Astroturfing a Sea Change at 16th and Mission

The 16th and Mission BART plaza has gone through an incredible transformation in the last 9 weeks.  It was as only mid-September that you would emerge from the BART station and see a cast of so-called unsavory characters doing everything from drinking tallboys in paper bags to selling (probably stolen) goods rolled out on blankets.  And then there was the violence, drugs, and general loitering that put the neighborhood's more sensitive and vulnerable populations on edge.

But today? Nesquik can be found setting up a booth to give out free chocolate drink.  Even the plaza's notorious scent is wafting away.

The turnaround began on the week of September 22nd, when BART, the Department of Public Works, a private security corporation, and the San Francisco Police Department teamed up to better patrol the plaza and shift the nightly plaza wash-down to mid-day, all at the urging of the shadowy “Clean Up The Plaza” coalition.

Clean Up The Plaza surfaced on June 1st, hanging signs in business windows and launching a petition, which we then noted was “little light on details as to what they want done.”  The organization bills itself as a “grass roots [sic] effort” made up of “residents, merchants, and visitors” of 16th and Mission.  From their mission statement:

We are a coalition of Residents, Merchants, and Visitors who use the 16 Mission Bart Station in our daily travels.  The area around the Plaza on these corners is in deplorable condition. We have lived in danger and with the blight of this corner for too long.  Our neighborhood deserves better access to safe, clean and walkable transportation corridors.

Their website lists their core members, painting their bios with broad strokes such as “BART rider,” “business owner,” “property owner,” and “resident.”  However, researching the individuals behind the campaign reveal they are anything but the humble neighbors as they are so described.

Of the original core members of Clean Up The Plaza (the organization expanded their membership list earlier this fall), at least four members have downplayed their status in the community to give the petition a “grassroots” feel.  One of these members, David J. Sanchez, Jr., is described merely as a “property owner.”  However, Sanchez is deeply embedded within the bowels of the San Francisco government, serving on the San Francisco Health Commission, the Police Commission, the Board of Education, and on the board of the SF General Hospital Foundation.

Gwen Kaplan is similarly described as a “business owner,” but also happens to be the former president of the San Francisco Small Business Commission and sits on San Francisco Chamber of Commerce board.  Clean Up The Plaza also lists Gwen Kaplan's business Ace Mailing and the North East Mission Business Association, which is funded by Ace Mailing, as a member organizations without disclosing their link to Kaplan.

Clean Up The Plaza has not returned repeated emails or phone calls for comment.

On the surface, it's hard to argue with the changes happening at the plaza—cleaner sidewalks, less violence, less public drunkenness, less smell.  But the unfortunate truth is these changes are largely coming on the backs of the poor, from the homeless to the hundreds of SRO residents who use the plaza as a common space to escape their prison cell-like living conditions.

The week the “clean up” commenced, Laura Guzman, the Director of Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, told us DPW workers were going around to homeless camps in the blocks surrounding the plaza, telling the homeless that they had to pack up and move or else they would be “sprayed out” with a hose.  She went on to tell us about the strong-arm tactics she saw at the plaza:

I have seen up to five cops closely monitoring what people are doing at all times. I have been told that folks have been harassed for smoking cigarettes… I was there [on September 24th] and I was going to give light to one of [the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center's] homeless participants, and a police officer approached to see what I was doing (he probably thought I was going to smoke crack with my guy or something). Two police men where closely watching an African American lady who was shaving her man's head. It is out of a movie to see it. I also spoke to some of the old timers, who stated to me no one has come to offer not even shelter to them…

Since Guzman's report, we too have seen no less than two police officers in the plaza at any given time, handing out citations for offenses as minor as open containers—issues that easily pass in places as nearby as Dolores Park.  And two weeks ago, private security officers from Legion Corporation were spotted telling smokers outside Kilowatt to “move along” for loitering on 16th Street:

All this makes us wonder: why are people as politically connected as a former Police Commissioner and a Chamber of Commerce board member astroturfing a clean up on 16th and Mission?  Who is paying for private security officers to patrol the area?  And why do they think they need to be secretive about their affiliations?

Regardless, this is what “hyper-gentrification” looks like.

Comments (53)

Also, Capp btwn 16th & 17th has gotten crazier. Getting back to what it was a few years ago.

Yeah, but who cares? The people these types are concerned about don’t walk that direction - they head up towards Valencia for all that new civil war-era fusion restaurant in the “nabe” or a saunter in “DoLo.” All they’re doing is making it another corner’s problem. I saw this year after year after year working on Golden Gate and Leavenworth and throughout the ‘loin. The improving of one corner is just the blighting of another.


