With Rebuild Approved, Trinity Plaza Tenants Look to Future

by Ken Werner, Trinity Plaza Tenants Association (TPTA) on April 20, 2007

On April 10, the full Board of Supervisors heard the first reading of the Trinity Plaza rebuild and voted unanimously to approve the project. On April 17 the project received its second unanimous approval as part of the Consent Agenda, and the following day the matter was sent to the Mayor for his signature, or veto. Mayor Newsom now has 10 days (deadline Saturday, April 28) to sign off on the project or veto it.

As readers remember, in March 2006 Newsom vetoed the Anti-Demolition Ordinance that was aimed at preserving Trinity Plaza and other rent-controlled buildings. The Board of Supervisors was unable to override the Mayor’s veto when Sup. Bevan Dufty switched his vote. However, Newsom is expected to sign his approval of the project soon.

To celebrate the hard-fought victory of the struggle that lasted four years, TPTA held a lobby party Wednesday night (April 18), with Supervisor Chris Daly in attendance, to inform other tenants how the project is going to proceed. Walt Schmidt of Trinity Properties also attended and fielded questions from tenants. The meeting part of the party was facilitated by TPTA member Luisa Balatbat and SOMCAN’s Angelica Cabande.

One of the roadblocks to the project was the use of condo mapping that landlord/developer Angelo Sangiacomo insisted using in order to obtain financing for the construction. However, tenants and community activists focused on concern for tenants rights and reasoned that tenants could potentially be displaced if the 360 rent-controlled replacement units would be condo mapped, and Supervisor Daly insisted during the negotiations with Mr. Sangiacomo’s representatives that the replacement units could not be condo mapped. Supervisor Daly was successful, and now the first tower (that will house the original Trinity Plaza tenants) will not be condo mapped.

A few concerns from tenants included the timetable of construction and whether or not tenants could move during construction, as well as the seniority of choosing new apartments in the replacement residence.

Again thanks to Sup. Daly, a strict timetable was established as follows: upon final approval of the project, Mr. Sangiacomo will have 15 months to commence construction, and 42 months after that the first tower must be certified for occupancy. Last night, Mr. Schmidt informed those in attendance that application for site permits have already been submitted, and to speed up the process plans will be submitted to various City departments at the same time rather than in staggered succession, which is normal procedure. Mr. Schmidt also went into detail about the process and gave a timeline of the start of construction after this coming winter with a completion 24 months later.

One tenant asked whether or not the original building will be demolished after the first tower is finished, and Mr. Schmidt stated that it would probably remain intact, at least until the Market Street building is started, which would not be immediately after Building A is completed.

The question of tenants moving during construction was resolved with Board Resolution 485-05 in that paragraph 3.(b) states: “Any Existing Tenant whose unit may be reasonably impacted by the construction of the replacement units may apply for relocation within Trinity Plaza” and “All reasonable costs and expenses incurred by the Existing Tenant in relocating shall be borne by the Developer.” Of course, the final move from the current building to the replacement units will also be paid by Mr. Sangiacomo.

As to the seniority of choosing apartments, Mr. Schmidt deferred to me, and I informed the tenants present at the party that the length of tenancy would determine how tenants get to choose their new home. During a presentation to TPTA members almost two years ago, we were able to see our selection placement, and TPTA and Trinity Properties could present an updated list at a future meeting with tenants interested in knowing what position they hold in seniority.

Following tenant questions, Sup. Daly delivered a passionate speech about the 4-year “incredible struggle” and noted that TPTA members were the “unsung heroes” in The City. Sup. Daly pointed out that the struggle was not just about our own homes but the homes of our neighbors as well. He noted that the 360 tenants in the new building will be representative of the diversity of San Francisco. To put into perspective the amount of time involved in the struggle, the supervisor humorously noted that he wasn’t even married at the time and now has a son, Jack; he also touched on the loss of several Trinity Plaza tenants who passed on, including the community’s recent loss of Tim Guintos, a victim of Alzheimers.

A number of columns have focused on the historical significance of the Trinity Plaza project, namely that the tenants and community-based organizations have been directly involved and included in the decision-making process. The fact that TPTA demanded one-bedroom units, at least to replace the 22 that would be lost in the demolition, led to Mr. Sangiacomo’s decision to construct more than we demanded. That is, of the 1900 new units to be constructed, 800 will be one-bedroom apartments. When we focused on quality-of-life issues, our voices were heard and our requests were granted.

Of course, the leadership and negotiating skills of Sup. Chris Daly have become legendary, and while Chris has been modest about his accomplishments, TPTA members and other community activists know that the development could not have been achieved without the supervisor’s involvement.

Finally, the mainstream media have continually touted the “merits” of the Redevelopment Agency and have even deified SFRA, but the Trinity Plaza rebuild has been accomplished without the meddling and intervention of SFRA. The Chronicle and Examiner choose to call the Mid-Market area blighted, but in my opinion the blight that has occurred is from the boarded-up buildings along Market Street that have sprouted illegal billboards.

But like the mythical Phoenix, the ashes of the current Trinity Plaza at 8th and Market Streets will give rise to a new and spacious community created through the cooperative effort of TPTA tenants, District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, community activists, and landlord/developer Angelo Sangiacomo.

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