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SOMAD, Mid-Market Development Proposal

The story of Delta flight no. 15


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Odd fellows on Market

They’re as certain as death and taxes, the two notes that the Examiner plays: the titillation of terror and the mess on Market.

Like most Americans these days, I live with one inner eye turned toward threats to our security — as I write, Bay Area bridges are alert to possible attacks. But it’s a good thing every once in a while to revisit the Examiner’s other fetish, to remember that, despite the increasingly gaudy cartoons that run on its front page, the “mess” on Market consists of people trying to resolve a problem that has existed for decades.

Take the South of Market Anti-Displacement Coalition (415 430-1269 ext. 1684), a loose-knit mix of people and organizations whose approach is endorsed by such varied folks as the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and the United Pilipino Organizing Network. Others are also hard at work, but SOMAD is noisier and better organized, running a website at www.somad.net and an active news list.

SOMAD’s leading voice is Quintin Mecke, rosy-cheeked, handsome, soft-spoken. In response to a request for information, he points to the group’s principles: “SOMA’s growth must build upon our community’s human, economic, physical, and cultural assets, and realize their full potential. Especially important is the preservation and enrichment of our long-standing Filipino-American community, and all our communities must fairly share the responsibilities, benefits, and impacts of our neighborhood’s growth.”

On the official side stands the Redevelopment Agency, most recently in the guise of Jose Campos (415 747-2442). As part of the process, Campos — a young, earnest Jose Ferrer — shepherds a citizens’ advisory group known as the Mid-Market Project Area Committee toward a proper plan for the area. District 6 supervisor Chris Daly has also gotten into the act, sponsoring a series of public workshops on the proposed plan.

The two groups — SOMAD and the PAC — seem to travel parallel paths toward the same goal. That’s the problem. They’re not intersecting.

A recent message from SOMAD circulated the text of its own plan (see Cybervoices), along with a complaint: “As of early October 2001, the PAC has not discussed the SOMAD proposal.”

I called the Market Merchants Association (415 362-2500) for clarification. The association keeps even closer tabs on its turf than the Fangs; it’s also a major mover in the PAC. Executive director Carolyn Diamond, tall, blonde, and vaguely suggestive of polo ponies, turns up at all sorts of community events in the area, as does her sidekick, the dark-haired Lynn Valente.

Valente answered when I called. Was it true as SOMAD says, I asked, that the PAC has never discussed its proposal? Yes, it was. And why was that? Because it’s never been on the agenda. Remembering SOMAD’s statement that it had sent the proposal to the PAC in April, I asked the obvious question: how does something get on the agenda? It has to go through Jose Campos, Valente replied. Ever helpful, she offered to provide me with his phone number in order to facilitate the process. Dizzy, I hung up.

Seeking reality, I headed over to the Odd Fellows Building at 7th and Market. The grand old structure is one of several singled out by SOMAD for specific development, to be “restored to its original, quirky grandeur. The building lends itself well to use by artists and arts organizations, with space for studios, offices, rehearsal, performance, and public meetings.”

Right now, the ground floor houses typical Mid-Market businesses, including a check-cashing service and a liquor store. Rooms upstairs are still used by the Odd Fellows, an old organization that does quiet good and engages in a few secret rituals on the side.

The lobby of the building is blocked by a black iron grill, reinforced with Plexiglas, and a sign directing visitors to use the elevator. I rang the bell.

The ancient elevator clattered to the ground floor and a guard peered out. I asked if I could take a look around upstairs. No, he demurred, he was the only person on duty and he was too busy to take me. What was upstairs — were there offices, or just meeting rooms? Several floors were available for IOOF meetings, he replied, but the group was going to have to cut back on its space in January, when the Lines Dance Studio moved onto a couple of the floors.

Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, one of the arts groups hit hard by the runaway dot.com locomotive, has found space downtown. It looks like SOMAD’s proposal is gradually acquiring a life of its own, without a hearing by the PAC. And without even a cartoon in the Examiner.

Betsey Culp