David Chiu Strikes Deal with Developer To Demolish Over 1,500 Rent Controlled Units at Parkmerced

by Dean Preston on May 25, 2011

Yesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, led by Board President David Chiu, voted 6-5 to approve the controversial demolition of over 1500 rent-controlled homes in San Francisco’s Parkmerced. Chiu reached a backroom deal with the developer and provided the crucial sixth vote to approve the largest demolition of rent-controlled housing in San Francisco since the redevelopment of the Fillmore. Despite a good record on tenant rights issues before his work on Parkmerced, Chiu has now earned the distrust of tenants across the city.

The Parkmerced development proposal is flawed at many levels. Fundamentally, the demolition of over 1,500 homes violates city policy and common sense. The discussion at the board level has largely focused on the enforceability of the developer’s promise to apply rent control to replacement units.

Chiu introduced 14 pages of amendments to the Development Agreement for the first time at yesterday’s hearing and would not agree to continue the matter so that his colleagues and stakeholders could analyze the proposed amendments. Chiu’s amendments did not resolve substantial concerns about the enforceability of the rent control promises in the Development Agreement.

On tough questioning from Supervisor David Campos, Deputy City Attorney Charles Sullivan admitted that the rent control promises to the existing tenants are not guaranteed to be enforceable. Instead, the best Sullivan could offer was his belief that the city has “strong arguments” if the developer, or a subsequent owner, tries to get out of the obligations to provide replacement rent-controlled units. This provides little comfort to residents fearful of losing their homes and rent control protections.

Frustrated residents reacted at the hearing. As Chiu was explaining to the full Board how beneficial his new amendments were for tenants, one longtime Parkmerced resident, whose home of 50 years would be demolished under the plan, shouted “bullshit.” She and another tenant insisted on being heard even though there was no public comment period. They were removed from the Board Chamber by Sheriff’s Deputies in a scene that underscored the human impact of this project.

Six supervisors supported the project: David Chiu, Malia Cohen, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, and Scott Wiener. Strangely, Elsbernd opened the session with remarks about how the demolition plan must be approved in order to keep the Parkmerced community intact.

Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi voted against the project. Campos emphasized that he could not accept the risks regarding enforceability of rent control on replacement units. Mar condemned the clear-cutting of the existing community at Parkmerced. Avalos expressed his opposition to the project and offered an amendment to provide vacancy control on the newly constructed units.

The Parkmerced fight will now shift to the ballot and the courtroom. In its zeal to embrace this project, the City violated numerous obligations under CEQA. Expect a legal challenge to the Environmental Impact Report and check your next ballot handbook for your opportunity to stop this unconscionable mass demolition project. San Francisco voters are far less likely than Supervisors to be persuaded that this project is too big to reject.

Amidst all of the troubling news on this project, there are many who deserve credit for putting people over reckless real estate speculation. Supervisors Avalos, Campos, Kim, Mar and Mirkarimi refused to be party to this wholesale destruction of a community. No doubt they withstood enormous pressure to support the project, yet they stood firm and did the right thing.

Planning Commission President Christina Olague and Commissioners Kathrin Moore and Hisashi Sugaya – the Board of Supervisors appointees to the Commission – voted against this project after months of hearings. Commissioners Moore and Sugaya were highly critical of the project and prepared detailed comments that guided, and will continue to guide, much of the discussion about the Parkmerced proposal.

Nonetheless, the Planning Commission approved the project 4-3 and the Board of Supervisors, under the leadership of David Chiu, approved the project 6-5.

Supervisor Chiu has put the well-being of thousands of San Francisco renters in jeopardy. It is a decision he will regret.

Dean Preston is the Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renter’s rights. For more information about Tenants Together, visit www.TenantsTogether.org.

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