Neighborhood and progressive political activists have long been suspicious of the shadowy Clean Up The Plaza campaign and its possible connections to a massive housing development proposed for 16th and Mission streets — and the Guardian has now confirmed that developer-connected political consultant Jack Davis is playing a key role in that campaign.
Asked by the Guardian whether he is being paid by the developers — Maximus Real Estate Partners, which has submitted plans to build a 10-story, 351-unit housing complex overlooking the 16th Street BART plaza — Davis told the Guardian, “That’s between me and the IRS.”
Our exchange with Davis and Gil Chavez, a Davis roommate who runs the Clean Up The Plaza campaign, occurred yesterday outside the LGBT Center where they and three other campaign workers (who refused to speak to us) were promoting their cause and collecting signatures on petitions calling for crackdowns on the plaza before the debate inside between Assembly District 17 candidates David Chiu and David Campos.
Clean Up The Plaza has been refusing to return calls from the Guardian or other local journalists for months, and the group hasn’t filed any paperwork with the San Francisco Ethics Commission in association with its political fundraising or lobbying efforts.
Asked about the group’s relationship with the project developers, Chavez told us, “They’re in communication with us and we’re in communication with them, but they haven’t funded us.” Asked who paid for the group’s website, mailers, window signs, and other expenses, Chavez said it was him and other donors that he wouldn’t identify.
Davis has been the go-to political consultant on big campaigns backed by real estate interests in San Francisco, working on the successful mayoral campaigns of Frank Jordan, Willie Brown, and Gavin Newsom, as well as a number of high-profile development projects, including the 1996 ballot measure approving construction of AT&T Park.
He and Chavez say they live together in the neighborhood and their only motivation in running the group is improving public safety. “I’m happy to to talk about what Clean Up The Plaza is,” Davis told us. “I live at 17th and Mission and I’ve been mugged.”
But housing activist Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee isn’t buying it, calling the group “a fake grassroots campaign that is misleading this community.”
“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.”
Willie Brown even heralded Davis’ return to political work two years ago in his San Francisco Chronicle column, entitled “Political consultant Jack Davis back on S.F. scene,” writing that he has returned to local political circles following a hiatus in Wales the previous few years.
“You political types, be warned. Jack Davis is back in town,” the column began, ending with, “I think that after watching from the sidelines for a while, he's ready to return. Can't wait to see whom he decides to work for. Stay tuned.”
Is Davis working on fake grassroots campaign designed to smooth the way for a massive gentrifying housing projects in one of the city’s last remaining neighborhoods that still welcomes poor people? Stay tuned.
San Francisco Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix told the Guardian that the group should be registered if it has raised more than $1,000 or if it is lobbying at City Hall -- indeed, the group has boasted on its website of efforts to influence Campos and other city officials to increase police patrols and cleansing of the plaza -- particularly if it is being paid by a third party to do so.
“If they’re lobbying, obviously we want to know,” St. Croix told us, saying that he planned to personally follow-up with the group on its activities.
Davis denies that the group is in violation of any disclosure laws, claiming it is simply a small neighborhood group, and he referred our inquiries to the group’s attorney, James Perrinello, a partner at the high-powered and politically connected law firm of Nielson Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, who hasn’t yet returned our calls.
For more on Clean Up The Plaza and other campaigns to “clean up” poor neighborhoods as a precursor to gentrification and market rate housing development -- including the ongoing efforts to do so in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas -- read next week’s Bay Guardian.
[UPDATE 3/18: Former Guardian Editor/Publisher Tim Redmond's 48 Hills site just posted a long report by reporter Julia Carrie Wong that includes an admission by Davis that he is indeed a paid consultant for Maximus, as well as interesting conflicting statements from Maximus and Chavez about a meeting they held. Check it out.]