16th and Capp becoming sketchier is a lot more worrisome to lifelong Mission residents like myself. Marshall Elementary, where I went to school, is right freakin there. I’d rather the sketch stay at 16th and Mission where it’s out in the open instead of hiding in alleys right next to elementary schools.


why are people as politically connected as a former Police Commissioner and a Chamber of Commerce board member astroturfing a clean up on 16th and Mission? Who is paying for private security officers to patrol the area? And why do they think they need to be secretive about their affiliations?


Ahhh, makes so much sense now.

Great article, KevMo.


Follow the money: condos condos condos.

Uh, I hope anyone told to “move along” by a rent-a-cop would tell the rent-a-cop to go eat a bowl of dicks.

This concerns me… a private security force is telling people they can’t stand around on a sidewalk.

The tactics and backers do seem really shady and it’s not really fair to prey on homeless and just push them out of view, BUT, a LOT of people have been wanting more police presence around the 16th/Mission block for some time now, violent crime there is pretty high. Not so much during the day I guess, but it is one of the more dangerous blocks in the neighborhood.

On the other hand, spraying the shit out of a public plaza and blocking it off in broad daylight takes it out of use for EVERYONE during peak hours.

However, KevMo seems to be contradicting past statements about how SFPD SHOULD be busting up crime on 16th at mission instead of the nanny-state policing that has happened at Dolores Park, right?

However, KevMo seems to be contradicting past statements about how SFPD SHOULD be busting up crime on 16th at mission instead of the nanny-state policing that has happened at Dolores Park, right?

Contradiction, perhaps.  But I see it more of a measure of proportionality.  It has always striked me as fucked that SFPD was cracking down on non-violent, misdemeanor crime in Dolores Park that really didn't harm anyone when there was serious, violent crime happening just a few blocks away.

However, I don't think the police should ever hassle people that are minding their own business, regardless of where it is.  That includes drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, shaving your boyfriend's head, or just sitting on a damn bench.

That's not to say I think SFPD should be discouraged from dealing with the violent or thieves or people who pray on others—quite the contrary.  This is exactly why I promote and applaud @SFPDBikeTheft.  However, if cleaning up serious offenders at the plaza means spraying down the homeless with water hoses and harassing people for going about their life—all so the Chamber of Commerce can claim another patch of land as safe for luxury economic development—that's where I draw the line.

And I damn hell don't support private police security patrolling public space, especially given they're forces that are not answerable to anyone but the check signers.

Hear, Hear. Well said.

Seems like the biggest question here is why SFPD/Bart police have refused to touch that plaza for so long. If there were as many shootings and drug deals in a private venue as there are in that plaza, the neighbors would be furious and demanding it be closed down.

Check out all the new development within a three or four block radius, recently completed, in progress, planned, or proposed. Clean up the Plaza is a developer/landlord/realtor astroturf front.

Right, but that doesn’t answer the question. It’s not like the plaza never had neighbors before.

It doesn’t happen often, but there have been product giveaways at that BART station before. I’ve seen some for dog food, those weird flat pretzels, and diet Redbull. Just saying it’s quite possible this is just another in a long line of product giveaways at BART stations and not necessarily a sign of impending neighborhood changes.

huh? and…..huuuh.
what on earth are you talking about?

Sorry, I thought it was obvious. I was saying that Nesquick being there might not have anything to do with the city’s push to clean up 16th and Mission. There have been plenty of giveaways there in the past.

Also, insert obligatory gentrification joke about the 16th Mission Bart station now being next to an Apple Store.

New Apple Store at 16th and Mission!!!! w00t!!!

I think this is great. The unfortunate truth about San Francisco is that prosecuting drug users and criminals is looked down upon by “activists.”

You don’t actually believe that activists look down on the prosecution of criminals, do you? Because that would be a pretty high-octane brand of crazyjuice.

Because the treating of drug abuse as a criminal justice problem versus a public health problem has worked swimmingly in the 40-plus year war on drugs, hasn’t it, Old Mission? And apparently in the Neau Mission with all its Kuel Bars and Like, Yah’s, being poor and looking it is enough to get a “move along.” and, according to you, worth prosecution.

Smoking crack on a BART plaza is definitely illegal. Police aren’t paid to have a moral opinion about the law; that gets too complicated and difficult to enforce.

Look, police can be huge scumbags, and I don’t take their side on many things (e.g. the VG episode). But when there’s obvious drug use at the BART plaza, the police wouldn’t be doing their job if they looked the other way.

