Beyond Chron Exclusive: Trinity Plaza Tenants Declare Victory

by Ken Werner, Trinity Plaza Tenants Association (TPTA) on June 13, 2005

Following months of negotiations between Trinity Management representatives, Sup. Chris Daly (with the assistance of his Legislative Aide, Rachel Redondiez), and members of the Trinity Plaza Tenants Association, last Wednesday, June 8, TPTA members voted 12-1 (with one abstention) to adopt the final Resolution language to enter into a development agreement between the parties to develop the four acres at 8th and Market Streets.

While the city would eventually lose the beautiful facade of the current Trinity Plaza Apartments, tenants met every Wednesday for more than two months to compile a 6-page list of quality-of-life issues and tenants rights concerns to present to Trinity Management with the hope of creating a world-class affordable rental housing complex in the heart of Civic Center, and we believe we have achieved a history-making, resounding victory.

Beyond Chron’s Randy Shaw outlined the struggle endured for more than two years by Trinity Plaza tenants in his synopsis last Thursday (“Historic Trinity Plaza Deal Finalized”).

But why did we choose to follow this alternative strategy rather than continuing to fight demolition?

It wasn’t our first choice.

We believe Angelo Sangiacomo realized that if we resumed an anti-demolition ordinance fight, San Francisco voters would have been outraged at his successful removal of Prop M from last November’s ballot and would subsequently produce a tenant landslide victory at the ballot box. And he got scared. Rather than face a humiliating election defeat, he chose to negotiate with the Trinity Plaza Tenants Association.

So in early December 2004, Sangiacomo conceded to TPTA and offered lifetime leases for current tenants and elected to negotiate a deal. As Randy Shaw reported in his two-part Beyond Chron article on December 13 (“Sangiacomo offers $100 million to resolve Trinity fight”) and December 14 (“The Anatomy of a Victory”), and as I reported in my December 20 Beyond Chron article (“Justice for Trinity Plaza Tenants: Is Victory Near?”), the war to preserve tenants rights changed from defensive in nature on our side to an unstoppable offensive for us.

Of course, skepticism and distrust of the Father of Rent Control was still our prevalent mood. But we knew that if Sangiacomo acted in bad faith, we could always forge ahead with another ballot measure, and we were confident of being able to achieve a victory.

So was this a change of heart for us? No. One of our primary concerns was to save our homes; but now we were presented with a choice, that of preserving or improving on what we already had. So we decided to entertain Sangiacomo’s offer; after all, we could still achieve a ballot box victory but also pursue another of our primary concerns, that of creating a precedent in the city that would benefit ALL tenants.

And as the old adage goes, the rest is history.

California’s Costa-Hawkins law mandates that rent-controlled housing cannot be constructed in San Francisco after June 1979. However, we can negate the negative effects of state law. And that’s exactly what we have achieved. Under a development agreement, a property owner can elect to place rental units under rent control: Sangiacomo has chosen that path. We will get 360 NEW rent-controlled apartments under the agreement and the new units will be larger than what we currently have.

Additionally, a conditional use permit requires another 12% inclusionary rental units to be constructed on-site. These BMR units (Below Market Rate) will be included in the development agreement, but since the start of negotiations the number of units has increased. Originally, Sangiacomo intended to build 1,410 units; his concept now includes around 1,700 units. So the amount of BMR units has grown from 169 to 204.

Sangiacomo will pay moving expenses for existing Trinity Plaza tenants “including but not limited to any one-time utility hook-up fees incurred by the tenant in relocating to a newly-constructed unit in the development.” As well, any Trinity Properties furniture we currently use will become tenant property if we choose to move those pieces to the new development.

One thing we were not able to include was a replacement for our current heated swimming pool, used by a number of tenants. However, in lieu of a swimming pool, we declared our resolve to have a community center.

Originally, we tried to negotiate for a 600 square foot community space. Since we won’t be getting a swimming pool, Sangiacomo has opted for an outdoor, gated playground for the children of our community, with a minimum of 225 square feet to be allocated. Additionally, instead of a 600 square foot community center, we’ll be getting 1,000 square feet! That’s more than the size of two studio apartments in the first tower. Sup. Daly has promised he will negotiate for Sangiacomo-owned furnishings for the community center, details of which will be released after a future meeting.

Finally — yes, I kept the best for last! — Sangiacomo had originally planned on current Trinity Plaza tenants occupying only the first 7 floors of the 23-story tower. We demanded occupancy on any floor we chose, or we would have considered the attempt to relegate us to only the first 7 floors as housing discrimination and would have pursued appropriate action.

During the negotiating session, Trinity Properties representatives altered their offer to include through the 18th floor. The four of us tenant leaders agreed to that offer.

But when Rachel brought the Resolution version to our meeting last Wednesday, we found that Trinity Properties, i.e., Sangiacomo, decided to include ALL 23 FLOORS with some exceptions. Conflicts arising from unit selection will be settled by seniority status.

As Randy Shaw pointed out last Thursday, and I wholeheartedly concur, no one but Chris Daly could have accomplished this successful negotiation. Chris’ passion for fighting for human rights, for tenants rights, has become legendary in the city. Of course, the San Francisco Chronicle disagrees; but the Chronicle promotes only its ultraconservative, right-wing, Republican agenda and there is no room for that agenda in the most progressive city on the planet.

We, the members of the Trinity Plaza Tenants Association, place our complete trust in Chris Daly. We know him for his compassion, honesty, integrity, his leadership and negotiation skills, and his passion for social justice. Additionally, we know Chris for his friendship.

And we know the overwhelming majority of District 6 residents feel the same way about our representative on the Board of Supervisors.

Without Chris Daly’s hard work, dedication, and perseverance, we would have surely failed.

Thank you, our friend.

On Tuesday, June 24, at 3:00 p.m., please join us in City Hall’s Room 200 for the full Board meeting where Chris will introduce our Resolution to enter into the Trinity Plaza Development Agreement. Of course, if you can’t make it in person, SFGTV will televise and retelevise the hearing.

Over the past few months many have congratulated us for our victory, but until last Wednesday we still didn’t feel victorious. However, when I ran into Sister Bernie Galvin and Father Louie at the San Francisco People’s Organization convention this past Saturday, I felt completely confident when I told our two closest religious leaders/friends: “Now we’ve won.”

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