After a long legal battle, Mission Language & Vocational School will remain in its building
After a lengthy legal battle that put Mission Language and Vocational School (MLVS) in danger of losing its building, its board members, students, local politicians and community members gathered on November 20 to celebrate the return of the MLVS building to the community.
MLVS was able to retain the building, located at 2020 19th St., through a new partnership with the 701 Alabama Consortium LLC, which includes Jamestown Community Center, Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc. (MNC), and Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA).
“Today is a miracle. This is a historic day,” community activist Roberto Y. Hernandez said as he led the opening blessing. He recalls an email that he wrote on March 29, 2017, which read: “Mi gente, I am very concerned about people talking and talking about the situation at [MLVS]which referred to when the community first learned of MLVS’s issues.
“The road to resolution began in May when MLVS entered into a $4.75 million purchase agreement to repurchase a 12,600 square foot portion of its building,” said Tracy Gallardo, chief executive of MLVS. “MLVS also agreed to pay $700,000 in damages to Huckleberry Friends, LLC to avoid a forced sale of the building.”
According to Gallardo, on August 23, 2019, MLVS closed the escrow on its building. The consortium received $1 million from the Mayor’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative program, which was used as a down payment to purchase the section of the building that had previously been lost.
There is also new support for MLVS programs.
“Kaiser Permanente has joined in supporting the launch of the MLVS reconstruction with a $500,000 grant that is supporting the expansion of the MLVS building and bringing the Physician Assistant Program equipment up to standard. industry,” Gallardo said.
The mood was jubilant as the community celebrated the return of the building. Among those present were Mayor London Breed, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and State Assemblyman David Chiu.
“By taking full ownership of this building, the nonprofits that make up the 701 Alabama Consortium are sending a clear message that they are not going anywhere and will continue to invest in the future of our most vulnerable families in the future. Mission and throughout the city,” Ronen said.
In July 2016, Huckleberry Friends filed a lawsuit against MLVS for breach of contract arising out of a 2013 rental agreement. , then its executive director, Rosario Anaya, to sign the lease agreement giving Huckleberry Friends the “option to buy” the portion of the building it was renting.
The MLVS building is located on land that would be divided into two parcels if Huckleberry Friends decided to exercise its option to purchase. At the time Huckleberry Friends exercised its option to purchase, MLVS’ financial situation was grim. MLVS had a $2.5 million mortgage with Wells Fargo, which was concerned about MLVS’ cash flow ratio and feared it would have to foreclose. MLVS was able to find a private loan, but the payments were $18,000 per month.
“We had to get out of this hard-money loan,” said MLVS board member Ray Sloan. “It was then that Saul Griffith [Huckleberry’s managing member] heard of our plight and approached Rosario with a deal that he wanted to buy part of the building. And with [former board chair] Jose Chapa, we made a deal with Saul Griffith and HF that he would get the Alabama team and make some improvements that the school would also benefit from. For example, he was going to replace the roof.
MLVS was able to secure the private loan after closing the deal with Griffith.
In August 2015, Anaya died unexpectedly, unbeknownst to the community that she was battling lung cancer. Prior to his death, Anaya brought Daniel Brajkovich to the board, who served as interim director after Anaya’s death. Brajkovich, however, stopped making mortgage payments in March 2015, which led to further financial problems. The council only became aware of the situation when Griffith advised that the mortgage was not paid.
“The executive director who followed Rosario when she died has not continued to make payments on the loan she obtained after the 2013 lease was signed,” said Tony Fazio, a member of the board of directors of MLVS. “This lease was guaranteed by HF. MLVS ended up owing over $300,000 to HF who continued to make payments to avoid default. Otherwise, the school would have defaulted and the bank [would have] to input[ed] on the building. »
Once MLVS’ situation with Huckleberry Friends became public knowledge, various community members and organizations banded together to see what they could do to help MLVS. After much negotiation and lengthy litigation, in early 2018 a third of the MLVS building was sold to Griffith for $3 million.
With the help of the mayor, city leaders, and community members, MLVS was able to redeem the portion of the building that had been lost, although not all parties were happy.
Griffith noted that he lost at least half a million dollars in the settlement in legal and other fees, but estimates the loss is likely to be in the millions of dollars if it included damage to his business.
“My wife and I just couldn’t afford to keep fighting this fight, so we gave up and sold the property as a significant loss,” Griffith said.
“I think it was rather unfortunate the way it turned out, that [Griffith] did not benefit from the agreement he originally signed with the school,” said Scott Freedman, Griffith’s attorney. “Because of the opposition he was facing… he ultimately made the decision to walk away from the building and let the school do what they wanted with it.”
“At the end of the day, this is, for me, a fair deal,” Gallardo said. “Everyone wins in this business and everyone loses… It’s a shame that we had to go through this ordeal. I think the original intention was done in good faith… It’s just [that] the community has never agreed to the sale of such historic property. When the community came out strong and felt the ownership and the connection to the building, I think Saul had to give us the opportunity to at least try to redeem it and so…some kind of thank you is needed to allow that to happen .
During the November 20 celebration, Breed said, “There is nothing like having a place in your community to call home…MLVS has been that community space for over 40 years, here in the Mission… to open doors of opportunity for people who need a place to feel safe and secure, to develop skills, to learn language, to learn so many amazing things, but most of all, to have a community.
Assemblyman Chiu also emphasized the importance of community and said, “At a time when our Latin American community [and] our immigrant community is under assault from a so called occupier of the White House and economic forces seeking to drive us out we need to stand up in coalitions with families to say we are not leaving we are here to stay , and [that] no one kicks us out.
The significance of the building to the community was widely recognized throughout the celebration.
In addition to MLVS, the building is also home to nonprofit organizations that serve transition-aged youth, immigrants, and families, such as the Jamestown Community Center, Five Keys Charter School, Roadmap to Peace Initiative, and Bay Area Community Resource Access Center.
“It’s one of those buildings in the community that is the town hall of the community, the place of organizing the community, the ground zero, where people come together to break bread, to celebrate” , said Gallardo. “That’s where we had had many breakfasts, Cesar Chavez dances, many communities and groups. MLVS has always been that place for the community. A place with lots of memories and organization.”
Story by: Elizabeth Silva