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Parkmerced Tenants Sue City over Development Plan

 
Residents say proposal would displace them and put their rent control at risk

Tenants of San Francisco's Parkmerced apartments filed a lawsuit against the city on Monday for its approval last month of a plan to add thousands of apartments and demolish others at the complex.

The lawsuit comes after tenants delivered signatures to the city's Department of Elections on Friday for a ballot measure that could nullify the plan, which would add about 5,700 apartments and replace about 1,800 others during the next two to three decades.

Some tenants of Parkmerced, located at 19th and Holloway avenues, say the proposal, approved by the Board of Supervisors last month by a 6-5 vote, would displace them and leave them at risk of losing their rent-controlled housing.

The tenants' groups that filed the lawsuit include the Parkmerced Action Coalition and San Francisco Tomorrow.

Their attorney, Stuart Flashman, said the groups are making "a two-pronged attack on the city's approval of the project — one on the legal side and the other on the political side."

Flashman said the lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that the environmental impact report certified by the board was inaccurate and inadequate.

He said the project also contradicts policies and priorities enacted by Proposition M, an initiative approved by voters in 1986 that puts limits on high-rise developments and sets planning priorities that protect affordable housing.

"That was put in place to prevent developers from attempting to take over the city, and running roughshod over existing neighborhoods," he said.

Flashman said the lawsuit also addresses alleged violations of the city's Sunshine Ordinance because during Planning Commission hearings on the plan, public comment time was reduced from three minutes to one minute per speaker.

During the final board committee hearing on the proposal, board President David Chiu issued four pages of amendments at the start of the meeting that he said would help protect the rights of Parkmerced tenants.

But Flashman said, "That's the first anybody saw them, and I think that's outrageous."

He said the residents of Parkmerced should have "an opportunity to receive notice of changes to a development agreement that's going to have a tremendous effect on them, and to spring it on them at the last minute is really unfair."

Chiu, a mayoral candidate who was the swing vote in the 6-5 decision on the plan, defended his vote in a letter posted on his website.

He wrote, "I fully recognize that change is never easy, but Parkmerced strikes the right balance between protecting existing tenants while providing a tremendous opportunity to add much-needed housing and community improvements to the west side of the city."

Parkmerced spokesman P.J. Johnston has also said that while many residents will be relocated within the complex, the new apartments will be built before the old ones are demolished so people will only have to move once, and the new units will be similar in size and will have the same rent-control status.

But Cathy Lentz, a spokeswoman for the Parkmerced Action Coalition, argued that might not happen if the project changes ownership at some point in the future.

She added, "Who would want to live through 30 years of construction?"

Lentz, who was one of two women who had to be removed from the Board of Supervisors' chambers after yelling at supervisors during a contentious hearing at which the board initially approved the plan, said the tenants' actions Friday and Monday mark the beginning of their effort to overturn the project.

"There was a small group of people that started this, and we're slowly moving a mountain," she said.

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