Clean Up The Plaza run by political consultant with ties to developers

Jack Davis, flanked by Gil Chavez and Clean Up The Plaza advocates, responds to Guardian inquiries.
Steven T. Jones

Neighborhood and progressive political activists have long been suspicious of the shadowy Clean Up The Plaza campaign and its possible connections to a massive housing development proposed for 16th and Mission streets — and the Guardian has now confirmed that developer-connected political consultant Jack Davis is playing a key role in that campaign.

Asked by the Guardian whether he is being paid by the developers — Maximus Real Estate Partners, which has submitted plans to build a 10-story, 351-unit housing complex overlooking the 16th Street BART plaza — Davis told the Guardian, “That’s between me and the IRS.”

Our exchange with Davis and Gil Chavez, a Davis roommate who runs the Clean Up The Plaza campaign, occurred yesterday outside the LGBT Center where they and three other campaign workers (who refused to speak to us) were promoting their cause and collecting signatures on petitions calling for crackdowns on the plaza before the debate inside between Assembly District 17 candidates David Chiu and David Campos.

Clean Up The Plaza has been refusing to return calls from the Guardian or other local journalists for months, and the group hasn’t filed any paperwork with the San Francisco Ethics Commission in association with its political fundraising or lobbying efforts.

Asked about the group’s relationship with the project developers, Chavez told us, “They’re in communication with us and we’re in communication with them, but they haven’t funded us.” Asked who paid for the group’s website, mailers, window signs, and other expenses, Chavez said it was him and other donors that he wouldn’t identify.

Davis has been the go-to political consultant on big campaigns backed by real estate interests in San Francisco, working on the successful mayoral campaigns of Frank Jordan, Willie Brown, and Gavin Newsom, as well as a number of high-profile development projects, including the 1996 ballot measure approving construction of AT&T Park.

He and Chavez say they live together in the neighborhood and their only motivation in running the group is improving public safety. “I’m happy to to talk about what Clean Up The Plaza is,” Davis told us. “I live at 17th and Mission and I’ve been mugged.”

But housing activist Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee isn’t buying it, calling the group “a fake grassroots campaign that is misleading this community.”

“If you didn’t know Jack Davis’ history in politics in San Francisco, you might be able to take that at face value,” Shortt said of Davis’ claims to be simply a concerned citizen. “Given his ties to big developers, it’s not very believable.”

Willie Brown even heralded Davis’ return to political work two years ago in his San Francisco Chronicle column, entitled “Political consultant Jack Davis back on S.F. scene,” writing that he has returned to local political circles following a hiatus in Wales the previous few years.

“You political types, be warned. Jack Davis is back in town,” the column began, ending with, “I think that after watching from the sidelines for a while, he's ready to return. Can't wait to see whom he decides to work for. Stay tuned.”

Is Davis working on fake grassroots campaign designed to smooth the way for a massive gentrifying housing projects in one of the city’s last remaining neighborhoods that still welcomes poor people? Stay tuned.

San Francisco Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix told the Guardian that the group should be registered if it has raised more than $1,000 or if it is lobbying at City Hall -- indeed, the group has boasted on its website of efforts to influence Campos and other city officials to increase police patrols and cleansing of the plaza -- particularly if it is being paid by a third party to do so.

“If they’re lobbying, obviously we want to know,” St. Croix told us, saying that he planned to personally follow-up with the group on its activities.

Davis denies that the group is in violation of any disclosure laws, claiming it is simply a small neighborhood group, and he referred our inquiries to the group’s attorney, James Perrinello, a partner at the high-powered and politically connected law firm of Nielson Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, who hasn’t yet returned our calls.

For more on Clean Up The Plaza and other campaigns to “clean up” poor neighborhoods as a precursor to gentrification and market rate housing development -- including the ongoing efforts to do so in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas -- read next week’s Bay Guardian. 

