Residents Know Better than ‘Tenant Leaders’ What Parkmerced Needs

Below is a guest post by Parkmerced resident Mike Smith. Thank you, Mike, for contributing to our community! If you’d like to author a guest post, please email

As a Parkmerced resident who would very much like to move to a brand new, more convenient and more environmentally friendly apartment – at the same rent I’m paying now – I’ve often wondered why the “advocates” who purport to be looking out for my interests keep bashing the Parkmerced plan, which so many of us who actually live here support.

And as an informed San Franciscan, who has watched as some big projects succeed while others are torpedoed, I’ve especially wondered why the Trinity Plaza project in the central Market Street area was so popular with these “advocates,” while they vilify the Parkmerced proposal day in and day out.

Well, reading Beyond Chron this month, I got my answer – at least I got what passes for an explanation from these self-appointed protectors of renters like me.

The comparison is often made between Trinity Plaza and Parkmerced, because both plans called for replacing aging, outdated rental apartments with brand new homes; both called for one-to-one replacement of the rental homes; both called for allowing residents to move into the new units first, before anything is torn down, at their same rents; and both called for extending rent control, permanently, to all of the new units.

And yet, we’re told in Beyond Chron, “tenant groups strongly oppose displacing 1,500 tenants (over 400 have lived at Parkmerced for over 10 years) for newly built housing that, unlike the situation that faced tenants at Trinity Plaza, is not superior – or preferable – to their current homes.”


Well, “tenant group” leaders in the Civic Center may feel that way, but that’s not how we all feel over here at Parkmerced. (And it should be noted that Parkmerced’s official tenant group since 1974, the Parkmerced Residents Organization, has deplored the “deceptive” tactics of opponents.)

First of all, we’re not being “displaced” – any more than the residents at Trinity Plaza, who’ve had the opportunity to move out of that decrepit downtown hotel into brand new homes, were displaced.  The Parkmerced plan calls for creating hundreds of new homes first, so that nobody is displaced, nearby neighbors get to move at the same time, they only have do move once, and nobody has to leave Parkmerced.

Second, I don’t know how familiar tenant group leaders in other parts of the city are with Parkmerced, but to suggest that the newly built homes won’t be superior to the existing units is patently ridiculous!

Look, I live in a “garden apartment” at Parkmerced for nearly ten  years, and I enjoy it here.

But make no mistake: these apartments are rotting from the inside out. They’re incredibly energy inefficient. And the constant interventions they require are not sustainable. These apartments were built with inferior materials during post-war scarcity, all in a flash by MetLife. They were allowed to fall apart over the decades by a succession of absentee landlords, including Leona Helmsley.

The current owners have made a great effort to improve the current conditions: new paint, new landscaping, replaced fixtures, etc. The neighborhood certainly looks a lot better than it did five years ago. And they kept their promise to make these improvements without capital passthroughs to us.

But intelligent people know this can’t last. It is simply not feasible to constantly take a “band-aid” approach to more than a thousand decaying, WWII-era, ADA-inaccessible apartments.

This is not the typical landlord crying wolf situation – “your home is so bad, we must kick you out.” This is a thoughtful, systematic approach to dealing with the entrenched infrastructure problems – and the enormous potential! – of a large neighborhood that is simply unlike every other neighborhood in the city. Parkmerced was built all at once, and it was built for a bygone era of car-lovers who wanted a “suburban experience” with the city limits. It’s time is well past due.

I’ve participated in many of the scores of meetings Parkmerced’s owners have had with residents, and frankly I’m excited about the prospect of a vital new neighborhood emerging here, over a series of phases, in the coming years. I think it’s only fair that we get our new homes at our current rents, and I like the fact that 3,221 rental homes will receive rent control protection forever. Add to that the enormous environmental improvements that others have written about, and the huge infusion of affordable housing on the west side of town, and this emerges as the kind of win-win project that only a city like San Francisco could produce.

I look forward to the cleaner, safer, healthier place to live, which I and other residents will be proud to call home. I look forward to the walkable streets, the parks and playing fields, the shops and cafes and restaurants and groceries. Parkmerced’s been cut off from the rest of San Francisco long enough.

The “leaders” who adore their much ballyhooed Trinity Plaza, but deplore the idea of a better Parkmerced, are welcome to their somewhat dubious, and blatantly hypocritical, opinions. Just don’t tell me what’s preferable for my home.


Contributed by Mike Smith, Parkmerced resident.

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