Wednesday, May 13, 2009
They Say “Save Medjool”… We Say “Save the Progressive/Historic Latino/a Mission District “
Everyday activists, organizers, non-profit workers, and community members in the Mission District always have to decide how to fight injustices barreling down on our community. From ICE raids to evictions to street violence, we prioritize and do the best we can to put our social justice values into action by “fighting the good fight”. Sometimes in the social justice movement we have differences of opinion regarding tactics and strategies, these differences can be intense and difficult but rarely do they reach a point where we are on opposite sides of the struggle for equity and justice. On those rare instances we are divided, it is usually on land-use issues and high-end condo projects because wealthy, well-connected, developers are able to corrupt the political process and divide the community through patronage.
The current controversy involving local, well-heeled, developer Gud Murad and his Save Medjool campaign, while complicated in some respects, is quite basic. As social justice activists we all stand against corruption, lack of transparency, gentrification, and the erosion of progressive democratic principles. The root causes of this current controversy are the implicit and overt racial and economic inequities shaping development along Mission Street, the districts main commercial corridor. As progressives we should also stand together against these deeply ingrained societal injustices. However, it seems that because of patronage and the lack of foresight to strive for socially equitable projects, some activists have compromised their values and actively campaign in support of saving Medjool and throw their support behind the proposed New Mission Theater project that would bring dozens more high-end condos to our neighborhood and a higher end version of Medjool.
Here is some historical background that may help clarify the situation and help us reconnect with our social justice principles:
• When the New Mission Theater was put on the market by City College, Gus Murad out bid local nonprofits, thereby undermining community based development;
• He was anti-union in selecting contractors for developing Medjool and the accompanying Elements Hostel;
• He chose to provide “community benefits” by selecting Mission Neighborhood Centers as the recipient of space on the ground floor of his New Mission Theater project. While providing space for a community-based nonprofit is, at first glance, certainly a worthy gesture, in this case it is not what it appears to be. Years of land-use based activism by groups like MAC have resulted in changes in the way developers approach the project entitlement process. For-profit developers in our neighborhood have come to understand that they need to show that they are “working with the community” in order to get their projects approved The simplest way to do this is to provide some commercial space to a community group willing to take the handout. For a project of this scale and impact, simply giving up some community space is not enough. This developer tactic creates the sad spectacle of community groups pitted against each other in hearings as those that are benefitting directly from small potatoes developer handouts fight for a project that that could potentially give a much greater benefit then the one that they are defending;
• Murad, notoriously, has given money and gifts to politicians and community leaders to gain their support, thereby compromising their principles and corrupting democratic processes;
• He bypassed the proper permitting process for his roof-top bar by using the political capital he has accumulated through political donations and favors.
While we in MAC support the preservation and expansion of job opportunities in the neighborhood, we will not be forced into accepting political patronage, more gentrification, and the undermining of a community-based planning process by siding with unscrupulous developers and building owners. Many of these developers have chosen to pursue the politics of favoritism instead of working with the community towards developing community benefits and assets that go beyond the nominal job or office space. They further jeopardize their community standing by not following the city’s proper permitting and development processes. It’s those actions that are putting at risk Medjool’s jobs, not the community or city officials that refuse to look the other way. Further, it is these high-end businesses that have put at risk or have driven or kept out hundreds of formerly existing and potentially existing neighborhood-based jobs in small businesses. These businesses can’t afford to operate in the Mission due to the speculation fever and greed that has gripped local land-owners and developers because they want their own version of Medjool, Foreign Cinema or a large formula retail business in their commercial space.
There is no righteousness in Gus Murad using resources to mount a campaign that uses phrases like Save Mejool or Save Mission Jobs especially when these large high-end, destination night-clubs drive up the rent along the corridor and drive neighborhood serving, sustainable and affordable business and their jobs out of the Mission District. Instead, progressive residents should oppose more Medjool-like developments and fight against the forced displacement of working class residents, businesses and institutions.
As I write this, the residents at 2789 Harrison Street are fighting for their homes and business as they face outrageous rent increases and harassment from their landlord because he wants to bring in wealthier residents and a Medjool-like business to 24th Street. As a community we must fight back and support sustainable community development based on the overall needs of the community and not on the speculative greed that has corrupted development in San Francisco and the Mission District.