Showdown at 55 Laguna - Page 2

Officials and activists push stubborn UC officials to make project more affordable
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Evans claims it won't be making any money and that they can't do any more," Mecca told the Guardian. He attended a Jan. 11 meeting with the company at which, he claims, the developers offered to increase affordability levels to 19.5 percent but Mirkarimi pushed for more.

"To his credit, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi keeps saying this is unacceptable," Avicolli Mecca said, also lauding the Mayor's Office of Housing for trying to make Openhouse's project "100 percent affordable."

Currently, Openhouse's development includes no below-market-rate units, a situation Avicolli Mecca claims the MOH hopes to change "through bringing in subsidies."

"Obviously, we are not against queer senior housing," Avicolli Mecca said. "The issue is that this is a lousy deal. What are we getting? Nothing, but UC gains a lot of money. There's a crazy need for affordable housing and no way to justify this plan."

Filmmaker Eliza Hemingway, whose documentary Uncommon Knowledge records how the UC shuttered 55 Laguna with no input from — and little concern for — staff, students, and the surrounding community, believes that people have lost sight of the public use issue.

"They are worn down by the struggle, by trying to find a compromise because the space is empty, but the question remains: why is a public campus being privately developed?" Hemingway told us. She mourns the loss of educational programs and spaces that benefited the community and the lack of transparency that has marred the UC's plans.

"For there to have been such huge barriers to the public process over what is a huge amount of public land is unfortunate," Hemingway said.

Cynthia Servetnick of the Save the UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus told us her group is prepared to file a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act if the project as currently proposed is approved.

"We'd rather see a project that has 40 percent affordable housing at 50 percent [area median income] than a lawsuit, but $38,000 a year [which would be the annual income requirement for seniors, the disabled, and people with AIDS to be able to afford one of Openhouse's units] is too high," she said, noting that the proposed units are small but could go for $4,000 a month, rising to $7,000 monthly for those who need more services and staff.

Claiming that recognition of the campus as a historic landmark assists project sponsors in accessing preservation incentives, including federal tax credits, Servetnick said, "A.F. Evans has its [environmental impact report] complete and is clearing the way for 450 units, but they could do that and save all the historic buildings, thus having the same profitability but more affordability. It's now or never. This is a new term for the mayor, we have a new city planning director, John Rahaim, and officials open to negotiating a win-win."

Migden was even more blunt. "Poor old queers need a place to retire too," she said. "Either Evans and the UC up the affordability level to 40 or 50 percent and guarantee that some of the senior LGBT units are subsidized, or the project dies."

As of press time, A.F. Evans, Openhouse, the SF Planning Department, and UC representatives had not returned the Guardian's calls.

Deferring to Mirkarimi to make an official announcement, Leno said, "I know that the meetings have been ongoing and that the issue of affordability is a priority, and I'm hopeful that we will have an agreement among all stakeholders shortly."