Civic Center Tenants to Plumbers Hall: Don’t Be a Grinch!

by Casey Mills on December 21, 2005

A group of Civic Center Hotel residents and housing activists rallied in front of the Plumber’s Union yesterday, calling on the union to kill its plan to demolish the 156-unit residential hotel. Protestors underscored the disparity between the holiday season and the union’s potentially fatal decision not to retrofit the Civic Center, a decision that could kill any tenants in the building should an earthquake occur. The rally also highlighted the union’s decision to demolish the Civic Center, which would displace its many low-income residents. Dressed in a Grinch costume, activist Bruce Alison called on the plumber’s union to show compassion to the hotel’s tenants by beginning the retrofit immediately and stop the demolition. The City Attorney, which recently received a complaint concerning the issue from the Department of Building Inspection, may soon have the opportunity to force the union into heeding Alison’s and his fellow protestor’s demands.

The Plumber’s Union announced its plans to demolish the Civic Center last April. The union cited the high cost of retrofitting the hotel as its reason for destroying it, despite the union’s failure to seek out a special type of low-interest city loan created specifically for retrofitting buildings. The union’s implicit argument of financial troubles also comes in the face of a recent diversion of $36 million in employee benefits to their Clear Lake resort.

Opponents to the demolition have argued that the quest for profit, which could be gained from building luxury condos on the former SRO hotel site, provides the union’s real motivation for refusing to retrofit the hotel.

Tenants filed a complaint with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) earlier this year, arguing that the union’s foot-dragging on retrofitting the building was causing a major safety hazard for its current residents. DBI recently forwarded the complaint on to the City Attorney’s office, where the issue awaits resolution.

In addition to pointing out the possibility of an earthquake killing or injuring residents due to the union’s refusal to retrofit the hotel, the protestors said demolishing the hotel would cause a massive displacement of low-income people from their homes. Such a displacement, they argued, would likely end up causing many formerly homeless people to head back out on the streets.

“This is important housing,” Larry Petit, a resident of the Civic Center for more than 15 years. “Most of the people here have been homeless at some time. We loose this housing, and it fills up the streets, putting people out into the cold.”

Supervisor Chris Daly, whose district includes the hotel, also raised this point, saying that SRO hotels represent one of the few ways people with extremely limited resources can find a place to sleep. Daly also reminded the union that the hotel provided housing for many working people.

“If they choose to go ahead with this demolition,” said Daly, “they will be responsible for taking homes from working-class people. That’s the very type of people the union is supposed to represent.”

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