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Dot-com invasion ignites protest
Fair Use Statement
Source: SJ Mercury News
Published Friday, September 8, 2000,
in the San
Jose Mercury News
S.F. complex: Mission Armory
development hearing dissolves into
BY MIKE ZAPLER
Protesters vowed an escalation in public opposition to dot-com
development after a confrontation at City Hall on Thursday drew
some 30 police officers and sheriff's deputies -- the first serious clash
in an ongoing neighborhood battle against a development boom that is
frightening tenants and defenders of San Francisco's character.
Law enforcement officers, some wielding batons, rushed to a quell a
potential riot at a public hearing after a speaker from the Mission
district was wrestled to the ground by a sheriff's deputy.
More than 100 protesters were on hand as the planning commission
was set to vote on a proposed conversion of the 85-year-old Mission
Armory into a massive office complex for multimedia firms. The
project has become the latest battleground over gentrification in a
neighborhood that many minorities, working class people and artists
Thursday's incident underscored how visceral an issue the threat of
rising rents and displacement has become for many San Franciscans.
Some protesters said it will only invigorate their fight against
developments they say are turning the city into a habitat for only the
``This is really gonna fire people up,'' said Luis Vasquez, who works
with youth in the Mission. ``These demonstrations are going to
And Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the activists' closest ally on the board
of supervisors, said, ``I think you could see more non-violent civil
disobedience after this.''
The city has tried repeatedly to find a community use for the building,
even setting $1 million aside for residents to forge a plan, but nothing
resulted. Mayor Willie Brown, who appoints the planning
commissioners, strongly favors the project.
`I'm just delighted someone has come along . . . to make this a
productive part of the community,'' Brown said in July.
But residents fear that the building will attract hundreds of high-tech
workers who will drive up surrounding rents, exacerbating the
problem of gentrification.
Not all neighborhoods are opposed to dot-com or other
development, and some dot-com workers are trying to preserve the
character of their neighborhood. Builders say that if the huge demand
for office space is not accommodated, rents will only continue to
Resistance has centered in the Mission and South of Market districts,
where development pressure is strongest. In what has become almost
a biweekly ritual, about 100 people -- many from the those
neighborhoods -- marched on the steps of City Hall for a 1 p.m. rally.
Afterward, they took the protest inside to the planning commission
The meeting started calmly. But soon protesters began to heckle
Planning Commission President Anita Theoharis, and she responded
by threatening to have them removed from the room.
Emotions escalated when Jonathan Youtt, a member of the San
Francisco Artist Alliance, stepped to the microphone. In a taunting
tone, he told Theoharis and other commissioners to ``look me in the
eye'' and complained that they weren't paying attention as he spoke
about problems artists are facing in the Mission.
After the three minutes he was given to speak expired, Youtt asked to
finish his statement. Theoharis said no. He continued to speak, and
the commission president summoned sheriff's Deputy Fitzgerald Fields
to remove Youtt from the hearing room.
Fields grabbed Youtt's left wrist. When the activist didn't move, the
deputy pulled Youtt's arm behind his back and appeared to force him
face down into the floor. Some witnesses said that Youtt went limp
and fell down himself, which he denied.
Within seconds, about 100 protesters outside the hearing room
roared ``Shut it down, shut it down.'' Sheriff's deputies shoved people
away from the hearing room entrance, and threatened to use batons
to pry people from door handles that many were clinging to in an
attempt to disrupt the meeting.
Law enforcement officers responded and the atmosphere calmed
some. About 15 officers formed a wall outside the hearing room and
spent the rest of the afternoon patroling the meeting. People weren't
allowed inside unless they were next in line to speak on a specific
But the activists got what they wanted Thursday: After halting the
meeting for more than an hour, the commission agreed to postpone a
vote on the Mission Armory project a week, until 5:30 p.m.
Thursday. And they promised to reserve the largest room available in
City Hall to accommodate throngs of opponents expected to show up
The activists say they are upset not only about the type of
developments sprouting up in the Mission and other older
neighborhoods -- including large-scale offices for high-tech start-ups,
and live-work lofts -- but by the routine way in which they say the
planning commission approves them. Their voices aren't being heard
and frustration is mounting, they say.
``I can't even convey the level of disrespect we felt this afternoon,''
said Antonio Diaz of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition.
Sheriff's department chief of staff Eileen Hirst said the department is
investigating whether Fields used excessive force. Witnesses, she
said, are offering conflicting accounts. The deputy declined to
``I certainly didn't go limp,'' Youtt, 31, said. ``So as not to dislocate
my shoulder, I went in the direction I was pulled. This was excessive
force for speaking'' too long.
Theoharis, for her part, defended her decision to summon a sheriff's
``It's very unfortunate we have a group of people who won't respect
our hearing process,'' she said. Before the meeting reconvened, she
urged law enforcement officers -- who had several police vans
outside and were prepared to make scores of arrests -- not to
Youtt said he likely will file a formal complaint against Fields.
With supervisor elections approaching and a growing number of
artists and residents being evicted from their work places and
residences, planning commissioners will be on the hot seat next week
when they meet to vote on the Mission Armory project. Dallas-based
Eikon Investments wants to spend $50 million to renovate the
long-abandoned structure at Mission and 14th streets into a
300,000-square-foot office complex for multimedia companies.
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