San Francisco Tenants Get Vote to Stop Stellar on Ballot

The San Francisco Tenants Union says it has gathered enough signatures to win a citywide referendum to stop a proposed high-rise development that would evict 1,500 rent-controlled homes.

The group turned in 19,045 signatures on July 8. If the city Department of Elections finds at least 14,336 of them are valid, a measure reversing the city Board of Supervisors’ approval of Stellar Management’s Parkmerced project will be on the November ballot.

 “Now the voters, not politicians, will decide if peoples’ homes and an entire neighborhood should be bulldozed,” the SFTU announced on its Web site. “Voters don’t like backroom deals, and they don’t like mass demolition of rent-controlled housing,” the SFTU’s Ted Gullickson told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 in May to approve Stellar’s $1.2 billion plan. The New York-based developer wants to tear down the Garden Apartments neighborhood in San Francisco’s southwest corner, about 1,500 rent-controlled townhouses built in the late 1940s. It would replace them with 7,200 new high-rise units, to be built over the next 15 to 20 years. 

Stellar calls the plan “a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to transform an aging housing complex and the surrounding area into a vibrant neighborhood…. a shared commitment to turn a blighted landscape into an international model of urban sustainability.”

The developer has promised to replace the demolished apartments and keep those units under rent control. Tenants do not believe that. “State law strongly prohibits rent control on any new construction,” the SFTU notes on its Web site.

Stellar currently advertises studio apartments in the development as starting at $1,724 a month, “unrenovated.” Two-bedrooms start at $2,775.

 Tenants in the townhomes also object that the development will move them from units with large backyards to towers. They are also skeptical about Stellar’s motives. The developer has been involved in several predatory-equity deals in New York, where it paid housing-bubble prices for buildings and then could not empty them fast enough to make the deal profitable. The SFTU says Stellar is widely expected to sell the property now that it has been granted permission to demolish the old townhouses and build new apartments and condos, as these entitlements greatly increase the value of the property.