400 protest evictions in Mission
by Peter Hernandez
A lively blend of Latin percussion and angry rhetoric roared through San Francisco's Mission district last weekend, where some 400 people assembled in protest amid an escalating housing crisis.
Organizers declared a state of emergency due to a record rate of evictions while evictees decried affluent newcomers, largely from Bay Area tech companies. And protesters joined in an uproar, reclaiming the neighborhood amid more frequent evictions.
"The tech bubble is going to pop, and the working class is going to take over," said Jose Luis Pavon, a 35-year-old public health worker and lifelong Mission resident.
The parade of dancers, drummers, and protesters commenced at 24th and Hampshire streets and snaked through the cultural corridor of 24th Street, which roughly spans from Potrero to South Van Ness and remains the cultural epicenter of San Francisco's Mexican-American heritage.
While walking through the Mission Saturday, October 12, nearly 20 speakers demanded more racial sensitivity, reformed tenant rights, an end to luxury condo developments in the Mission, and more affordable housing.
The assembly stopped in front of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, which may evict St. Peter's Bookstore and G.G. Tukuy Indigenous Arts and Crafts in order to bring in higher rent and an upscale restaurant. The church was made an offer of $100,000 by a prospective buyer, said Erick Arguello, founder of the 24th Street Merchants Association.
"How dare they talk about evicting when the Bible says we should love and care for one another," said speaker Brooke Oliver.
A spokeswoman at the archdiocese did not return a call seeking comment.
And in front of a new eatery at 23rd and Bryant called Local's Corner, Sandy Cuadra, 48, recounted an episode of discrimination that occurred on Cesar Chavez Day. She and her family of five were allegedly told they couldn't be accommodated though there were many open seats.
Yaron Milgrom, who owns upscale eateries Local's Corner and Local: Mission Eatery, met with Cuadra to apologize for the incident; he still has not publicly stated a reason for refusing service.
Gloria Vasquez, a Mission homeowner since 1990, has seen friends harassed out of their homes by landlords eager to profit from the recent boom. She often receives mail from real estate agents offering four to five times the original price of the building.
"Since the new people are already here – our upscale neighbors – we need to come to the table to help balance what they love about this neighborhood and to keep it here," Vasquez said.
The beloved elements of the Mission – the Latin drums, Spanish protest mantras, and mariachi trumpets – sonorously reflected off the clean facades of new businesses that have replaced Latino businesses along the 24th Street corridor.
"The dynamism and eclecticism due to the mix of people are being gentrified and homogenized, undermining what makes this neighborhood attractive," said Rafael Mandelman, a gay lawyer and City College trustee. Mandelman lives at 24th and Valencia streets, which has seen an influx of trendy new businesses in the past two years.
The Ellis Act, a state law that bypasses the 14 just causes for evicting unwanted tenants in San Francisco, essentially states that the owner is "going out of business," opening the property for purchase. Since August, there were 228 units evicted under the Ellis Act in the past calendar year, compared to 125 the year prior, according to the San Francisco Rent Board.
"Behind every nasty eviction is a greedy Realtor," said bisexual former Supervisor Christina Olague, speaking on 24th Street.
Rene Yanez, who brought Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to San Francisco in 1972 by establishing the November 2 parade and exhibiting Frida Kahlo before SFMOMA, was threatened with an Ellis Act eviction this year. He and his wife, who are in their 70s, are both diagnosed with cancer and have applied for a one-year postponement of their eviction due to their disability.
"I see them everyday, the hordes of iPad and iPhone texting zombies, oblivious to us and our lives, our inspirations and tribulations," wrote Yanez's friend, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, in an open letter on his blog. "I see them in my building and on the street, invading the city with an attitude of unchecked entitlement, taking over every square inch and squeezing out the last drops of otherness."
Kevin Jaksik, a founding employee of ParkMe, recorded the protest with his iPhone from the sidewalk. The 26-year-old entrepreneur had purchased a hedge fund two days prior and was preparing for an 18-month trip around the world in January. He sees the prevalence of affluence in other terms.
"We live in a capitalistic society. The higher of a demand on an area, the higher the prices. I want to keep people happy – we all have an equal right to live and work here," Jaksik said. "But it's also fair that some people want to move in because of the culture, food, diversity, and lack of classism."
Gay Supervisor David Campos, who lives in Bernal Heights and represents the Mission, said that a comprehensive report on evictions citywide would soon be available. He is also drafting legislation that would protect tenants from harassment by landlords, which he said will be introduced within a month.
District 11 Supervisor John Avalos denounced new luxury condo developments, which have sprouted mostly near the Castro district along Market Street.
"The only way we're going to get out of this eviction and gentrification epidemic is to have demonstrations like this, bigger and bigger," Avalos said on stage. "I'm so sick at heart to see luxury housing developments. There should be a call across the city. No luxury rate housing."