[UPDATE 3/18: Former Guardian Editor/Publisher Tim Redmond's 48 Hills site just posted a long report by reporter Julia Carrie Wong that includes an admission by Davis that he is indeed a paid consultant for Maximus, as well as interesting conflicting statements from Maximus and Chavez about a meeting they held. Check it out.] 


build at a location would like that location to be nicer?


Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

No, I'm exposing this campaign's previously unknown and unacknowledged connections to developers and big money politics, so those being asked to sign its petitions will have a little better idea what they're supporting. 

Posted by steven on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

to build there and a group who want to clean up the plaza might find some common ground.

What is SFBG's plan to clean up the plaza? Do nothing and tolerate it?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

You're either naive or aligned with the developer. Did you miss where it says, "Davis ... referred our inquiries to the group’s attorney, James Perrinello, a partner at the high-powered and politically connected law firm of Nielson Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, who hasn’t yet returned our calls,"?

Combine that with Davis' history as a political player for developer-friendly politicians, his refusal to open about his group here, the fact that this group was formed around the same time frame as the effort to get this massive project approved, one would have to be really naive to think Davis' group is a grassroots neighborhood effort.

Maybe you should be transparent about who you are posting here for!!! Lay out your connections to the developer or Mr. Davis. In some way, you're doing it for money tied to this project.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

The Planning folks have guidelines for approving projects like this, and I am sure the social benefits of a cleaned-up plaze will feature among them.

Nothing to see here

Posted by Guest on Mar. 14, 2014 @ 6:28 am

Hogwash. Your article does nothing to illuminate the improvements made at the plazas since this organization joined the effort to clean them up. There is absolutely nothing constructive in your article.

Posted by Chris on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

They never advocate for any thing positive or affirmative. They just want to stop any new building, drive out business and have SF wallow in failure, misery and poverty.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

Seems like you're mad because someone is asking for some transparency about this seemingly astroturf (fake grassroots) group that apparently is being funded by the developer (or some group tied to him).

You're certainly not interested in transparency or good government since you try to tear down the author of this piece - a piece that is shedding light on this organization including having an expensive lawyer working for them - and one who conveniently doesn't return calls to answer important questions.

Thanks to the author of this piece for the good reporting!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 10:58 pm

At last some information about this campaign. Yes, clean the plazas up and yes, say no to 10 story developments on 16th St.

Posted by mike on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 9:45 am

No specific action required. Just an upgrade of the people there.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:03 am

Thanks for the information on this campaign. It's why we need the BG

Posted by mike on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 9:55 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:14 am

I haven't noticed one improvement since the "clean up the plaza" campaign began. They could start by maintaining the escalator on the east side that never seems to work. The place smells awful, possibly due to the sewer nearby, but we can think of other unsavory reasons. Unlocking the public bathrooms would help. If you treat people like humans they might act more humane. Why are the 16th Street and 24th Street BART stations so filthy compared to all the other BART stations? Could this be deliberate to convince the neighbors to "clean up the plaza" by supporting sparkling new high rises on Mission Street?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 17, 2014 @ 12:43 am

Absolutely correct. What actions are planned to stop this development?

Posted by mike on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 9:42 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:02 am

Of course a secretive group that has designs on our neighborhood should be welcomed, be they "Clean Up The Plaza" or the secretive group organizing to stop the project. Anything to preempt popular empowerment.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:08 am

activist to seek to impose his will on the proceedings.

Unless you want to put this building on the ballot, then there is a city-wide planning process that will decide. It's not up to you or a motley collection of local NIMBYs and busybodies to stick their oar into a democractic process.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:26 am

Both the "clean up the plaza" astroturf or the "community coalition" are closed groups. Both fear "the other," as both want to rig the game towards a desired output. We can do better than both of these.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:38 am

There are always "ringleaders" and "insiders" who drive the process, often with their own personal agenda.

It's inevitable. The people with the most interest in these things are usually very opinionated, and the very last people to actually listen and accept a contrary view.

