Civil Grand Jury report rips Parkmerced plan


One week before the massive Parkmerced redevelopment project is slated to go before the Board of Supervisors for a second shot at approval, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury has issued a scathing critique of the plan in a report titled "The Parkmerced Vision: Government-by-Developer." The assessment charges that the project's development agreement fails to guarantee adequate rent-control protections for current tenants whose homes will be razed and replaced with new units as part of the ambitious, 20-to-30 year overhaul.

The Civil Grand Jury report charges that the development agreement "is fundamentally unable to deliver such assurances because of overarching state laws that are changeable and subject to court interpretation. Through its call for demolition of existing units, the agreement eliminates existing statutory rights of tenants, replaces them with a contractual agreement from the owner/developer, and bypasses due process in the face of eviction."

The report appears to reject the claim that the tenant protections are "ironclad," an assurance that was repeated often in public hearings by representatives of the developer and the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. "As it is stated, the agreement claims it can cause newly constructed units to be protected under the same rent stabilization ordinance previously applied to the demolished dwellings," the report notes. "In reality, current laws appear to contravene this claim."

When a discussion about Parkmerced was continued several weeks ago at a Board of Supervisors meeting, several members of the board voiced concerns that they did not have enough clarity on the question of whether renter protections could be guaranteed for tenants who reside in the complex's 3,221 rent-controlled units, some of whom have lived there for decades.

"Never before has a redevelopment project of this size and length been undertaken in San Francisco in an existing community where more than 9,000 people live," the report notes. It acknowledges the enormous tax revenues that the city stands to gain from the development, but cautions that "this windfall, no matter how promising, should not come at the expense of citizens’ legal rights."

To remedy the flawed agreement, the Civil Grand Jury recommends that the city "enact legislation prior to signing the Development Agreement that adequately assures the statutory rights of existing tenants to remain at Parkmerced and enjoy undisturbed continued tenancy," and goes onto suggest language providing that “If a landlord demolishes residential property currently protected under the City's Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance, and builds new residential rental units on the same property within five (5) years, the newly constructed units are subject to the San Francisco Rent Stabilization Ordinance."

Meanwhile, Parkmerced spokesperson P.J. Johnston has already issued a response the hot-off-the-presses report, sending out a press release calling it "flawed," and charging that the Civil Grand Jury is "calling for a solution to a problem San Francisco has already solved.”

Johnston contends that San Francisco already has a provision in the local municipal code that would do exactly what the Civil Grand Jury is asking city government to enact as a remedy for the shortcomings of the development agreement. Is Johnston's interpretation of the local ordinance an accurate assessment? Not being lawyers ourselves, the Guardian phoned the office of the City Attorney to find out. We'll post a response as soon as we receive one.

Johnston criticized the Civil Grand Jury report as "a highly political stink bomb," saying, "I believe we’ve been able to address those concerns over the past several weeks, and I hope our leaders are able to see past this kind of last-minute distraction.” Johnston, who previously served as former Mayor Willie Brown's press secretary, added, “This reeks of the nasty side of San Francisco politics.”

**UPDATE** The Guardian just received a call from an official from the City Attorney's office, who said they did not want to be quoted because Parkmerced is a highly politicized issue. This person confirmed that the existing code Johnston pointed to does in fact do just what the Civil Grand Jury was asking for, and added that the local law had been referenced in a Parkmerced board file from last week. Seems the Civil Grand Jury didn't have that information when it issued the report.


Interesting and odd: Civil Grand Jury report viewed as "highly political" and "last-minute distraction.”

Posted by sfjberk on May. 17, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

Every time one of these kinds of developments comes up with the possible displacement of tenants, a separate deal is made.

SF needs some sort of guidelines for these types of developments, hopefully modeled after the Trinity Plaza deal where the displaced tenants AND the unit are under rent control forever!

Posted by grannygear on May. 17, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

trinity plaza is JUST as much at risk, and can be appealed or ellis acted at anytime any current or future owner wishes to... Its called state law and you cannot contract or developer-agree yourself out of it....

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 17, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

So if I read between the lines, there is basically no way to guarantee that current renters will be guaranteed rent control on their units because state law is "overarching"

Yet this is what Sangiacomo did at trinity plaza.
grasping at straws these NIMBYS are. Just throw anything down and see if it blocks.

