Secretive agenda behind Clean Up The Plaza threatens one of San Francisco's last low-income neighborhoods
Asked about the group's relationship with Maximus, Chavez told us, "They're in communication with us and we're in communication with them, but they haven't funded us." Davis and Chavez say their only motivation in running the group is improving public safety. "I'm happy to talk about what Clean Up The Plaza is," Davis told us. "I live at 17th and Mission and I've been mugged."
"If you didn't know Jack Davis' history in politics in San Francisco, you might be able to take that at face value," Shortt said of Davis' claims to be simply a concerned citizen. "Given his ties to big developers, it's not very believable."
'CLEAN UP' DEFINED
Clean Up The Plaza barely conceals what it's trying to "clean up," recently writing to supporters, "A recent BART survey counts about 250 homeless who make daily visits to the plaza. There are 43 SROs in a 4 block radius that add to the plaza population."
Campos said he's been working to address bad conditions in some of the Mission SROs, acknowledging that, "You would be hanging out in the plaza too if you didn't feel safe in your SRO apartment."
Davis forwarded the Guardian a letter from a local supporter of the group describing to the SFPD his personal crusade against those who hang out in the plaza and urinate outdoors, writing, "There are those of us who ARE LOOKING FORWARD to the new condos and retail space set to be developed at the Plaza. I hope the new retail/condo space helps to improve the area but there are no guarantees."
But activists call this argument a well-worn ruse used to push development and gentrification.
"Cleaning up so-called 'blighted' areas has long been used to push through development projects," Shortt said, decrying the "false dichotomy" presented by development advocates: "You can walk in puddles of urine or we can save you with a big development project."
Ironically, the problem has gotten worse in Mission because of previous "clean up" efforts along mid-Market.
"The clean up of mid-Market resulted in more people in the Mission, which nobody is talking about," Guzman said, noting that the increasing homeless population hasn't been greeted with increased services, only scorn. "If 'cleaning up' really means helping, that's not helping."
The mid-Market neighborhoods of the Tenderloin and SoMa and the Mission District neighborhood around 16th and Mission are some of the last places left in the city that are still welcoming of poor people, thanks to the dozens of SROs there, many of them run by nonprofits under city contracts.
The Tenderloin's 94102 ZIP code has a median household income of just $22,000, while the 16th and Mission's 94103 ZIP has a median income of $44,000, both significantly less than the citywide median of $74,000, according to data culled by the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing as part of its ambitious push to build 30,000 new homes by 2020.
Yet if "clean up" is really code for displacement, that raises a troubling question for San Francisco: Will there be any neighborhoods left in this gentrifying city that still welcome the poor?
Most of those most actively involved in pushing development and "clean up" narratives wouldn't discuss it with us.
Randy Shaw, whose Tenderloin Housing Clinic administers millions of dollars in city contracts to run SROs in the neighborhood and who was the biggest private sector architect and cheerleader of the tax breaks offered to Twitter and other big tech firms three years ago, said "I'll pass" when we asked to interview him about his advocacy for "cleaning up" the Tenderloin.
But we did talk with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who has parroted some of Clean Up The Plaza's rhetoric and referred to its petitions during two of his recent debates against Campos for the Assembly District 17 seat.