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Nonprofit Excelsior Action Group at a Turning Point

Residents at the launch of the Excelsior and Outer Mission Neighborhood Strategy in May. Will Carruthers / Ingleside-Excelsior Light

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With its new status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, a possible infusion of city funds and an evolving mission statement, the Excelsior Action Group has expanded beyond its home turf after 15 years working to improve economic conditions on Mission Street.

The EAG was formed in 2002 with the support of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development in an attempt to create a thriving commercial corridor. At the time, 30 percent of businesses there were vacant and crime ridden, according to EAG Executive Director Stephanie Cajina.

In its early years, the EAG tried and failed to get the support of property owners to create an Excelsior Community Benefits District, an organization funded by property assessments to maintain and improve an area.

The EAG went on to complete beautification projects, advocate for pedestrian and bicycle safety after a series of fatalities and help complete outreach for the city’s Excelsior and Outer Mission Neighborhood Strategy, a planning process launched by District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai this year.

In January, Cajina said the vacancy rate on the corridor is now 13 percent. Still, complaints about vacancies, blighted properties and illegal gambling dens persist at community meetings.

Excelsior Outer Mission Merchants Association President Sean Ingram said that since he opened his restaurant, The Dark Horse Inn, in 2011 the situation at the intersection of Mission and Geneva has only grown worse.

“What I’ve seen in the last six years is a lot more vacancies, despite what the [city’s] data may say,” Ingram said, adding that illegal gambling dens are still common on the corridor.

Critics say the EAG has struggled to clarify its goals.

“How can you explain that they’ve been given hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city and the corridor still looks like this?” said Angelique Mahan, a 46-year-old Excelsior native, adding that the EAG’s scope of work has never been well defined.

Now, the EAG may be set to expand across the district with support from District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai.

In January, the EAG became a nonprofit, ridding it of the need for a fiscal sponsor, a burdensome intermediary between an organization and a funder that takes a cut of any funding the organization receives.

In April, OEWD expanded EAG’s business outreach contract to include the Broad-Randolph corridor following a string of three shooting deaths on the corner of Broad and Plymouth streets within six months.

At a July 8 meeting of the District 11 Council, Safai announced that the EAG would expand still further.

“We’ve been in conversation with Stephanie [Cajina] and the OEWD to expand [the EAG’s] scope of work. Not just on Mission Street and stopping at Geneva, but we want them to move off of Geneva to do business engagement, property owner engagement, business attraction, business stabilization [on other corridors],” Safai said.

Safai added that there would be “an aggressive grant application” to get EAG the OEWD funds.

The addback money — $180,000 from OEWD for each of the two next years — would allow the EAG to hire one full-time business development staffer for the Outer Mission and a part-time employee for the Broad-Randolph corridor, according to Safai.

Add backs, the money which each supervisor gets to assign to projects in their neighborhoods, must go through a competitive bidding process with the department in charge of the funds.

In this case, OEWD still has to complete the contract for EAG to bid on.

An OEWD Request for Proposals released on Sept. 21 includes one $85,000 grant for beautification work on the Broad-Randolph corridor and three $50,000 grants for economic development on the Outer Mission and Excelsior corridors. Proposals are due on Oct. 12.

Jorge Rivas, a senior project manager at OEWD, said that the current contracts are funded through the general fund, not Safai’s add backs.

OEWD is still working on the contracts for Safai’s addbacks, according to Rivas.

Cathy Mulkey-Meyer, a legislative aide for Safai, said that the supervisor and his staff were not familiar with the addback process when Safai addressed the District 11 Council in July and had not understood that the addback funds would go through a bidding process.

When asked about amending their mission statement to include the new work outside of the Excelsior in August, Cajina and board members said they planned to discuss the possibility, noting that the OEWD funds had not come through yet.

The EAG did not respond to questions about whether they planned to apply for the open OEWD contracts.

Mahan was skeptical of the EAG’s ability to manage the promised new funds.

“What I want to understand how you can expand when you don’t even have enough staff for the Excelsior,” Mahan said. “They haven’t even gotten rid of the gambling dens [in the Excelsior].”

Mukey-Meyer said Safai’s office is working with city agencies to get EAG the support it needs to succeed.

“There’s a different supervisor in office now,” Mulkey-Meyer said. “Everyone has different relationships with city agencies.”

Original community journalism takes money, time and hard work. You can now support the Light on Patreon. Visit www.patreon.com/ielight to sign up.

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