And of course the silent majority don't have the time or inclination to get involved either. So it is inevitable that small groups of people have disproportionate influence. We're just quibbling over who those people are.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:53 am

And that is the problem, closed shops that exclude most people from participation. Most folks would find the time to participate if they felt that their participation would be meaningful. But they're smart, realize that the game is rigged, and take a pass.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 11:34 am

What if all 800,000 residents showed up at a meeting? How would that work? There is no way 800,000 people can have "meaningful participation" - that is why we have elections.

I have never attended a meeting that wasn't controlled by a small cadre of insiders. That is why I trust the government-at-large because at least there was a genuine city-wide process to elect them.

Activism is essentially anti-democratic because - as I always say - no activist ever asked me what I want.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 11:48 am

Reductio ad absurdum. The way to get rid of the insiders rigging the game is to open up the process and produce structures to facilitate that participation.

Representative Democracy and activism are old school brick and mortar ways of deciding things. The new knowledge based economy is going to disrupt this intermediation, only in consequential ways that will drown out the trolls.

And you all must cringe in fear at that prospect!

Posted by marcos on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

You've not read the progressive script. We're supposed to hate techies.

Most people don't want to vote on every last damn thing.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

We have a petition for a solar feed in tariff payment policy, ( FiT ) requiring PG&E to pay home owners $0.49 kwh for feeding solar onto the grid.
It now has 3,333+ signatures.
Will you sign?
The solar feed in tariff policy is what has created 500,000 new jobs in Germany.
The FiT has created $9 billion in new wealth for Germany.
The FiT has made Germany the cleanest & greenest place on earth.
Should we require all new projects to be 200% solar?
We will be in Dolores Park with the petition on Sunday.
Come by & sign.

Posted by Paul Kangas on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:13 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:40 am

Mayor Rex Parris, Lancaster, Ca., passed a law requiring all new buildings be 100% solar powered.
I suggest we go one step further & require all new buildings be 200% solar so they can feed the surplus onto the grid, and SF could require PG&E to pay home owners $0.49 kwh for feeding solar onto the grid.

This would be a great boon for new home owners as it would pay them $500. a month for solar they generate.

There is one village in Germany, Wildpoldsried, that generates 333% more solar than it uses.
They sell the surplus to the Utilities for $6 million a year.
I am traveling to Germany to make a film on the rise of all these cities in Germany that are all 100% solar powered.

Enough sun falls on SF in one hour to power the whole city for a year, if every other home had 22 solar panels. My deck is large enough for 33 panels.

Where is solar President Jimmy Carter when we need him?

Posted by Paul Kangas on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:06 am

That's a really worthy aim for this paper.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

The seemingly inebriated gent holding up the finger is the guy who wants to clean up the neighborhood?
That's rich

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 1:12 am

induced to relocate where they can do less harm.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 6:55 am

means remove the people who live in the neighborhood.

Hard to get more cold-bastard gentrify-ie than that.

Jack is one of the biggest bastards this city has ever known. His strong-arm tactics are old school.

Good job SFBG, connecting him to this venture.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

It is creating many new homes including affordable ones. And cleaning up a crime-infested shithole.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

The shithole is the one flipping the bird at the reporter.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 14, 2014 @ 11:50 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 6:52 am

A Walgreens will be closed so would a produce store, an asian restaurant and a bar. All those folks will lose their jobs. We will lose neighborhood serving business at affordable prices.

The Clean up the Plaza folks are mostly from the Castro. A few are from the 16th St. area. I hope this group wakes up. They are being used for profit. Remember when you say clean up the plaza that means people that live in the area, the businesses and eventually the folks from the same group. Your rents will go up and you will be evicted. You took the wrong approach to this. I've seen many groups used by short term benefits, but have long term negative impacts.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

believe the project has offered Walgreens a space in it.

Asian restaurants, bars and produce stores are ten a penny.

