Dominic Calabrese has run an automobile shop on the corner of 23rd Street and Treat Avenue since 1980, fixing and building old-school cars that he says “other people won’t build.”
But he says his long-time landlord has asked him to pay more rent in recent years as the Mission has changed with the tech boom, and the future has become unclear for Cal’s Automotive Center while Calabrese negotiates a new lease with the owner.
“I love where I’m at,” said Calabrese, 58. “It’s just all this other stuff has moved around me, it’s like mosquitos and I have to have more spray so I don’t get bit.”
Cal’s Automotive Center is just one of many automobile shops that have struggled stay open in the Mission District in recent years. Calabrese said he has seen more than 10 auto shops close in the neighborhood in the last three years. The closures often give way to plans to build market-rate housing.
On Thursday, two plans to replace auto-repair shops in the Mission with market-rate housing will appear before the Planning Commission. A third is slated for review at the commission in September. Only one of the plans includes industrial space.
“These things are starting to fall like dominos, and then the other problem with that is when they reopen, what kind of shop is going to open?” said Carlos Bocanegra, an attorney with La Raza Centro Legal in the Mission. “Is it going to be a high-end trade shop?”
Critics say continued gentrification is stripping the traditionally immigrant neighborhood of blue-collar jobs at the automobile shops, replacing businesses with housing for wealthy newcomers to San Francisco. Proponents argue that the developments are much-needed additions to The City’s housing stock.
City reports over the years have found that automobile shops provide hundreds of jobs across San Francisco. In 2002, city planners found that the industry employed more than 1,500 workers at 259 auto shops in the eastern neighborhoods alone.
Another Planning Department report found that the Mission had 22 auto-repair shops that employed 87 workers between 2006 and 2010. Those numbers fell in a subsequent report to 20 shops and 57 employees between 2011 and 2015.
Peter Papadopoulos, an activist representing the Mission Economic Development Agency, said auto-repair shops are important because immigrants can earn more than minimum wage there without college degrees.
“These were the engines for our immigrant communities in the Mission for a long time,” Papadopoulos said. “This is just one of many forces of gentrification right now that are pushing [away] our working-class families.”
Calabrese said all three of his employees are immigrants.
“My guys have become citizens, learned English and have their families here,” Calabrese said. “I sponsored them.”
The two mixed-use developments under review Thursday are for the construction of a seven-story building with 11 units and industrial space at 1924 Mission St., and a six-story building with 35 units and retail space at 1298 Valencia St.
The project at 16th and Mission streets would replace a vacant auto-repair shop and include no units of affordable housing. The developer has instead chosen to pay in-lieu fees, according to city planners.
The Planning Commission is expected to determine whether the developer has done enough to change the design of the building to match the traditional character of the Mission.
That’s also the case Thursday for the project 24th and Valencia streets, which would replace a 76 gas station and auto servicing shop.
City planners are recommending the commission approve the project after the developer agreed to pay $2.3 million in lieu of on-site affordable housing while also offering one below-market-rate unit.
David Silverman, attorney for the owner Wisfe Aish, argued in a letter to the Planning Commission that Aish is “beautifying the neighborhood” by building “an attractive building to replace an unsightly gas station.”
Silverman also said the development is a “substantial benefit” for San Francisco at a time of “extreme housing shortage.”
Both projects are similar in their design woes to the project replacing the auto-repair shop at 1900 Mission St., at 15th and Mission streets. The project was previously criticized at the Planning Commission for its design and is not scheduled to appear again until Sept. 28.
As for Cal’s Automotive Center, Supervisor Hillary Ronen helped the shop become a “legacy business” April 24, according to her aide Nate Allbee.
“Automobiles and cars have always been an important part of the culture of the Mission,” said Allbee. “These mom-and-pop auto shops have really been at the center for this part of our culture.”
Legacy business status provides rent protection and city funding for his historic businesses.
“I feel positive that I’m going to be able to negotiate with my landlords and stay here like I have been for the past 40 years,” Calabrese said.