The Truth Behind MCO: Model Cities--End of the Mission

Primary Source

Basta Ya! Community Newspaper, November 1970


Mission Coalition Organization, outside of meeting 1970s

Photo: El Tecolote archive


Mission Coalition Organization Meeting 1970s

Photo: El Tecolote archive

In the 1960s, the Mission District was the focus of urban redevelopment. The Mission Coalition Organizations (MCO) was founded after initial efforts to block redevelopment were successful. Mayor Joseph Alioto sought a community partner to accept federal Model Cities monies, and the MCO became that partner. However, the MCO fractured under the pressure of deciding how to allocate Model Cities funds. When Ben Martinez, elected president of the MCO, orchestrated his third re-election by rewriting organizational bylaws, the MCO began to unravel. By 1973 it had formally dissolved.

Last Saturday, October 17, 1970, the Mission Coalition Organization (MCO) held its Third annual convention. Many people lost interest in the Coalition in the last year -- some say it had become a front for Downtown big businesses and Mayor Alioto -- but this convention was a crucial event for people in the Mission. For while the Coalition has been withdrawing from community activities in the Mission District, big politics had been going on behind the scenes.

Ben Martinez, chief politician of the organization, ran for a third term as MCO President at last week's convention. This was illegal under MCO by-laws, but Martinez had the by-laws changed. He said he had to run because there was no other leadership in the Mission community. But there were two other candidates for his job -- Elba Tuttle of the EOC and Manuel Lares of LULAC, both of them people well known in the community.

Since there was other leadership in the community, why did Martinez run so hard?

Martinez had more than an election to lose. He was one of the founders of the Coalition and he's the one person most responsible for its present policies -- policies which are giving what was supposed to be community control of redevelopment in the Mission District right back to City Hall.

The Mission Coalition was founded back in 1968 so that the people of the Mission District could control the redevelopment bulldozers. Community people had stopped the redevelopment once -- in 1967 -- by protesting until the Board of Supervisors voted redevelopment down. It seems somebody had looked at the Fillmore district, where thirty thousand people had lost their homes in seven years of redevelopment, and realized that the community had to have control.

But City Hall had a big investment in pushing redevelopment through. The Mission District is valuable property; it's closer to downtown, it's flat and easy to build on, and it has two big BART stations which were built to fit in with the redevelopment plans. Early in 1968, Alioto came up with a new proposal to get redevelopment into the Mission through the back door -- the Model Cities program.

In 1967 Herman Gallegos sent his nephew and employee, Ben Martinez, to Washington, to study the new Model Cities act. Lyndon Johnson had pushed this act through Congress in order to deal with community anger over redevelopment that was springing up all over the country. Everywhere in the country communities had been destroyed and the residents moved by redevelopment programs that were designed to move poor people out of valuable city neighborhoods.

The new Model Cities act was supposed to avoid this problem by providing for constructive involvement of citizens in planning and carrying out the program. Every Model Cities program was to have a Citizens Demonstration Agency set up -- an organization representing the community that could sit down and bargain with City Hall.

Early in 1968 Alioto suggested a Model Cities program for the Mission District; he wanted a Coalition of community groups set up to negotiate the program. Martinez, fresh from Washington, was the man on the spot. With the active support of some other friends of Alioto -- his uncle, Herman Gallegos of OBECA/ARRIBA JUNTOS and Abel Gonzales of the Centro Social Obrero provided the Coalition's first funds -- Martinez started to put the Mission Coalition together. Gallegos chaired the first convention, which was held at the Centro Social Obrero, and Ben Martinez was installed as president.


Mission Coalition Organization meeting 1970s

Photo: El Tecolote archive

The Mission Coalition was militant in its first years, and Martinez had some tough demands for City Hall. "We don't want the (Model Cities) money," he said, "unless we in the Mission have a major voice in how it is spent." There were two things Martinez wouldn't compromise on; the Coalition was to have a veto power over all redevelopment plans, and two thirds of the members of the Citizens Demonstration Agency, the main planning body, were to be selected by the Coalition itself.

It took Martinez two years to give it all away. Under the plan Martinez worked out with Alioto this year, City Hall will control redevelopment, and the community will be lucky to have any say at all. First, Martinez gave the veto power away completely, so that once the Citizens Demonstration Agency is working, the people in the Coalition will have no further control. And second, Martinez dropped the Citizens Demonstration Agency into Alioto's pocket.

They worked out the details around April of this year. Alioto picked seven of the 21 members of the City Demonstration Agency himself. The other fourteen he selected from a list of 23 presented by the Mission Coalition. All Alioto needs is four friends on the Coalition's list and he can pick a majority of the agency; he will have control of community control.

There are bound to be four friends of Alioto on Ben Martinez' list. Abel Gonzales, who has been with Martinez in the Coalition from the start, and who is running on the Martinez slate in next week's election, is in Alioto's pocket. He campaigned for Alioto in 1967, and was rewarded with a job in Alioto's cabinet. Herman Gallegos, another power in the Coalition, is a Democratic party politician and a strong Alioto backer.

That's why the election was important. Alioto had the 23 MCO nominations in his pocket for months and he didn't make his choices known until the day before elections, too late for any large controversy to develop over the choices.


Ben Martinez, President, MCO.

Photo: Spence Limbocker, courtesy of El Tecolote archive


Mayor Joseph Alioto

Photo: Spence Limbocker, courtesy of El Tecolote archive

Why is it so bad if Alioto has control?

Back in the late fifties, Alioto was head of the Redevelopment Agency when the Western Addition redevelopment was being planned. Look at what happened over there. When they completed the first project in the Western Addition, only three families out of the thousands who were moved out could afford to move back in! With the Model Cities program in Alioto's back pocket, you can be sure that the same thing will happen in the Mission District unless Alioto is stopped.

Alioto is taking no chances about the San Francisco redevelopment programs, and Ben Martinez is taking no chances about who runs MCO. Elba Tuttle, one of the opposing candidates, says she had been offered all kinds of deals to pull out of the election. Meanwhile, Martinez had lined up the MAPA vote, which, along with OBECA/ARRIBA JUNTOS and the Centro Social Obrero, gave him a chance to get the by-laws changed so he could run again.

The Coalition was weak enough before. Now it hardly represents the Mission at all. This has left Ben Martinez in a strange place for a man who talks about the community getting a piece of the pie.


MCO Housing Chair Flor de Maria Crane lobbies State Assemblyman Willie Brown and San Francisco Supervisor Terry Francois.

Photo: Spence Limbocker, courtesy of El Tecolote archive

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MCO Mission Mediarts KQED Press Conference 1972 (scroll to end of 15 minutes and see all the organizations that scroll by in the credits!)

video: Ray Balberan

Tours-redev.gif Continue Redevelopment Tour

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