Breaking News: Sangiacomo offers $100 million to resolve Trinity fight

by Randy Shaw on December 13, 2004

In the biggest affordable housing deal for a single site in San Francisco history, Trinity Plaza owner Angelo Sangiacomo has agreed to provide 496 subsidized housing units to replace the 360 rent-controlled units slated for demolition at the property. The cost of constructing these units is estimated to exceed $100 million. The agreement represents a landmark victory for Supervisor Chris Daly, the Trinity Plaza Tenants Assn, and the many groups that fought to ensure that the demolition of Trinity Plaza did not reduce the city’s affordable housing supply.

As tenant groups prepared to begin gathering signatures for a special election on an initiative to prevent the demolition of the Trinity Plaza apartments, Angelo Sangiacomo has taken the concrete action necessary to resolve the highly contentious issue. Sangicomo has agreed to replace all of the rent-controlled housing units at the site, and will make 34% of the total project affordable. This brings the total number of affordable units to 496, nearly triple what is legally required.

Sangiacomo has delivered a letter to Supervisor Daly setting forth his agreement to transform the Trinity Plaza from a site of controversy to a citywide model for producing desperately needed affordable rental housing. Here is the heart of the owner’s very gracious letter:

In short, I am proposing that our project of approximately 1,410 units would contain approximately 496 units of subsidized housing. This represents around 34% of our project. Through phased construction we can accomplish this without displacing any of our existing tenants, thereby insuring that they will be able to live at Trinity Plaza for as long as they like.

It is fair to say that of all the landlords in San Francisco, few would expect Angelo Sangiacomo to be willing to nearly triple the city’s 12% affordable housing requirement. Sangiacomo has raised the bar for all future housing developments, perhaps further reducing his popularity with the developer and landlord community.

The pitched battle over Trinity Plaza has gone on without interruption for over a year. Last spring, Mayor Newsom vetoed an anti-demolition ordinance passed by seven supervisors that would have killed the project. The veto spawned a grassroots initiative signed by 20,000 San Franciscans which put the ordinance on the November ballot. The measure was then removed from the ballot in a legally suspect ruling by a Republican judge.

Signature gathering on the new initiative, which would have required the city to spend $1 million on a special election next June, was slated to begin this week. Sangiacomo’s agreement to replace all of the rent-controlled units with subsidized housing, and his overall agreement to provide 34% affordable units for the entire project, renders the initiative unnecessary at this time.

Supervisor Chris Daly has been repeatedly slammed by the Chronicle and Examiner for his refusal to accept the loss of affordable housing at Trinity. Good thing he did not listen to them.

Chronicle editorial Board member Ken Garcia, whose anti-Daly editorial is blown up and posted in the Trinity lobby, lambasted those who refused to give up the fight. Had opponents accepted Garcia’s pleadings, the city would have obtained 170 affordable units at Trinity, or 326 fewer than the 496 we will now get.

The Trinity agreement involves nearly as much money for affordable rental housing as was included in the recently defeated Prop A. While the deal does not make up for the measure’s defeat, it does mean that far more affordable rental units will be built than previously projected.

If politicians and activists needed any more reason to ignore editorials in our daily newspapers, the historic Trinity Plaza deal is great evidence.

A project of this scope is complicated. Sangiacomo acknowledges this, stating in his letter, “there are many details that will need to be worked out amongst ourselves before a final Development Agreement could be completed.” But these details do not involve the heart of the longstanding dispute: the plight of the tenants and the future of the building’s rent-controlled housing.

I am obviously biased in my view of the Trinity tenants, as I have represented their interests through this entire battle. But their willingness to keep fighting for the future of rent-controlled housing even after the owner guaranteed them lifetime leases in the new buildings is, under the most objective analysis, something very special.

It would have been easy, and perfectly understandable, for the Trinity tenants to have declared victory and gone on with their lives. But the core group remained committed to the larger struggle, and kept on fighting despite the emotional downturns following the mayoral veto and the judge’s removal of the initiative from the November ballot.

While Tuesday’s story will discuss all of the campaign’s allies, this is a major victory for the tenants, Daly, for the tireless work of Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union, for SOMCAN’s Chris Durazo, for Tenderloin Housing Clinic organizer Sam Dodge, for Religious Witness with Homeless People, Senior Action Network and for the Residential Builders Association (the RBA).

It was the RBA who agreed to put up the $75,000 it would take to gather the 30,000 signatures needed for the special election in June. This special election was necessary because the original Trinity project could have been approved prior to November, rendering a ballot measure then effectively moot.

Had Sangiacomo not faced the risk of losing the project entirely in a June special election, he might not have agreed to replace all of the demolished rent-controlled housing with subsidized units. The RBA’s willingness to cover the cost of qualifying the initiative, and to provide another $100,000-$200,000 in campaign funds, raised the stakes for Sangiacomo and likely convinced him to create a “win-win” project for the city.

496 affordable housing units at 8th and Market-now there’s a great holiday gift for San Francisco!

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