Good to see you on her Ms Berkowitz. Still pining away for those detached single family homes in the SF housing action plan?

Who next? Sue Hestor?

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

Berkowitz and Hestor stand up for communities, whereas you seem as a guest to be supporting anything a developer pitches... Perhaps we should question you on why you support such predatory investment strategies, and whether you will give your home up for density next....

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 17, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

My home is already in the most dense zip code west of the mississippi, so I'm not giving up anything. See, I recognize that I live in a city and that other people should have as much access to potential success in SF as I have had.
Contrast this with Berkowitz and hestor - hestor has literally made tons of money off making sure SF continues to be gentrified and that it continues to be a place of the very rich and very poor.

Berkowitz and Hestor stand up for NIMBYS and xenophobes who desire no change whatsoever to their personal environments. In all my time here in SF, I cannot recall Hestor actually being FOR something

Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2011 @ 9:20 am

At a meeting on May 8, 2011 Dennis Herrera, City Attorney, stated that irregardless of any agreement the developers came up with rent control for Parkmerced tenants could not be 100% guaranteed if the project went forward.

Posted by Guest Susan on May. 17, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

Get used to it. It's inconceivable that individuals should be granted rent control for the rest of their lives - absolutely absurd.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 17, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

When housing prices are absurd, and there are empty homes in multiple districts, maybe we should begin talking about converting homes in more affluent areas to rentals? Than with more "stock" rent-prices can move downward again... Who can afford a 1-bedroom at 800k or 3k per month. THAT IS ABSURD!!!

Met-life built Parkmerced to help those less affluent stay in the urban areas, it was social housing, affordable rental housing and a solution to a problem. It stills serves this purpose today, but SFSU-CSU took advantage of it... and so has Parkmerced's prior and current owners...

I am sure that if you are so opposed to rent-control laws and are past the age of Parkmerced, maybe you are willing to be demolished or moved out of your home to help equitably densify the RH-1 and RH-2 zones...? We need homes too its an essential need, not a trivial issue Lucretia....

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 17, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

So even if we were to covert more single-family homes to rentals (to which I'm not necessarily opposed) those residents wouldn't get to rent a home which was covered under the rent control ordinance. And that's not changing anytime soon.

If you can't afford a home in San Francisco why don't you move somewhere else where you can, like Daly City or Oakland? It's quite arrogant to think that just because you want to live in SF and can't afford a home here someone else (like the government) should make it affordable for you.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 21, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

Is the idea that rich people have more right to live in a city just because they have more money.

Posted by Greg on May. 21, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

It's quite arrogant to think that just because you want food that is not poisonous and contaminated and can't afford it, someone else (like the government) should make it affordable for you.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

at a cost you can afford because you feel you have a right to live in a densely populated metropolis, and the government making sure food is safe to eat. Everyone has to eat food to survive, you don't need to live in San Francisco to survive. There are cheaper places to live which are easily serviced by BART - avail yourself of them and stop expecting San Francisco's city government to enable your life choices.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 21, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

I feel the city should proved a written agreement for the current tenants with regards to rend control etc. Actually, I think that all rental housing should be subject to some sort of rent control that would be fair to both tenant and landlord. This keeps the city diverse and a place where tenants can live without the fear of eviction because the rent increases were too high.

Posted by Claudia on May. 17, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

This deal is going to go through and this is unlikely to mean anything. I believe that they can protect the tenants' rent control rights through the development agreement. And imagine the uproar if it doesn't work.

I guess the grand jury didn't consider the issues of current tenants who will be experiencing blocked light/views in tower apartments that will be obscured by new highrise construction. I never hear anything about the impact on current tenants who will not be displaced -- and that's half of all tenants.

Posted by Beth on May. 17, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

when you ignore the structural issues in the existing towers as an architect or developer or commissioner or person voting for this project you are liable/culpable for what occurs later. (ex: earthquake)....

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 18, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

"never before has a redevelopment project....where 9,000 people live". Does anyone know how many people live in the whole SE area where Lennar is planning to 'redevelop'?

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on May. 17, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

before the BVHP there was the fillmore, and we never recovered from that, so why should we do it again repeatedly in multiple districts....

we need essential rental housing and the stepping stones to home ownership...and not what we see being developed...

