Civic Center Hotel Safe From Demolition

by Casey Mills on August 17, 2006

After more than a year of fighting to save their homes from demolition, Civic Center Hotel tenants received great news yesterday – their building would be preserved. The Plumber’s Union, which owned the hotel, thought they had to seismically retrofit their building due to its status as an un-reinforced masonry building. The union claimed the high cost of retrofitting left them no choice but to destroy the building, a claim the tenants long challenged. However, yesterday a visit by city inspectors revealed the Civic Center Hotel has a steel frame, and should not be considered un-reinforced masonry. This misclassification means the building does not need a seismic retrofit, and eliminates the only justification the union had for demolishing the building.

The fight for the Civic Center Hotel began more than a year ago, when the Plumber’s Union announced that because it could not afford the seismic retrofit required by the city, the building would be demolished. 156 units of affordable housing, many occupied by long-term tenants, seniors and disabled people were at risk.

Tenants and housing activists immediately cried foul, pointing out that the union had recently opened up a multi-million dollar luxury resort at Konocti Harbor for members, and obviously had the money for the retrofit. Activists argued that the real reason for the demolition was so the union could build expensive condominiums in its place, and decried the loss of affordable rental housing stock such a move would cause.

As the fight progressed, the union continued to refuse to retrofit the building, a move which at the time many thought put the tenants in great danger. Because the building had been classified as un-reinforced masonry, a major earthquake could have brought the building to the ground, killing or injuring anyone in it.

The city sued the Plumber’s Union in order to force them into compliance. However, at a Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee hearing on a resolution urging the Plumbers Union not to demolish the building, a union representative revealed that they had probably misclassified the property.

Yesterday, a re-inspection by a city task force showed this to be true, and the building was re-classified as steel frame. This mean no costly seismic retrofit is necessary, eliminating the union’s stated reason for demolition.

There has recently been negotiations over improving the Civic Center Hotel and of developing the land surrounding it. The removal of the retrofit issue not only guarantees the hotel as longterm housing, but likely facilitates broader development plans.

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