City Attorney Sues Castro Landlord
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit on Thursday, June 4 against Castro area landlord Anne Kihagi, who owns more than 50 rent-controlled residential units in the city. The lawsuit claims that in defiance of numerous state and local laws protecting tenants and capping rents, Kihagi and her legal team have “waged a war of harassment, intimidation, and retaliation using unlawful, unfair and fraudulent practices designed to force them out to make room for new tenants who pay market rent.”
Local Tenants Unite Against Landlord
City investigates, landlord sues city
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and in the case of one landlord in the Castro, clouds of controversy now point to legal heat being brought against the City of San Francisco in the form of a federal lawsuit.
More than 30 tenants across several apartment complexes in District 8 have created a working group to compare stories and organize legal defenses against their landlord. Anne Kihagi, the principal of several limited liability corporations that control six buildings in the neighborhood, has become a lightning rod for complaints by her rent-control tenants. They feel they have been unfairly singled out and harassed by her over the past year in an effort to push them out and capitalize on the city’s skyrocketing rental market.
Tenants have cited instances of Kihagi installing indoor surveillance cameras, not cashing rent checks, illegally entering units without proper notification, restricting mail access, performing unpermitted construction, serving excessive 3-day notices, removing laundry facilities, illegal towing, face-to-face harassment, sending harassing text messages, and failing to set up water and electricity accounts for buildings in a timely fashion. One particular eviction case by Kihagi alleges that a 70-year-old woman, Sylvia Smith, who has lived in her Guerrero Street unit for four decades, uses and sells drugs to other people in her building.
“She did so much to me, you have no idea,” she said. “I pay $1,000 and she wants $5,000 for this unit. She offered me money and I said no. Then she got so mean.”
Following multiple complaints at different properties filed with the SF Department of Building Inspection, a City Task Force Investigation Unit was deployed on March 4. Thus far building Inspector Anthony Lepe has only confirmed minor violations and a investigation is ongoing through the City Attorney’s office, which could not comment further on the matter.
The lawsuit claims a vendetta against Kihagi motivated by discrimination based on race and bureaucratic hostility towards landlords’ right to evict tenants who are breaking their leasing contracts. The suit seeks legal fees and damages based on loss of income from not fairly receiving city permits to renovate her buildings, which could have rented for market rates.
Critics of Kihagi allege that her business model consists of buying rent-controlled buildings, singling out longtime tenants as lease violators until they leave and profiting from the rent differential. In the last two years, Kihagi has initiated a series of evictions based on lease violations as well as owner move-ins involving her and her two sisters.
“They want to make it seem like she is this renegade landlord, but she hasn’t done anything wrong,” said Karen Uchiyama, Kihagi’s lawyer. “It all comes down to the fact that if you (as a tenant) are not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to be afraid of.”
Uchiyama insists that a small group of her client’s tenants have singled her out because they dislike Kihagi’s enforcement of “House Rules,” a several-page document that among other restrictions calls on tenants to notify Kihagi if they leave the apartment on vacation.
“She has many low-rent tenants whom she has never evicted or wanted to evict. She also has high paying tenants whom she has never evicted or wanted or had reason to evict,” she said. “Yes we have a housing shortage. But it doesn’t mean she is an evil person. She has a right to do this as a landlord.”
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener disagrees. He recently met with a large group of the tenants who told him one-by-one what their interactions with the landlord have been.
“I was absolutely horrified. It’s completely sociopathic behavior and it needs to stop,” he said. “This is the absolute worst kind of speculation—someone who comes into a city, buys up a bunch of apartment buildings and then tries to terrorize the tenants out of the building. It’s just beyond unacceptable.”
Wiener said he intends to help tenants find legal counsel so they can assert any claims that they may have. He said that she owns buildings in West Hollywood, another LGBT-friendly community, and also sued the city there.
“That fact that West Hollywood and the Castro are two of the areas is troubling to me as well,” Wiener said.
On January 31, about 200 people held a protest outside of her Castro residence, which included support from the SF Teachers Union. Paul Revere Elementary School teacher Allison Leshefsky, a resident of Kihagi’s 195 Eureka St. building, has become the point person for the group. Leshefsy said market rate rents are too high for teachers to live in the communities they serve.
“I’m the working poor. Rent control is the only thing that keeps me in San Francisco,” she said. “My home is no longer a place where I feel secure. I’ve started seeing a therapist for anxiety.”
Non-profit marketing manager Ryan Andersen, another founding member of the tenant group, pays $1625 for an apartment at Kihagi’s 19th Street building and said he couldn’t stay in the city without it. He said that since Kihagi bought the building in 2013, all the previous rent-controlled tenants are gone.
“She is single-handedly gentrifying the Castro,” he said.
Recently, there has been a huge spike in breach and nuisance evictions and an uptake in owner-move-in evictions even though Ellis Act evictions had gone down until last month when they started rising again, according to Sarah “Fred” Sherburn-Zimmer, lead housing organizer for the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee.
“I’m really glad the city attorney got involved with this one,” she said. “We are really excited the city is actually stepping up and investigating this.”