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 17, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

The difference is Hunters Point mostly empty, rundown building and sites that need to be cleaned up. Parknmerced the site is full of people, tearing down of older buildings that have tennants in them, space that is being used.

Posted by Garrett on May. 18, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

Without a project that looks at infill, addresses direct transit connection up front, equitably densifies in multiple areas of the district and not just on one communities shoulders, and provides proper analysis independent on the carbon footprint, soundness of the existing units, structural concerns of the existing towers, and financial ability of the current owners to foot the bill and not back out of the agreements later, is why this project should be sent back.

PJ Johnston like Tim Colen is a hack for the developer, and Lennar threatened the city if forced to build rental housing. Rent-control is at risk based only on the lack of units being built and the number of market rate units constructed. Without true equitable development per section 8.1 of the SF General Plan prior which stated clearly the ability OPTION of renting vs. purchasing homes we have imbalance and no stepping stones for families and existing communities.

The publishing of this issue also raises the concern that at the state level even if the city negotiated or included clauses, and legislation, would be NON-enforceable at the state level. Without change in Costa-Hawkins or other recent decisions and laws this project should be tabled and more thought placed into an INFILL project that does NOT destroy parkmerceds landscape design.

Sign the petition online at under Parkmerced....

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 17, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

This is the perfect Infill project, replaces an older worn out apt complex, just Hunters Point it too is a good Infill project. We can't solve the housing problem with building on small lots that come up now and then, with NIMBYism that might end up being smaller projects If you produce 1000 new jobs per year and only produce only 100 units of new housing per year

Posted by Garrett on May. 18, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

To provide infill is what was NOT done in the design.

Infill can be placed in the empty lots at stonestown, abover sub-graded transit lines, and along the 19th corridor, or through looking at the 5 towers on the south-eastern portion of the site to daly city BART...

there are many solutions just not in front of the public...

NIMBYism is those who suggest densifying in Parkmerced, and not EQUITABLY in there own neighborhoods as well.

The WOTPCC members attending the SFBOS Land-Use spoke in favor of the project, yet on the housing element they opposed changes to RH-1 RH-2 zoning. Parkmerced for your info is zoned RH-1 and being proposed for upzoning... if you upzone Parkmerced, why NOT St. Francis Woods too and other areas. The "april-1st" article on parkmerced on beyond chron was dead on in relation to nimbyism... We need to really focus not on the owner vs. renter dialogue, but the real essential need for housing, and infill along transit lines, irrespective of neighborhood, or property lines... THAT will engender a better discussion on where we have empty land and can densify...

Posted by goodmaab50 on May. 18, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

Are you really asking why we can "densify" lots which already contain high rise housing and why we cant "densifty" the lowest density single family home parcels in all of San Francisco?

Posted by Guest on May. 19, 2011 @ 6:43 am

I just read the jury report - they said its a possible provision - so its good that the city already has the provision to protect the "old" rent units when the new one replaces it. So in theory, the whole new building could be rent controlled? sweet.

But then I read the article again - so my layman understanding is: old tenants move to new place built by developer and under development agreement they have rent control which would be aboshed by the courts in the future. I wonder if the agreement and/or the city who negotiated the agreement lets the tenants from the "old" property move back from their new place back to the "newly" built property that is covered by the code that Mr. Johnston cites? That would protect the tenant's wouldn't that?

Then again, if the city's agreement creates benefits to the developer like they can do anything they want and forego city planning regs b/c there was a mention of special use districts in teh report. Then does that mean, the developer also can forget about Mr. Johnston's city's provision? So I guess, if they go thru w/ the agreement, the developer gets its extra benefits including doing whatever, then they don't need to follow Mr. Johnston's existing law thing. So then, the tenant would still be screwed as they can't move back to their "newly" built home on their "old" property as that was exempt from Mr. Johnston's provision b/c that was a giveaway by the city..

Wow its complicated..

Posted by Guest on May. 19, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

guess who doesn't compost and hasn't ever since san francisco made it required? park merced. they must be saving a bundled littering up the landfills.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 9:05 am

@Garrett. Just curious, have you ever spent much time in the neighborhoods, communities and homes of BVHP ?

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on May. 25, 2011 @ 12:16 pm