More jobs will be created by the project than will be lost, easily.

This project is a win-win.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

There are some good Asians, who are successful and work in tech. And of course Ed Lee who we all love. But most of these Chinamen need to go back where they came from.

Posted by Mission Resident on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

You're obviously a Progressive troll.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

I'm agreeing with you. Like you said, Asian restaurants are ten a penny. I have nothing against Asians. I have a lot of Asian friends, I voted for Ed Lee because of his pro-jobs agenda, and I respect the successful Asian tech workers who make 100K+. But these old China people in the SROs, and running these rathole Asian restaurants -we don't need them. This is a city for successful people. If you're successful enough to buy a million dollar condo, then I have no problem with you staying in this city. Losers should go back to China or wherever.

Posted by Mission Resident on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

Both of you worship Ed Lee.
Both of you define "success" as making money.
Both of you think displacement is great.
Both of you have no problem with terms like "Chinaman." A few weeks before this incident, all the trolls came out of the woodwork to defend the use of the term when I called someone out on its racist connotations.

I don't see where there's any actual disagreement between you guys. "Mission Resident" is just a little bit more overtly nasty about his bigotry and hate (and not by much). But on the issues, you guys seem to be in total agreement.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

Hi Greg - just to be clear, I wrote the "Progressive troll" response. The "Walgreen's" post was a different guest.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

if everyone actually used a handle. When everyone goes by "Guest," it not only confuses matters, but gives you "plausible deniability" against charges of hypocrisy when the same person uses situational morality to make totally inconsistent arguments depending on the issue.

But just to be clear, in this case I was, in fact, replying to both YOU and Mission Resident. The person you called a "progressive troll" seems to have all the same prejudices as you.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 7:32 am

and of course anyone can post as Greg.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 7:58 am

Obviously anyone can post as "Greg," although it's usually pretty obvious when someone is imping me.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 8:54 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 9:11 am

are on the anti-progressive side. People ranting about "Chinamen" and such are on YOUR side, troll.

Progressives have no problem with Asians, but do have a problem with Ed Lee. You guys love Ed Lee (the "good Asian" as one of you recently said), but seem to detest Asians in general. It's almost as if you're trying to compensate for your vile racism by displaying a hyperbolic sycophantic devotion to one particular Asian. The cult of Ed Lee is really starting to get creepy, especially in the context that many of the same people are viciously racist against Asians as a whole.

You also confuse calls for police accountability with "hatred." There are many on this board who criticize cops, some more forcefully than me. You think I'm the only one who sees the problems with police abuse? Let's put it this way, I didn't invent the term "pigs."

Posted by Greg on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 9:58 am

mayoral election - a blatant piece of racist propaganda against a popular incumbent.

Your reputation for hating cops and Asians cannot be so easily shrug off.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 10:17 am

It's pretty obvious why you do this -you hate being called on your own racism. But the racist slurs you hurl are all over this site. They're obvious. This thread is just the latest. You were ranting about Chinamen on the thread about the Lees getting evicted as well.

By contrast, you can't find a single quote of mine -ever. You make shit up out of thin air. "Conspiracy" is something that YOU accuse others of, not me. I never uttered the word even once.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 10:34 am

campaign of voter fraud by a group of Chinese leaders in Chinatown?

While I cannot be assed to search through all the SFBG archives, I have a very clear recollection of you attributing Lee's landslide victory to a Chinese conspiracy.

While I notice that you do even bother to defend yourself against the other charge - anti-cop bias - because you never miss an opportunity here to express it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 10:49 am

I never utter the phrase "Chinese conspiracy." Ever. I never even said "a group of Chinese leaders" were involved in the voter fraud. I did oppose the voter fraud that the Ed Lee campaign committed, but I was far from the only one. The rest is your projection.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 11:21 am

based in Chinatown?

And how many non-Chinese were involved in that alleged conspiracy.


Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

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