SHUT-OUT; PAC-BELL PARK; $350,000,000


root - Posted on 01 February 2000

Burned Out Hotel Residents protest extravagant spending
on PAC-BELL Park versus no spending on hotel repairs.

by Kaponda

The violent collisions between the howling winds and leaves of the palm trees in front of the red-brick building had captured my attention as my editor and I walked to the front of the still in-development PAC-BELL Park. We had come out to the Park at China Basin to attend a press conference to protest the enormous amount of attention this ballpark is getting in contrast to the lack of attention given to victims of SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel fires. Protecting her hair from the sort of droplets caused by the sudden burst of clouds overhead, Frances Pinnock began her attack on the administration of Mayor Willie Brown.

"There is this wonderful ballpark which is about to open on time with 1,800 construction workers working on it everyday. And there are at least seven or eight hotels in San Francisco that are having no work done on them. Our clients are still homeless. The hotels should be repaired. Our clients are demanding that the Mayor speak to the owners [of these hotels] and say [to them] that you can repair these hotels. We like the ballpark. But we want the City of San Francisco -- and we know you can do it because there is massive amounts of money here in the City -- to get these hotels repaired for your tenants and my clients."

Frances Pinnock represents 87 former tenants of the Hartland Hotel and 29 former tenants of the Thor Hotel. As a result of the owners' neglect to bring these hotels back on-line for occupancy, Frances has lodged two Complaints in the Superior Court of California. According to the Complaint filed by Ms. Pinnock, the owners of the Hartland Hotel have received "large settlements from the insurance company, but have as yet to apply for a building permit for the repairs and remodeling."

On February 12, 1999 at 11:00 a.m., the 150-room hotel at Geary and Larkin that had been born out of the 1906 earthquake by the Hartland brothers was ravaged by fire. The fire allegedly began in a lightwell filled with debris. It was not the first fire to occur in the lightwell at the Hartland Hotel. As a result, according to the Complaint, "Years of neglect and decrepit conditions created nightmarish living conditions for people with few housing alternatives, and ultimately led to the fire that displaced all the residents of the Hartland Hotel." One-hundred fifty tenants of the Hartland were displaced as a direct result of the fire.

"The question must be asked of the Mayor," continued Ms. Pinnock, "'Why is this ballpark able to be finished on time and there is no work being done on these hotels at all?'"

Richard Marquez had come to the press conference on behalf of Mission Agenda to state that during the last two years there have been seven major fires in as many SRO hotels. "Mission Agenda, therefore, created a coalition to compel the City to urge owners to compensate tenants fairly, and at the same time, to force them to rebuild the hotels." According to Richard, there were 150 tenants living at the Hartland at the time of the fire. There are 70 tenants scattered around the city who cannot be located.

David McGuire is one of the 150 tenants at the Hartland Hotel who were displaced. A former tenant of five years, he was forced to move out everything that he owned into a storage area. According to David, as he moved his personal belongings out of the Hartland Hotel, he sustained an injury because neither the Hartland, nor the City provided services to move victims out during emergencies. As a result of his injury, he needed crutches.

David McGuire is secretary of the Hartland Hotel Tenants Union. He is one of the plaintiffs in the Complaint against the Defendants, Hartland Hotel. His traumatic experience at the Hartland has catapulted David into full-time service, advocating for a state-of-emergency declared so that federal money can be made available to repair hotels. David state that "There are approximately 1,000 to 1,100 SRO's that are off the rental market due to owner negligence, and some of them have been off the rental market since 1988."

"We've been working on the residential hotel issue for about the past four to five years and have been trying to do something about the rash of hotels fires which have been totally out of control during the last three years," stated Chris Daly, Coordinator of the Mission Agenda, in response to the concerns of David McGuire. "The Mayor¼s office, to an extent, has talked about better emergency responses to these situations."

With tears in her eyes and uncertain of her future, Carmen came to the microphone to testify on concerning her experience. For 35 years Carmen, an elderly lady of 89 years old on a walker, was a tenant of the Hartland Hotel. She lost everything she owned as a result of the February 12, 1999, fire. Carmen was so distraught at the press conference that she could not go forward with her planned statement.

Ramona Herrera is a former tenant of Hartland Hotel and is now homeless. He states, "Its been a year, and I am still homeless. I would like to see them fix the Hartland. We are still on the streets. We are still going from hotel to hotel, and it is devastating."

The rain did not stop or shorten the press conference; there were many more people who stepped up to the plate to testify of their losses and anguish on that windswept day at Pac Bell Park. The final box score, according to the press release circulated by Mission Agenda, was Pac Bell Park, $320 million to construct a brand new building in record breaking time, and the SRO hotel fire victims, $0 for badly needed restoration and renovation of damaged buildings.

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