Kevin, are you serious with the hyper-gentrification thing? Or even the conspiratorial “they must be building condos!/ gentrifying”? That plaza is god awful. If you are against the pivot toward cleanliness, security, or even condos what are you for exactly? The drugs, the lunacy, the random slashings? I mean, what is your plan for shitshows like that? And by the way- gentrification is also known as progress. I dont think any of us want to see Chicos or Chevys in our neighborhood. But its also unreasonable to expect a grain mill or cattle lot on Valencia. Should we protect people who are evocted bc the rents are rising? Probably. But to what extent? I am sorry that coding or investment npbanking is more lucrative than digital quipping- life is unfair. Go to India and complain that you cant live in the most-desired neighborhoods in the most-desired city in the world while making a living as an old fashioned bootslack

“But the unfortunate truth is these changes are largely coming on the backs of the poor, from the homeless to the hundreds of SRO residents who use the plaza as a common space to escape their prison cell-like living conditions.”

It says it all. In case you didn’t know, KevMo is real tight with the “poor” people. He knows they want to piss and harass people at this BART station.

Ps. He’s as factual as Fox News.

Careful KevMo, you might be digging up some real news.

I don’t get how cleaning shit up and making the area safer for all is hyper gentrification.

Must be your first day here. Let me explain: change in the Mission is bad. That is all. Welcome!

“Keep the Mission Shitty!”

The article does present a good point of view. We are glad the very important corner is being cleaned. And it was so bad, for so long, that there is a strong inclination to take any help we can, by people from any motivation.

The safety and comfort of family and friends, rather than the convenience of the guest of the SRO’s moves me. But it is good to think about the next “chess moves” if (as alleged with some smoke but not proven) that this is being pushed by the same interests that for years were totally indifferent to this space. Also, the private security part of the story is news, to me and a concern, it is worrisome if policing is turned over to contracted entities.

So yeah, I’m really glad this is being cleaned, but its great to get more info on how this is happening, and think about the trajectory created.

This plaza has been a mess for decades. I’m glad someone is finally doing something about it.

Hose them out!! The junkies and mentally ill can hang out and urinate somewhere else!!

What’s the so-called conspiracy? Sanchez IS a property owner and Kaplan IS a business owner, a small-business owner to boot. That they didn’t disclose their entire resume on the organization’s member list is hardly an attempt to conceal their “astroturfing” efforts to clean up the plaza. Also, why would their involvement not count as grassroots? Is grassroots work reserved exclusively for those who’ve never worked in city government or owned a local business? That’s absurd. And as you mention, Kevin, the group’s membership is more than these two people who seemed to help get the group off the ground. What their background shows is that these are two people who have either worked as a public servant or invested in their community through a small business. They’re not the Koch brothers.

As I think has been alluded to already in the comments, stopping drug use, violence, public urination/defecation and drunkeness are not changes that should be stopped because they invade on an SRO resident’s “common space.” Police officer’s abusing their power by harassing people for doing nothing wrong is one thing, but if there are clear violations of the law on one of the crime-iest corners of the city, I don’t know how you can persuasively argue that the cops are wrong in maintaining a presence at the plaza. And, although a stray DPW worker supposedly told homeless people they’d be “sprayed out” if they didn’t move, that “spraying out” has not actually happened and therefore should not be used as a reason to condemn the city’s proactive approach to plaza.

Finally, I think it should also be pointed out that this article is coming from a white male. A white male in the mission–as in many places across this country–has the least to fear in terms of random violence and/or harassment. Not saying you don’t recognize this, Kevin, but it’s important to acknowledge that the significance a person attaches to improving a universally acknowledged dangerous place in the city may vary depending on that person’s chance of becoming a victim of that danger. White males, compared to men of color and all females, are relatively unlikely to be victims.

“A white male in the mission–as in many places across this country–has the least to fear in terms of random violence and/or harassment.”

You are obviously not a white male. White males are the most hated species in the Mission.

Please don’t take Laura Guzman as a sane source. I’ve seen her speak at meetings. She will fight for the right of the people to defecate in an open, public space like the 16th/Mission plaza. She includes going to the bathroom outside as a rightful use of a “community space.” I heard her say it. Meanwhile, her organization has lockout during the day. Why not keep your bathrooms open, eh?

In the last few months, people who NEED them, INCLUDING MANY ELDERLY HOMELESS, have been able to actually SIT DOWN ON THE BENCHES in this community space and enjoy the sunshine or wait for their buses. It’s been truly great to see. It was not a community space before the recent police presence. It was a haven for public drug use and dealing, violence, round-the-clock urinating, defecating and littering, prostitution, and intimidation of every single person simply there to get to/from BART or Muni. More SRO tenants than homeless, and guess what: the drug-users decline services because shelters cannot allow their using and dealing if they want to maintain any semblance of “shelter” for the others.

