Vanishing city - Page 3

Up against intense market pressure, longtime residents and community projects fade from SF

|
()
Esperanza gardeners (left to right): Gabriel Fraley, Maria Fernanda Valecillos, Alana Corpuz, Veronica Ramirez, Jonathan Youtt

The landlord, Lloyd Klein, had granted rent-free use of the space to the underfunded farmers with the stipulation that they'd have to clear out when the time came. He's since secured entitlements for an ultra-green, four-unit building for that lot and told the Guardian he hopes to break ground by July, if he can secure building permits in time. "We're trying to accomplish a net-zero energy usage building," Klein told the Guardian in a telephone interview. "It will create its own energy from solar."

None of the gardeners seemed to harbor bitter feelings toward Klein, who sanctioned their all-volunteer effort, but all those interviewed expressed concern that the loss of Esperanza coincides with the loss of two other urban farming plots in San Francisco. This was a space where they'd raised bees, harvested produce together, and led workshops with groups of at-risk youth from the surrounding area.

"The loss of space to teach farming is what the issue is," Youtt says. "Without that, we're going to have a void. It's tragic in light of what's happening simultaneously."

The Hayes Valley Farm, at Fell and Octavia streets, is also on its way to being cleared to make way for housing, an outcome that was anticipated from the start of the project. Another urban agriculture project on Gough and Eddy, called the Free Farm, also has to vacate by the end of the year, when a development project goes up on that lot.

For years, the produce grown at Esperanza and Free Farm has supplied the nutritious bounty that is freely distributed every Sunday at a Mission intersection via the Free Farm Stand. An urban farmer, who goes simply by Tree, spearheaded the all-volunteer project in 2008. "We wanted to make sure that low-income people have access to fresh, locally grown produce," Tree explained when reached by phone. "Everywhere I look in the Mission, there's new restaurants. But wherever there's affluence, there's always people thrown in the cracks."

The loss of a sliver of urban farms is just one change that could dramatically transform that Mission District parcel, located on Bryant between 18th and 19th streets. The Esperanza garden plot is sandwiched up against an arts venue called Inner Mission, which has been hosting events like circus and burlesque shows and aerial arts performances in its recently renovated space since January. Inner Mission is located in the same building that previously housed CELLspace ("CELL" stood for Collective Exploratory Learning Lab), a famed underground San Francisco arts collective launched in the 1990s.

An online "obituary" penned for CELLspace by caretaker Devin Holt offered a glimpse into what it was like in the early days: "It was 1996 in San Francisco. A time when you could still find a room in the Mission for $300, and the dotcom boom hadn't turned empty warehouses into prime real estate. When the screen printing business moved out, the dreamers moved in. ... The early years at Cell were marked by chaos and construction. Dave X was known to test his flamethrowers behind the building on Florida St., Jojo La Plume created an open craft loft in the homemade mezzanine, and the Sisterz of the Underground offered free break dancing lessons for aspiring b-girls on the main space floor."

On March 14, the Nick Podell Company, a development firm, submitted a project review application to the San Francisco Planning Department, city records show. The developer has initiated talks about a proposal to raze the warehouse where Inner Mission operates and erect a six-story, 166-unit apartment complex in its place, with parking for 141 vehicles. The company is under contract to purchase the property, according to company representative Linsey Perlov, but it has not yet changed hands. Klein declined to discuss the sale or development proposal at this stage, saying, "I'm not at liberty to speak about it."