Park Merced residents resist redevelopment

Every day, Margaret Leahy returns home from her part-time teaching job at SF State and is greeted with excitement by her dancing pint-sized pooch, Marley.

She treats Marley to a dog biscuit and looks out her back door at the planter box full of pink bougainvilleas, which she planted when she moved in.

“I love where I am,” she said. “I don’t want to move.”

The 55-year-old international relations teacher has lived across the street from her workplace for six years. But in the coming years, that could change.

Leahy’s apartment is one of 1,538 townhouses set to be demolished if the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopts a redevelopment plan for Parkmerced.

But since the introduction of the plan in 2006, the 30-year-long redevelopment plan has met stiff resistance from residents.

“It’s a working-class community,” Leahy said.  “I don’t want to lose my neighbors.”

The redevelopment plan aims to nearly triple the residential density of the area by adding 5,679 units to the existing 3,221 units. If approved, townhouses would be replaced with high-rise towers similar to the 11 currently standing.

Along with providing more units, the plan would also expand the availability of commercial spaces and extend transit systems.

But many residents have been fighting the redevelopment plan because they fear prices for new apartments will be too expensive, said Julian Lagos, 56, a high school teacher and member of the Coalition to Save Parkmerced.

“If these (apartments) are bulldozed, the residents won’t be able to live in San Francisco,” Lagos said. “This will be a major displacement if it goes through.”

Opposition from residents has taken the form of petition drives and coordinated appearances at the planning commission and Board of Supervisors meetings.

Residents fear that the costs for new apartments would not be regulated by rent control, which has kept Parkmerced one of the last affordable housing neighborhoods in San Francisco, Lagos said.

Since he moved to Parkmerced in 1993, Lagos has paid $1,300-a-month in rent for his two-bedroom apartment. The apartment today would cost approximately $2,000 each month.

But not everyone living in Parkmerced opposes the plan to expand.

Because maintenance costs are high, it may be better to rebuild them all rather than renovate them one by one, said Parkmerced spokesman P.J. Johnston.

“These old buildings that require constant redevelopment are just going to get older and older,” said Arne Larsen, 56, a minister and 15-year resident of Parkmerced.

The new apartments would feature better insulation and more energy-efficient utilities.

According to Johnston, rent control would stay intact so that rental prices for native residents would remain the same, rather than increase.

Parkmerced was built in the 1940s in an attempt to meet the growing demand for city residency with a large suburban neighborhood. It is the second-largest apartment complex on the western hemisphere of the United States.

If construction is approved, new apartments will be built to house displaced residents, Johnston said.

The new apartments would feature better insulation and more energy-efficient utilities.

“No one will ever have to move out of Parkmerced,” he said.  “They will gain a more healthy, lively community.”