated real estate situation we have in SF it's the basis of the us economy to make money.. But the means can be questioned…

            My emphasis on philanthropy is based on the fact that we have enough high end housing built on market and I filling the mission… So it's time the MOH developers and investors show they can build big AND affordable units for the masses. If they can do it prior and in other countries they can control somewhat the money issues why cannot we fix a bit the existing problems and over pumped up development market in SF with some balanced alternatives from the developers max-$ options..? The balance and stepping stones are not there for the masses to survive and succeed anymore we need to find ways to rebuild the options in the housing markets. Not by laying dollars on lobbyists but by spending that 300k on more worthwhile issues for the public benefit

    • thingsthings

      There may be actual community support for it. But the support is to busy to figure out how to do so. This effort brings it to their front door.

  • playland

    Tim writes <blockquote>just remember that his boss has spent more than $300,000 in four months in one neighborhood to get those signatures.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in San Francisco politics.</blockquote>

    I have.

    Richard and Barbara Stewart spent over $400,000 to do the same thing to help defeat 8 Washington. https://sfethics.org/ethics/2013/06/ballot-measures-dashboard-november-5-2013-election.html#tabs-2

    Tim must have forgotten about that one for some reason.

    • sebra leaves

      All you need to do is look at all the new pro growth web sites springing up to see that the developer funds are going into a heavy PR pitch to buy the public's trust. They are probably writing it off, getting twice the bang for the buck. What do they plan to buy next?

      • playland

        I know, I know. They definitely want to build housing in San Francisco — we need to prevent that from happening at all costs.

      • goodmaab

        If they can do parkmerced, they can do St.Francis Woods, or the Sunset… Its all a matter of up-zoning…. and Special use districts…. They are already buying up other sites with LLC's as undetectable as they can…. land is cheap per maximus in SF, they have many tentacles wrapping up property deals for sure….

      • Dirty Burrito

        Again, no evidence to back that up.

      • Dirty Burrito

        GrowSF claims 97% of their donations are <$150, and they have received donations from tech companies, but no developers.

        Wikipedia says SFBARF "have raised no money from real estate developers.[7] Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has donated $10,000 to the group.[2]"

        I believe Sonja Trauss said there are two reasons they don't get money from developers:

        1. SFBARF will support them whether they donate or not

        2. Donating to SFBARF will piss off some segments of the community.

        • sfsquirrel

          Is Sonja Trauss willing to swear she has raised no money from developers? Is she willing to promise not to take developer money for her D6 campaign?

          • Dirty Burrito

            I'm pretty sure that she would unapologetically take the money. The idea that developers are evil and developer money is something to be ashamed of is your belief, not hers.

            I imagine in your mind, Sonja is a phony Reganomics touting, Alan Greenspan worshipping republitard who absolutely must be taking money from developers. So it must be pretty perplexing to hear that she hasn't.

            It's been said many times, but I'll say it again: By definition, housing is created by developers. If you think we have a shortage of housing, and that we need more of it, your're going to have trouble creating it without a developer.

            CCHO takes lots of money from for-profit affordable housing developers. Is the "affordable" housing they create really affordable? Not really. Is someone profiting off of this marginally affordable housing? You bet they are.

          • sfsquirrel

            It's adorable how much you read into things, then tell others they have no evidence to back up what they say.

          • Dirty Burrito

            Doesn't make me wrong 🙂

          • renew

            Housing has also been created by governments in the past. The budget for HUD has been slashed by billions over the last 40 years. Most of the housing stock being built by developers now is luxury housing. That doesn't bode well for those of us who can't afford it. We could have investment in affordable housing from pension funds as well. Developers aren't the only answer.

    • renew

      As Tim stated, this $300K is not for a ballot measure. There was a ballot measure to defeat 8 Washington.

  • Don Sebastopol

    Opposed to Mission for all: Latino Nationalists?

  • John

    Sorry, we need more housing, a LOT more housing, especially around transportation hubs.

    • goodmaab

      The transportation hub is to connect to a future redesigned and re-aligned Daly City BART, which the M-Line Extension will not do when Parkmerced directs the future design and extent…. it dead ends in parkmerced… Placing multiple stops into Parkmerced is a waste of money….

    • renew

      No one's saying we don't need housing at this site. We are saying it should be 100% affordable housing.

      • LVLHeaded

        And how do you plan to fund it?

        • renew

          I know, this city is really poor right now. There are no rich people living in the city at all. Oh wait, the Twitter tax break is sunsetting…

          • LVLHeaded

            So draft a tax proposal, gather support, wait until the next election cycle to vote to tax the rich to fund this project specifically and hope it's successful? Great plan. How else will you get all these "rich people's" money?
            My plan is to let the owner of the site build whatever they want on it as long as it's compliant with all zoning and local provisions in place. A proceed of their profits will go into the affordable housing fund or covering the cost of onsite affordable housing.
            You don't really think money just appears, but it feels really good to suggest it should. Come up with a real solution, please.

  • Dirty Burrito

    I'm confused by Plaza 16's demands, maybe someone can clarify. As far as I can tell:

    1. Plaza 16 wants to buy the property off the developer? How much would that be, $300k per entitled unit?

    2. After obtaining this property, Plaza 16 wants to downzone the building to reduce shadows on the elementary school. How tall would that be, 5 stories?

    So now we've halved the number of units (?), and doubled the per unit land costs to $600k, without even breaking ground. How does that make any sense?

    Why doesn't the city just build a 10 story, 100% affordable housing project where the elementary school is, and put the school on the roof? Better yet, 20 stories?

  • LVLHeaded

    If they really have a problem with this building they should have voiced it during the years that the Eastern Neighborhoods zoning plan was drafted and open for review. Planning and the public agreed to zone that lot to 100' high because it's ON TOP OF A SUBWAY STATION. It's called common sense. All this hang wringing and protesting and back and forth is ridiculous. If this was like almost every other city in America with "as of right" development we would have a building already. Getting anything done in this town is absolutely byzantine at best and we have all of these "activists" to thank for it.

    • Betty Mero

      Eastern Neighborhood zoning plan is B.S..

      • LVLHeaded

        OK, Betty. You still haven't countered any of my points. And if you really think the Eastern Neighborhood zoning is BS then where were you during the LITERAL YEARS OF PUBLIC OUTREACH? And can you tell me why putting as much housing as possible near transit is a bad thing? Join the future with transit oriented development. For a bunch of "progressives" you sure do cling to the past.

  • Betty Mero

    Setting up petition tables at Walgreens parking lot most afternoons and misinforming public; sending uninformed people to school board meetings to speak on their behalf; spending on gourmet meals and valet parking to charm a handful of merchants.

  • Gabriel Medina

    Why no mention of Jack Davis, Sedona Arizona. Prop I spent $12k on 15k sigs.

  • M. Montrouge

    Long story short: Money is bad if it if it's used by the side you disagree with, especially if they have more than you.

    Tim should of just said that, because that appears to be his argument.