Simply enhancing police presence is in no way a perfect solution, but it beats what we had hands down. I’ve lived there for over 20 years and for the first time in my life I don’t dread my trip to work, cover my face because of the stench, or avoid being there too late in the evening at all costs.

I also don’t buy that this has anything to do with the proposed development there. Surely that plan was a long time in the making. They knew the location when the proposal was put forth. And by the way, I’m not happy about the development plans, either.

And by the way, I have no affiliation with the CleanUpThePlaza people. I can’t believe they’re even getting credit for this. What even happened with their petitions?

I like the concept of this development plan, and generally high density near transit hubs. But the developer group can expect huge profits, and it is inevitable that such a project will alter the space and many peoples lives. They ought to contribute, financially and by providing offsetting public space in an amount to be determined after more study. Lets do it right, there is no need to wave scale alerting 10 story building though in secretive deals.

Send all the undesirables to Sunnydale, or Oakland, as usual.

The BART plaza is downright pleasant when compared to C(r)app Street between 16th and Adair. The DPW seems surprised that there is constant feces along the east side of the street. And since there are no prospects for luxury condos right there, none of the business boosters can be bothered with that. Of course, the Marshall Elementary scholars have to walk right through that public health threat, and I’m sure that they will end up better off in life when society sends them a signal that they’re not worth cleaning up the shit for.

I don’t see why anyone is unhappy about this. Why is nobody mentioning the obvious fact that this is a BART plaza that is the entry and exit for most people. Everyone who lives in the Mission or visits here has to use that particular plaza.

It’s hip to hate visitors in this part of the world, but in most places people acknowledge that they matter.

Anyway, if the cops can shift the smell of urine and the sketchy, scary guys to 16th + Capp, or wherever, then that’s a problem for people who have to live and work there. Which is not everyone. EVERYONE uses 16th and Mission.

Not to state the obvious, but pushing away the problem does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

Putting the problem somewhere less visible means the problem affects fewer people.

If there was a toxic waste dump at 16th/Mission, we could move the dump to Milpitas, and while that doesn’t “solve” the problem of it existing, it does put it out of sight.

And yes, I am comparing homeless people to toxic waste. #sorryimnotsorry

Your plan to ship the homeless off to desert concentration camps will be sure to be a big hit with the teabagger set. Congratulations.

We did ship the crazies off to asylums in the pre-Reagan days, before he dropped funding to them and forced all the people there onto the streets, almost single-handedly creating the homeless epidemic.

Homeless who have drug, alcohol or mental problems *should* be sent somewhere where they can be helped and cared for by professionals.

Some of you all will not be truly happy until San Franciscans are compelled to march in solemn procession bearing gold bricks on red velvet pillows with elaborate golden tassels in tribute to business and visitors. Perhaps we should all drop some of those dookies deposited in front of the school and our homes in the mail and send them to Ace Mailing to express our gratitude?

Marcos, if the homeless and their coalition had their way, youd be doing all that hit for them. And the difference is they dont lift a finger for it. Its a con

This whole piece of shit campaign is just pushing the problem two streets down. I live close to 18th and Mission and take BART everyday to work. Yes the plaza has improved but now I have to crawl through a crowd on Mission between 16th and 17th. The people from the SRO building there pour out on to the sidewalk now. Fantastic. That just made my commute twice as bad.

I am all for reducing crime and dirt but putting police at the Plaza without tackling the underlying issues wont solve the problem. People need open spaces and the sidewalks are not good substitutes for that. In the end, everyone suffers more. Thanks for writing about this important issue KevMo.

Wow, so they’re not just rent-a-cops, but actually fucking MERCENARIES?! That’s creepy.

if longtorp’s link is correct, we can see to what lengths the upper class will use to ‘clean streets’. Though I’ve always hated the nastiness of
16th street for 25 years, I have never been for a police clean out. That ALWAYS means a bunch of innocent or down and out people getting drug war citations, I have always in whatever tough area of a city, whether in akron back in the day, or cleveland, side with the anti clean up crew. You know why? Cuz the cleanup is NEVER aligned with providing jobs and more affordable housing. It is always a SWEEP.
that in itself is class war. And I will side with the ‘scum’ in any class war. …cuz the upper class wants me out just as bad.
I know my side. And much of my side is ugly and violent. But THEY don’t push me out of affordable housing, or make it impossible to raise a kid in a city. They actually often watch out for me. THEY are a minority violent and crazy, but in a majority my only humanity in a city. Humanity is not property speculation. Property speculators on a whole are right wing, war supporting, tax evading, militia supporting fascists. There is NO doubt in my mind about this. And there is NO doubt in my mind whose side I am on. There could be a MIDDLE ground, but the rich will not allow it. Class war. So be it.