Fearing Loss of Space, Precita Eyes Tries to Discourage Prospective Buyers

Precita Eyes Murals received a slight grant increase from the City of San Francisco this year. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

Precita Eyes, a 38-year-old mural arts nonprofit in San Francisco, hosted a combination free toddler art class and rally against the speculative real estate market Tuesday afternoon.

As toddlers covered in tempera paint plastered their hand prints all over sheets of paper, community members surrounded the building holding their own pieces of paper, printed with the message, “Please do not BUY this building!! This is a community space!”

Sign in Precita Eyes' window at 348 Precita Ave. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)
Sign in Precita Eyes' window at 348 Precita Ave. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

The organization staged the protest after landlords posted a brand-new “FOR SALE” sign on the studio center’s exterior the week before. Though Precita Eyes owns its arts and visitors center at 2981 24th St, they have rented the 348 Precita Ave space since 1977.

While impending doom lingers in the air, the building's residents are not without hope. The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), with advice from the San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT), plans to make a bid on the property, which, if successful, will safeguard Precita Eyes and the residential tenants against eviction by forming a cooperative.

“MEDA is in touch with property owners and they’ve said verbally that they will consider our bid,” said Jean Yaste, an SFCLT board member present at Tuesday's rally. The property, located at the corner of Precita and Treat Aves, is listed at $995,000 and comprises three residential units in addition to Precita Eyes’ storefront space.

Sponsored

Tuesday’s event was timed to coincide with real estate agent Chris Ferringo’s open house hours for interested bidders.

Neighborhood children at Tuesday's free arts class. (Photo: Sarah
Neighborhood children at Tuesday's free arts class. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

“We and the tenants upstairs have chosen to be present during the open house and do what we do,” said Precita Eyes volunteer Nancy Hernandez. “We teach kids how to paint, and so that’s what we’re doing.”

The property will sell -- that’s undisputed -- but Tuesday’s event was an attempt to impart upon potential bidders Precita Eyes’ significance in the community and the damage real estate speculation can have on longstanding arts organizations.

“People say that this is a class war, but I disagree with that. I think it’s a war about being classy. And it’s really not classy to use your economic privilege in a brutal means to enact a violent act on someone by taking away their home,” said Yaste.

A Precita Eyes volunteer creates a sign reading, "Keep our eyes open." (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)
A Precita Eyes volunteer creates a sign reading, "Keep our eyes open." (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

Fran Taylor, a neighbor of 40 years, greeted prospective bidders at the building’s steps to tell them about Precita Eyes and the plan for MEDA’s bid.

“I just see the rapacious, vulture-like bidding on people's homes as if it’s a widget and not where people live or where there’s a community space as destroying the community,” she said. “We’re discouraging the bidding wars that will put it out of [MEDA's] reach by telling people that they’re not wanted as over bidders or speculators.”

Time will tell if this rally will have any effect; a steady stream of open house attendees climbed the stairs to the residential units in just the first hour of the open house. But many also stayed to chat with sign-holding protesters and reporters, talking over the particulars of what made this property attractive to them as an investment, sometimes telling their own stories of displacement.

“We’re doing whatever we can to get information out to folks, and especially the buyers, to make them aware of the space they’re looking to buy and how important that is to the community. At least we're trying to create that dialogue,” said Eric Arguello of Calle 24, the Mission's Latino cultural district.

For Precita Eyes, dialogue is not enough.

“Although the real estate agents are saying that this space is available, the community is asserting that this space is not available for sale. This space has been used as a center to teach art to young people for over 30 years and we intend to stay here,” Hernandez said.