Gentrification and miscommunication between landlords and tenants—although hardly new to the Mission District—have reached something of a breaking point over the last couple of months.
The long standing La Victoria panaderia closed its doors after 67 years, the iconic Galeria de la Raza is on the verge of being evicted following a 100 percent rent increase, and the fight against the controversial “Monster in the Mission” development at 1979 Mission Street is still going strong.
Now, the empty lot at 22nd and Mission streets has entered the fray. Hawk Lou is the owner of the property, where a three-story commercial and residential building once stood, before it burned down in 2015. Last month, Lou proposed a nine-story development of luxury housing for the location, going back on his word to build affordable housing units for the tenants displaced by the 2015 blaze, determined to be the fault of Lou’s negligence. The proposal sparked an emergency meeting by advocates in the community and people from Our Mission No Eviction, Plaza 16 Coalition, and the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District Council.
“We made it clear that … if he sold it to any developer, we would fight and fight and fight to make sure no developer came in here to develop luxury condos,” said Roberto Hernandez of Our Mission No Eviction.
Community organizers held a protest at Lou’s 24th street business, Low Cost Meat Market, on Nov. 10, placing pressure on him to either build affordable housing on the vacant lot or to sell the property to an organization that will.
Shouts of “Boycott Low Cost Meat Market!” were heard down 24th street when protestors gathered to picket the store.
“It’s going as far as he wants it to go,” Hernandez said. “He needs to be held accountable.”
During the protest, Hernandez explained how the four-alarm fire was a result of Lou’s negligence to maintain the building. The building failed to have working fire alarms or fire escapes. After the fire, Lou tried to sell the empty plot of land for almost $20 million, as Mission Local has reported. But he never sold.
Many in the neighborhood remember the deadly blaze that killed Mauricio Orellana and injured six people. It displaced 57 residents and 26 small businesses, including a Central American market and a Popeyes.
After the fire, then Mayor Ed Lee visited the meat market and convinced Lou to sell the property to the city. Hernandez revealed that Lou owns 19 properties in the Bay Area, a cumulative estimated worth of $15.3 million, according to public records uncovered by Mission Local.
On Oct. 8 Lou’s architect, Ian Birchall and Associates, submitted plans of development in a Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) application with the San Francisco Planning Department. The mixed-use building will include 129-units. Only 24 of them will be below market rate units available, including 11 for very low income residents.
These proposed units are seemingly not enough to bring back his previous 57 tenants 26 small businesses. The project also provides 29 car spaces according to the PPA.
Demonstrators handed out flyers for the boycott to passers by interested in the scene in front of 2918 24th St. Protesters walked in a circle and held signs that read “Boycott Low Cost Meats” and “Lou Hawk No Tiene Palabra.” Some people stopped from entering the establishment when they heard about Lou’s actions.
“We have to keep on fighting for those who are still here, for those who are no longer here,” said Vicky Castro, a Calle 24 Council member. “I used to go to this carniceria as a little kid. I’m really hoping that he will come back to the table.”
Cars honked their horns in support of the group as they drove by the demonstration.
Arnoldo Gonzalez is one of many spectators who stopped to listen to the chants. He works at St. Peter Bookstore across the street from Low Cost Meat Market.
“I used to shop here,” he said. “I’m not going to shop here anymore.”
Christopher Cook, an author, journalist and Mission resident of 25 years, also came out to support the protest.
“The neighborhood is being completely attacked by capital, by profit and greed, and it’s unresolved,” he said.
On Nov. 2, a news conference was held in front of the empty landscape at 22nd and Mission streets. Supervisor Hillary Ronen came out in support of the opposition’s demands for affordable housing to bring back the tenants who became homeless after the fire. Ronen’s office was not immediately available for comment.
“It’s always good to have our supervisor work with the community to get the best results,” said Erick Arguello, founder and president of the Calle 24 Council. “We have community pressure and that’s what’s important right now. To let him know that the community is disappointed in him.”
Arguello said the organization’s lawyers have tried to speak with Lou and his lawyers to settle growing tensions between the landlord and the community.
Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) have made several offers to Lou for the land, but he never responded to their latest offer. Organizers are afraid that more market-rate development will further displace the Mission community.
“Why are people homeless today?,” Roberto Hernandez said through a megahorn,
“They are homeless because the rents are too high.”
Lou did not respond to El Tecolote’s repeated requests for comment. Workers at the meat market also refused to comment on their employer.
At the Low Cost Meats protest there was a moment of silence for victim, Mauricio Ollerano. Hernandez said the next step is to hand out leaflets at churches and schools in the neighborhood to bring further awareness of the boycott. Protesting in front of Low Cost Meats will also continue.
The protest closed with chants of “Si se puede!”
Story by: Izzy Alvarez and Gabrielle Bojorquez