Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Your Recommended Daily Allowance of Irony

Over the years MAC has fought against displacement, evictions, speculation and gentrification in the Mission District. We have organized to keep out big box developments, supported the formula retail ban, fought the Walgreens on Cesar Chavez, Home Depot on Bayshore and have worked to protect neighborhood serving and locally owned small businesses, so it would seem like a no-brainer that we would oppose the American Apparel outlet proposed for Valencia Street.

Yet, MAC and other long-time residents who have seen the changes on Valencia Street, Mission Street and 24th St. corridors, we cannot overlook the irony and contradictions that the “locally owned businesses on Valencia “Your Mission” campaign present. Many of the displacements have been at the hands of non-neighborhood serving boutique shops, or destination restaurants or just plain expensive shops that many Mission residents can not shop at. I noticed a comment on the No American Apparel site that stated that it was these shops that had saved the Mission from 99 cent stores and, I assume, other lower-end businesses. It is this short sighted analysis from the group that makes us pause. It is because many locals cannot afford to buy from shops on Valencia and we see the forcing out of Latino owned and operated business on 24th that are being replaced by Valencia like businesses that we are hesitating on our position on American Apparel.

It also bears mentioning that AA hires workers of color from within the community their production plant is located within and pays them a fair wage, a practice that our local businesses should but often don't follow. The knee-jerk "no" to chain stores would make a lot more sense if our existing Valencia St. shop owners committed to hiring young people from the neighborhood and providing price points that we all could afford. It would also sense if local businesses coming to the Mission partnered with community-based organizations to train and recruit a diverse work force that had opportunities to work in all aspects of their businesses and not just as janitors, or dish washers.

In the end we oppose formula retail on Valencia, but not because we want to protect the businesses that displaced the community-serving businesses in the hood. We only hope that the Your Mission Campaign takes a moment to reflect on their role in displacing the previous group of small businesses. It might also be a good time for them to figure out what "Your Mission...Not Theirs" means when this same group of shop owners do not provide goods and services for the working class and lower-income residents of the neighborhood that make up the majority of the residents in the Mission District.

MAC opposes formula retail because it allows landlords to speculate and dispense of long-time sustainable businesses that cannot afford the outrageous rents that are currently charged for commercial spaces in our neighborhood. It is not about American Apparel, it's about landlord greed and how they keep spaces empty waiting for formula retail or the next fancy restaurant while not providing long-term leases for real neighborhood serving businesses.

One final but important point, after the passage of the Eastern Neighborhood Plan the conditional use process will be more important than ever for the community to have some handle on how deveoopment occurs in the Mission. The precedent setting impact of allowing new formula retail on our NC corridors is something that we should be very worried about and is another critical reason why are saying no to American Apparel.


tack said...

I saw one of the anti-AA signs in the window of Schauplatz this morning and my immediate thought is the only reason they're part of that effort is that they're trying to keep out competition. Really don't care about the neighborhood.

Stephen Elliott said...

Hi MAC SF. I wanted to clarify some stuff about the posters that people are seeing. I wrote and designed them along with a volunteer designer within 24 hours after I first saw the planning hearing in the window at 988 Valencia. A lot of locally owned businesses then joined the cause as I went door to door with the postcards and posters. These business include Encarta and the bookstore co-op Modern Times. I focused in particular on businesses within two blocks. I can understand that the language on the posters can seem exclusionary, which is unfortunate, but it's my fault, not the businesses that have gotten involved in the campaign.

I've lived in the Mission ten years. My income is less than $40,000 (some years significantly less), which is not poor, but it's not rich. I share a one-bedroom apartment and can't afford to get my own place. I was really involved in fighting Proposition 98, trying to save rent control. All of the "save rent control" t-shirts we saw were printed using funds from the Progressive Reading Series that I organized at the Makeout Room.

In this situation I just wanted to move fast because we only had 18 days to build a coalition against the AA store at 988 Valencia. I've never done anything like this before. I used my own money, $750, and I've been collecting donations from people to pay myself back. I'm still negative $160.

All of this is to say that your issues, issues like displacement, are issues I care about deeply, and I'm sorry that some people feel excluded by this campaign or by the literature surrounding it. I wish we had more time, and more funds, and that we had worked together from a much earlier point, and that we had bilingual signs.

Mission Man said...

Stephen, yes, organizing is difficult, particularly on short notice. Addressing an issue as complex as gentrification is also hard, particularly when seen through the funhouse mirror that is American Apparel on Valencia Street. It was not our intention to lump all of the businesses and individuals involved in your campaign into one monolithic hipster straw man but I can see how you would feel indicted by our statement. Our intent is really to try to point out that AA is not the only gentrifying force that threatens the neighborhood and if the folks involved in your coalition really care about the escalating costs of living in "Our Mission" they should also be questioning the role that other, existing, businesses play in perpetuating this trend and try to figure out a way to integrate these businesses into the larger fabric of this still largely working-class community.

We are not just pointing our fingers but also trying to enter into a dialogue with folks who, generally, are not our allies in our anti-gentrification battles. Frankly, I admire your standing up for the neighborhood, the Mission certainly needs defending! This is not that last of these struggles on Valencia or in other parts of the Mission, we hope that the same energy and passion that is being thrown into this campaign can be harnessed to challenge those developers that are bringing the Mission yet still more (unneeded) high-end housing and businesses that provide nothing for most of the people that live here.

Thanks for your comment, I hope that this will lead to a real conversation of how the different sectors of the neighborhood can finally come together in a sustained and sustainable way.

-Nick Pagoulatos

Anonymous said...

Hey Mission Man. I noticed the irony too. I've been away from the Mission for over 5 years, and was recently struck by the breathless pace of gentrification. I can't afford these pricey restaurants and overpriced boutiques either.

I am, however, disappointed that you didn't issue a more pointed critique of American Apparel, specifically. In fact your post serves the company's interests by promoting its reputation for good business practices. Yes, American Apparel does pay its mostly immigrant factory workers above the standard wage. But you don't mention the company's very well-documented history of union busting and endemic sexual harassment.

The truth is that, in addition to higher rents, an American Apparel outlet in the Mission District is likely to produce a handful of low paying retail jobs for young, thin women who meet the aesthetic tastes of its notorious CEO, and a lot of cheesy, noxious advertising throughout the neighborhood.

More images and links on AA can be found on my blog: