What You’ll Hear at the March on Mission Street

The neighborhood’s activists are hitting the pavement with a compelling message: The rest of SF needs to build housing and deal with change too.

Photo courtesy of United to Save the Mission.

In a few hours, a coalition of community groups in the Mission will take to the streets — Mission Street, to be exact — and march to City Hall. It is time, they say, to speak up for their community.

All of San Francisco is in flux, but that doesn’t mean the degree of change is equally distributed. The Mission District in particular has felt the acute impacts of displacement and neighborhood transformation. One rallying cry: Don’t let Mission Street, the heart of the place, turn upscale into another Valencia Street.

The march is being organized by United to Save the Mission. The Frisc caught up earlier this week with one of the march’s organizers, Carlos Bocanegra, to learn more about the event’s longer-term goals once the placards and TV cameras are gone.

First, the coalition seeks stabilization — some mitigation to contain the rising housing prices, growing gentrification, and ongoing displacement from the neighborhood. That applies not only to longtime residents, but also for the local businesses that cater to them. A second concern is equity, a greater emphasis on affordability and citywide development.

Finally, the organizers want to establish Mission Street as a cultural corridor: a strategic designation that would require more community involvement in decisions, much like we see on 24th Street.

The key contrast, Bocanegra says, is Valencia Street, where there’s been a “complete conversion” to high-end retail, upscale restaurants, and bars, and “not that many community-serving spaces,” while Mission remains more of a family-oriented commercial corridor. “It’s an active place — lots of little markets, merchants, a more diverse representation of the community during the day,” he says.

The march comes in the wake of meetings held in the Mission, according to Bocanegra. “Overall, it’s about preserving the Mission for generations to come. A majority of the community believes that a Latino cultural corridor is going to be necessary.” Once 24th Street was declared a cultural corridor, “it wasn’t just a protection for residents and businesses, it was a broad system put in place for the community to have input.”

Let’s pull back with some context: Part of what makes the Mission great is its location; it tends to be sunnier. (Twin Peaks diverts a lot of fog.) Also attractive: high walkability and diversity — whether it’s the retail mix, restaurant and entertainment options, or its hodgepodge of working-class Mexican, Central American, and other communities. Moreover, the Mission offers a multitude of stages and spaces for arts and culture, including ODC and Pacific Felt Factory. Can’t forget about the Roxie. The list of unique neighborhood attributes goes on and on.

Here’s another significant factor that helps explain what’s driving change in the Mission: easy freeway and transit access to points south, such as the airport and Silicon Valley. Because Peninsula cities like Cupertino — the home base for Apple, the most valuable company in the world — refuse to add to their existing, mostly single-family housing stock, people have to look elsewhere to live, and that often turns out to be San Francisco, and for reasons just described that often means the Mission. (No surprise that the stops for shuttles taking thousands of workers to tech campuses in Cupertino or Mountain View from the Mission became the flash points for protests.)

As a 30-year-old attorney with La Raza Centro Legal, Bocanegra reflects on his legal work helping tenants defend against evictions and how he was motivated to become more active. “For every family I was blessed enough to save, three more were coming in. All I was doing was putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound that required a suture.” Yet he acknowledges some of the nuances of the current housing debate: “There’s two schools: YIMBYs and NIMBYs,” he says. “USM takes an in-between stance. … We’re not opposed” to new housing.

Bocanegra also throws this down: Equitable development doesn’t just mean more affordable units for the Mission. It means making sure other neighborhoods add housing too. “If you’re going to do building in the Mission, that’s different than building in the Marina. … We think the Mission is doing more than its share. If you look at the Sunset, there are places like that are more residential, a little bit more organized, more connected — they have maintained that sort of stability.” Now the Mission wants to play the organized and connected game as well and get City Hall’s attention.

So what can we expect at Thursday’s march? There’ll be “a lot of emotion … a lot of frustration at feeling powerless at new developments displacing [our] friends, at being ignored” by the administration of the late mayor, Ed Lee.

The Frisc will be on hand, with more coverage of the march and from the changing Mission to follow.

Follow Anthony Lazarus on Twitter: @Sr_Lazarus

For extra-fun reading, see how the New York Times repeats itself in reporting on the Mission during respective booms, in 1999 and 2013:

> The entire Mission District, port of entry for San Francisco’s Hispanic immigrants for more than 50 years, is changing by the day. New people, people who have money, are moving in altering life for everyone. Sagging Victorian houses that landlords had chopped into two or three rental units are sold for a half-million dollars, and warehouses are becoming loft condominiums in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. The neighborhood, in short, is gentrifying.
> Nowhere are the changes starker than in the Mission District, once a working-class Hispanic neighborhood, now a destination for the tech elite. … Longtime residents of the Mission District complain that high-end apartments, expensive restaurants and exclusive boutiques are crowding out the bodegas, bookstores and Mexican bars. They complain about workers who, like residents of a bedroom community, board company buses every morning and return every evening to drink and dine on Valencia Street.