Coalition protests 16th Street development
12:23 pm Thursday February 13, 2014
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Photo Shane Menez

Photo Shane Menez

A new battle in the Mission District’s long-drawn struggle with gentrification is taking shape, and being fought by a new group—the Plaza 16 Coalition.

The Coalition’s message is simple: stop development plans for two 10-story luxury towers at 1979 Mission St., which is adjacent to the high traffic Bart station plaza located at 16th and Mission streets. If constructed, the buildings would displace existing residents and businesses.

The coalition strives to raise awareness about the social and economic impact of the proposed development.

“There are so many SRO (single room occupancy) residents in this area, so many working class families,” said Causa Justa :: Just Cause (CJJC) Housing Rights organizer, Maria Zamudio. “This proposed plan doesn’t take into consideration the affordable housing needs this neighborhood has.”

For Zamudio, the impact exceeds more than just an issue of displacement, it’s a threat to the quality of life of many residents.

“If built, the height of these towers will keep Marshall Elementary (School) next door in a constant shadow for five months out of the year,” said Zamudio. “So this project will literally overshadow the Latino students attending that school.”

For many parents, this is reflection of larger issues that are stemming from displacement in San Francisco.

“What happens to the children whose parents can no longer afford to live here? Children are disappearing all over the city. Who wants to live in a city without children?” said Mission resident and Marshall Elementary parent, Guillermina Castellanos.“The Marshall PTA (Parent Teacher Association) is ready to fight.”

The current struggle at the 16th Street plaza is a familiar tune for those who have lived in the Mission District since the dot-com boom of the ’90s.

“As an organization that has been helping immigrant families find truly affordable housing for over 20 years, what is happening at 16th & Mission is nothing new,” said People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER)’s organizational director, Antonio Diaz. “Back in the day, residents protested the building of BART through the Mission because even then it was easy to see the eventual gentrification of the neighborhood.”

One longstanding issue surrounding the 16th Street Bart plaza has been its image as a hotspot for criminal and drug activity. For one Mission-based organization, known as Clean Up The Plaza, change is a very much needed addition to the plaza’s landscape.

“The conditions around the Plaza at 16th and Mission are deplorable … commuters are harassed, accosted and assaulted,” reads a disclaimer on the organization’s website.

A Clean Up The Plaza representative was unavailable for comment.

For Zamudio, however, the issue lies in how to deal with these problems in a way that benefits the pre-existing community while maintaining the social dynamics of the neighborhood.

“This ‘clean up’ of the plaza only pushes the problems to other parts of the city. Systematic racism and inequality is a real thing—there shouldn’t be new measures to push people out that are already on hard times,” said Zamudio. “So instead of moving things around, why don’t we invest in the people and lives of this plaza and make their situations better and different.”

So far, the San Francisco Planning Commission has yet to make any decisions concerning the future of the 16th Street plaza.

“An environmental application was filed and an environmental case was created on Jan. 29, but hasn’t been assigned to a planner as of yet,” said San Francisco Planning Commission Environmental Planner, Jeanie Poling.

According to Poling, all plans are on hold until a planner is assigned.

Meanwhile, the groups involved with the coalition—including Our Mission: NO Evictions, CARECEN, Instituto Familiar De La Raza, and CJJC, as well as many other San Francisco area community organizations—continue to oppose the project.