Parkmerced is a calm and quiet neighborhood tucked on the West Side of San Francisco. You see parents walking their children to pre-school, residents going for their morning run, dogs happily on leashes pulling their owners as they are in excitement to go on their daily walks. Children can be seen on the jungle gym in the afternoon, as well as residents performing the meditative art of Tai chi. Families and friends gather in their garden-styled home back yard to spend quality time with one another. Parkmerced is San Francisco’s taste of Suburbia.
All of that may be coming to an end with the passing of a $1.2 billion re-development of the neighborhood that would take over 20-30 years to complete. The project plan, which was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors three years ago on May 24, 2011 by a 6 to 5 majority decision will bring the neighborhood into the new millennium. The project will tear down 1,538 town homes and replace them and will also add 5,679 new units. The project itself is set up to expand the neighborhood, it would create low rises and high rises to give more housing opportunities and more land for residents for a new school, day care center, restaurants, grocery stores, athletic facilities, parks, public plazas and having the Metro Muni M Line run though from 19th Avenue. All of these things will be in walking distance giving residents more accessible amenities.
Many current residents oppose of the project and have filed suit against the owners of Parkmerced (Fortress Investment Group) and since the suit the development has been halted. The groups that are opposed to the development are The Parkmerced Action Coalition, The Coalition to Save Parkmerced and San Francisco Tomorrow.
The groups lost the original decision on stopping the development due to their belief of problems with the projects environmental review and are now appealing the case in San Francisco Appeals court. The case will be heard May 19th.
“It has a lot of environmental concerns that we filed a lawsuit against them to stop this plan and make them go back to the drawing board,” said Vice President of Parkmerced Action Coalition Susan Suval.
Protestors to the project find it baffling that the developers need to tear down the existing homes to upgrade them especially when you look at what San Francisco State University did with their portion of Parkmerced, University Park South.
“Look at the San Francisco State University owned block, University Park South,” said Aaron Goodman a San Francisco Tomorrow board member fighting against the Parkmerced development. “They actually renovated all of the units re-did the roofing and pulled the gutters out of the walls, which was do to deterioration issues and managed to do a pretty nice renovation of the University Park South block without having to demolish a single one. Parkmerced when making their renovations of the project didn’t address the gutters instead did a cosmetic upgrade of the building.”
“One of the main things is tearing down the 1,500 town houses a lot of them are in need of rehabilitation they keep on saying ‘we need jobs we need jobs’ there are as many jobs in refurbishing, remodeling, rehabilitating existing properties as in construction,” Suval Said.
They are also confused concerning the belief that the project would be a more environmentally friendly design.
“Demolishing houses that are sound is not green,” said Goodman. “It has nothing to do with green sustainability in design.”
Another concern from residents is that the demolishing of the neighborhoods would leave them without homes.
According to Parkmerced’s development website parkmercedvision.com the owners give a list of commitments.
“Any existing residentwho lives in a building slated for replacement will be provided a brand new unit at the same rent-controlled rate as their existing apartment at the time of relocation.”
Parkmerced development spokesman PJ Johnston is adamant that ownership is keen on their promise and that the process of demolishing homes will not start until new homes have been built for residents.
“When the Parkmerced plan was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors it was made clear by the management of Parkmerced that no demolition will happen until new buildings are built and as we’ve made clear on many occasions any Parkmerced resident that is in a building that gets set for replacement has first opportunity to move into the new units that are built at rent controlled prices and for the duration of their lease and into the future,” said Johnston. “The key to Parkmerced is that we’re building new homes first before anything is taken down and then well go in several fazes so that is always the case nobody will ever have to move out of Parkmerced as a result of this construction if they don’t wish to. “
Still residents don’t believe ownership as they always have the ability to go back on their word because they are just “promises” according to Julian Lagos, a 21 year Parkmerced resident who runs the Coalition to Save Parkmerced.
“The problem with these promises by Parkmerced is that they’re legally unenforceable,” said Lagos. “California’s Costa-Hawkins bill prohibits the imposition of rent control on new apartment units built after 1994. San Francisco’s rent control laws also prohibit the imposition of rent control on any new apartment units built after 1978. So, in my opinion, Parkmerced’s promises are illusory.”
Some residents are taking a wait and see approach with the developer’s promises.
“There’s lots of promises on what people will be offered as a new place to live and a new home but they’re just promises, said David Williams a driver who has lived in Parkmerced for four years. “There is nothing forcible so I just live with it like well there’s things to life you can’t control and one of them is the things developers do.”
The disbelief comes from the change of ownership during the project. Parkmerced was once owned by Stellar Management and is currently owned by Fortress Investment Group. New ownership doesn’t have to keep their promises according to California’s Costa-Hawkins bill. If the new owners feel the need to evict tenants to bump up prices in rent they can take the case to court.
“They are promises and its obviously concerning I mean the ownership has changed over since that deal was introduced,” said Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together. “So now remains the big question in Parkmerced is are the promises that are outlined in the development agreement going to be kept or are they going to be challenged by this owner or a subsequent owner?”
With the case still in court and a belief the decision will come this year this is something to watch, as it could be the beginning of the end for Parkmerced.
“This is truly a David vs. Goliath case,” said Goodman.
| Parkmerced Development
By The Numbers.
3,221 residential units (before development)
11 High Rise buildings (before development)
Approximately 10,000 residents.
1,538 would be torn down and remodeled.
5,679 additional units added.
8,900 total units (After development)
20-30 years to complete
Approximately 152 Acres of land
68 acres used for open spaces (After Development)
1,600 new parking spaces (After Development)
An underground parking structure (After Development)
The Muni M Ocean View Line (After development)