By Julia Carrie Wong
JUNE 13, 2014 — Last Friday morning, a group of 18 activists styling themselves “Minimus” huddled behind a stand of bushes on the grounds of ParkMerced, discussing an appropriate code word to signal the end of their upcoming protest. After a few half-hearted jokes about “safe words” were tossed out, a young woman spoke up. “Champagne,” she said. “Champagne means we leave.”
It was a reference to Robert Rosania, CEO of Maximus Real Estate Partners and a noted collector of high-end champagne. Minimus had carpooled to the southwestern corner of San Francisco to confront Seth Mallen, Rosania’s business partner, in his office. If all went according to plan, a friend in New York City would be visiting Rosania’s office at the same time.
Maximus is the developer behind the controversial plan to build a 350-unit housing and retail project at the corner of 16th and Mission Streets.
Carrying signs reading, “MAXIMU$ PROFIT$ MINIMUS BENEFIT,” “SETH MALLEN, WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE,” and, “FUCK YOU AND YOUR CHAMPAGNE,” the group rushed into 345 Vidal Drive, only to be met by an almost-empty office staffed by two confused employees. Mallen was not present.
A standoff ensued for about 15 minutes. One of the employees recorded the protest on a cellphone, while one of the protesters aimed his camera back at the employee.
After scribbling, “Save the Mission,” on a dry-erase board, the protesters chanted, “Maximus Out, La Mission in!” and wandered around the small office space. One protester took over the bullhorn to explain, “It seems like it’s just business as usual, but there’s violence that’s happening, and we’re here to make that visible.”
Eventually the group headed outside, where a security guard made it clear that the protest was ruining her day.
“Champagne,” the woman who originally suggested the code word shouted. “Champagne, we’re leaving.”
The Minimus protestors were inspired by, but not affiliated with, the growing Plaza 16 Coalition campaign to stop Maximus’s development in the Mission. (For background, read my March report on the project and the “Clean up the Plaza” campaign.)
The Coalition is primarily comprised of progressive community-based organizations, including Causa Justa Just Cause and PODER, but it recently received its first labor endorsement from SEIU Local 1021.
Last month, the Coalition brought about 200 people out to the Victoria Theatre to discuss organizing in opposition to Maximus. The group’s primary concern with the proposed development is that it will further accelerate the ongoing gentrification of the Mission. Members believe an influx of new residents who can afford $3,500-a-month rentals will lead to more displacement of longtime residents in the neighborhood. They also raise concerns about the development attracting businesses that cater only to wealthy patrons, and the shadow it will cast over Marshall Elementary School.
The Coalition has issued an ambitious set of demands, calling on Maximus to “abandon their current project,” and transfer ownership of the land to the community. The group calls on the city government to “reject all market rate housing developments in the Mission until housing needs for the poor and working class are fully met.” The Coalition also demands an end to police harassment of the homeless and SRO residents who hang out in the plaza.
The Coalition is holding a festival this Saturday, June 14th at the 16th and Mission Plaza, from 12-4pm. The event will feature musical performances, art projects, and food, and is intended to celebrate the existing community in the neighborhood.
Reached by telephone, Christian Letley, the spokesperson for Maximus, had no response to the Minimus protest except to say, “We were surprised.” Asked about Maximus’s response to the Plaza 16 Coalition, he stated, “We are listening, and we want everyone to be happy.”