Community volunteer Erin Andrew writes during a social activity at the Victoria Theatre, Thursday, May 15. The public meeting was hosted by Plaza 16, a community coalition that’s protesting the proposed development at 16th Street BART plaza. Photo Santiago Mejia

Community members and organizers gathered at the Victoria Theatre to express deep concerns about a looming development project across the street at the 16th Street BART plaza.

The meeting on May 16 was the first community-organized forum about the development project, and attendees were eager to vocalize their disapproval of a plan activists say would put gentrification in hyper drive in the area.

“The construction crane is the city bird of San Francisco because there is so much market-rate development happening,” said Maria Zamudio, a housing-rights campaign organizer at Causa Justa::Just Cause.

Zamudio guided attendees through the project plan that would place 350 market-rate rental units at the congested transit hub.

“The reality is that this project is monstrous and it’s going to continue to destabilize our community,” she said.

Though not the first market-rate development project to creep into the Mission in recent years, the proposed two, 10-story buildings and an additional five-story building make this the largest development plan to ever hit the neighborhood.

According to information pulled from the project pre-planning assessment report, the project will make room for “luxury” condos projected to rent at $3,500 monthly and over.

The development plan comes months after a campaign called “Clean Up the Plaza” was launched by a “coalition of residents, merchants, and visitors” seeking to improve “transportation corridors,” according to the campaign’s website.

Opponents of the campaign point out that it promises to improve and beautify the scruffy plaza by pushing out many of the homeless and low-income residents that congregate there, while increasing police presence.

“I think that the idea that development is going to be cleaning up the neighborhood is a little bit of an angle for those who want to see this happen,” said Paula Tejeda, owner of Chile Lindo, an empanda shop at 16th and Capp streets. “We need to find a way to make the city responsible so that people living in the conditions in which we see our citizens live, start getting humane treatment. That has to be a major priority.”

“The ‘Clean Up’ campaign is an astroturf campaign that wanted to name itself a grassroots campaign—just like astroturf is fake grass, this campaign is fake grassroots,” said Zamudio. “It was created to bring city and public support for this development project, which came right after. One of the major impacts of the campaign was seeing less people in the plaza and an increase in police presence and violence against our homeless neighbors.”

In response, housing-rights groups and community activists concerned with the project’s impact on the people and culture of the community have united to form the Plaza 16 Coalition

Some of these groups include Causa Justa, the Mission SRO Collaborative, La Colectiva, PODER and the Housing Rights Committee. The coalition is determined to intervene as the development plan enters a review process with the San Francisco Planning Commission.

The force behind the project is the development company Maximus Real Estate Partners, which reportedly bought the property for $32 million. According to Zamudio, the developers have a “long history of destabilizing communities.”

Robert Rosania, Maximus’ CEO, is the former CEO of Stellar Management, the company that in 2005 purchased the Parkmerced housing complex, which housed over 1,500 rent-controlled units. Many of the complex’s tenants faced evictions after Stellar bought the property.

Plaza 16 Coalition members criticize the presence of a high-end housing complex in a working-class neighborhood where many residents live in poverty. The city requires new developments to allot at least 12 percent of rental units as affordable housing—for the Maximus development project that would translate to 42 out of 350 apartments, and activists say that the affordability of those 42 units remains questionable.

Plaza 16 advocates are clear about their immediate demands—that the developers abandon the project and that the Planning Commission reject all market-rate housing projects in the Mission until housing needs for poor and working-class people are met.