Monster Madness

Opponents call the "I am Not a Monster" ads plastering BART "Rapacious Marketing 101."

Adel Alghazali, who used to own Mi Tierra Market, has appeared in Big Soda and Big Development advertisement. (Photo by Nuala Sawyer)

Just in time for Halloween, monster-themed advertising is plastered all over the 16th Street Mission BART station. The “I am Not a Monster” ads are a defense of the massive proposed 10-story, 330-unit mega-development at 1979 Mission St., that, if built, would be the largest housing project in Mission, earning it the nickname “Monster in the Mission.”

The ads, which went up in early September, purport to depict everyday people like nurses and social workers — exactly the kind of people who are having trouble finding housing in the Mission right now, because of luxury high-rises like 1979 Mission.

The ads say supporters of the project “not a Monster,” but you might as as well call them Monsters, Inc., because they’re many of the same corporate lobbying interests who recently fought for the tobacco industry and the soda industry.

A link on the ads directs viewers to Mission4All.org, the website of a “grassroots” organization, which, according to state records, has the same address as the headquarters of Maximus Real Estate — the very developer that wants to build the 1979 Mission project.

Further, Mission For All’s listed mailing address is that of a San Rafael corporate law firm called Nielsen Merksamer, which is also leading the lobbying effort against the flavored tobacco ban the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed in June.

Mission For All spent $46,000 on those BART ads, and they’ve spent roughly $285,000 in the last six months alone on glossy mailers, signature-gathering efforts, and — of course — paying their corporate lobbyists.

And regular commuters may recognize a familiar face in the propaganda campaign. One ad that claims, “I am not a Monster, I am a Market Owner” features the face of Adel Alghazali, who also appeared in the glossy mailers campaigning against the 2016 San Francisco soda tax (calling it a “grocery tax”). Those ads were paid for by the American Beverage Association of California, a super PAC that spent tens of millions of dollars campaigning against soda-tax efforts in San Francisco and Oakland.

When he’s not appearing in ads defending big corporate interests, Alghazali apparently owns and operates the Mi Tierra Market on Mission Street near 16th Street. But that’s not clear, either.

According to the Examiner, Alghazali sold the Mi Tierra Market in 2008 amid an unpaid wage scandal, in which he owed workers thousand of dollars in back pay.

But current Mi Tierra employees, who declined to give their names, told SF Weekly that Alghazali is once again the current owner of the market. We were unable to reach Alghazali, and Mission for All did not return request for comment for this article.

Still, the “I am not a Monster” ad campaign — just like the 2016 campaign against the soda tax — uses people of color in advertisements that are targeted to ethnic neighborhoods, in order to promote the monied interests of wealthy white people.

“They’re being deceptive about who the project is,” says Chirag Bhakta of Plaza 16 Coalition, a neighborhood group that includes the Sierra Club, the Mission Economic Development Agency, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, among many others.

“Exploitation of people of color in an ad campaign to convince a mainly Latino, immigrant, low-income neighborhood that this gentrifying project is actually going to help the neighborhood comes out of Rapacious Marketing 101,” Bhakta says. “Most of the people who are showcased in these ads most likely are not going to be able to afford these units being built.”

To be fair, Maximus Real Estate has offered to make an unspecified number of 1979 Mission St. units available for subsidized teacher housing. But that’s still just a proposal, with the number of units, percentage of subsidy, and criterion for determining who qualifies as a “teacher” still not established. Through existing loopholes, a corporate fitness trainer for Google could technically qualify as a “teacher.”

Despite that accommodation, opponents still see little upside in adding a 10-story tower full of million-dollar condos to 16th and Mission.

“It is a monster for the neighborhood. The Mission has seen gentrification beyond what’s seen in many other neighborhoods or cities around the country,” Bhakta says. “People who see this building go up will see it with the understanding that the housing isn’t for them, and they can’t afford any of it.”

Supporters of 1979 Mission insist they are not monsters, but “human beings,” using language reminiscent of The Elephant Man or Frankenstein. And they are human beings — just human beings who mostly appear to be somehow on the payroll of Maximus Real Estate or its various lobbying shell corporations.

This astroturf advocacy may pay dividends for Maximus Real Estate when they propose their development to the Planning Commission in November. But if they’re using the agents of Big Tobacco and Big Soda to create the illusion that ethnic communities support this project, the neighborhood ought to know that there are monsters among us.

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