Late last year, Kelly Kimball was ousted from his unit at 3947 18th St. where he had lived for 11 years through an owner move-in eviction of Kihagi herself, which requires her to live in the unit for three years.
“I go by every weekend and I always glance up and never see anyone in there,” Kimball said.
Sixty-seven-year-old Rob Dominguez, who has lived in that building for almost three decades also attests to this.
“There are no lights up there. There’s no traffic up there,” he said. “I’ve seen her workers but not her.”
More Landlord / Tenant Articles
Greg Mahusay and Sylvia Britt are examples of HIV survivors living a healthy life past the age of 50.
It is estimated that today there are about 1.2 million people in the U.S. living with HIV. This year half will reach 50 years or older.
On April 24, the “Well Beyond HIV” campaign sponsored by Walgreens HIV-specialized pharmacies presented a program at the LGBT Center on life after an initial HIV diagnosis. The campaign of testimonials and shared stories began in Miami in January and will be making a number of stops throughout the country.
Well Beyond HIV focuses on the lives of older adults who have been living with HIV and presents itself as a traveling art exhibition. It has been prepared in collaboration with The Graying of AIDS, a project of stories from an aging population affected by the epidemic, which includes a series of formal portraits and oral histories and is the first documentary project on the lives of older HIV-positive adults around the world. The project seeks to “inspire dialogue, eradicate stigmas and amplify the voices, faces and stories of those over 50 living with HIV.”
At the San Francisco event two of the people whose lives had been upended by an HIV diagnosis spoke of their fears, struggle and eventual happiness. Each person shared excerpts of their story near their larger-than-life photographs.
Sylvia Britt was lying alone in a hospital bed, exhausted and ill from a long bout of pneumonia, when she learned she was HIV-positive. “It’s important for people to see that people living with HIV are not dying,” said Britt, who lives in San Leandro and works for WORLD, a patient advocacy group for women with HIV based in Oakland.
Greg Mahusay, 54, and diagnosed in 1989, decided to speak out on behalf of HIV and AIDS patients and fight for better care for them, especially when people were still suffering and dying all around him. Britt and Mahusay say their motivation for profiling older people is to educate the public and celebrate a generation of men and women who survived the epidemic.
Mahusay joined Positive Pedalers, a group of cyclists with HIV who participate in the AIDS Lifecycle fundraising ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles every year.
“Now I’m living my life and giving back to others with my disease. In 2013, I volunteered for an AIDS service fundraising bicycling event, AIDS/LifeCycle and last year I did my second AIDS ride. Now I’m a board member for Positive Pedalers and I ride to eliminate the stigma behind HIV/AIDS,” he said. “I spent so many years in fear of the disease and dealing with stigma. Right now, I owe it to myself to live. I’ve become confident enough to not care anymore, and I think that comes with aging.”
It is the goal of the Well Beyond HIV campaign to show that a person who adheres to treatment can live a longer and healthier life, and to demonstrate this, the program has provided a body of practical resources available online. Included are common challenges for those living with HIV, as well as a series of steps to take if diagnosed with the disease.
Photos: Bill Sywak
City May Need More Police Officers
Rise in crime, influx of people draw concern
The tech boom may be praised for bringing copious amounts of money into San Francisco, but as the gap between the rich and poor stretches further than ever, the rate of crime has seen a significant increase.
San Francisco’s elected public defender, Jeff Adachi, told the media last November that income disparities reflect a rise in the city’s crime rates. With 23 percent of the population living at poverty level, San Francisco saw a 20 percent increase in crime between 2012 and 2013. According to NeighborhoodScout.com, which gives a general overview of crime, there were 7,232 violent and 49,438 nonviolent crimes in 2014.
This past year the Castro saw a few notable acts of violence, including two homicides. The killing of 31-year-old Bryan “Feather Lynn” Higgins near Church and Duboce streets on August 10 happened in broad daylight. There were nine counts of theft on March 24 in the Castro alone, and safety has become a concern for residents of the neighborhood due to this increase in theft and property damage.
“We’ve had an unacceptable level of crime in the neighborhood, both violent crime and property crime,” District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said. “We’re working closely with the three police stations that are part of the neighborhood to increase police presence. We’ve been particularly successful in seeing more police presence in Duboce Triangle, in light of the murders and other violent crimes in that neighborhood.”
Supervisor Wiener said his goal is to make sure there are enough police officers to keep San Francisco safe. He stated that full police staffing is defined in San Francisco as 1,971 officers. While that level was achieved 2005, it has since dropped to under 1,700 officers due to lack of police academy classes for a number of years. Recent efforts to aggressively fund police academy classes have had a positive impact. The SFPD is projected to reach 2,000 officers by 2018. But since the city has grown by nearly 100,000 people since 2003, and it is estimated to continue to grow by 10,000 people every year, Wiener feels it’s time to reexamine whether 2,000 officers would be enough.
“Given that the 1,971 number was set 30 years ago and that we are now a bigger city, with more people and more neighborhoods, I don’t believe that 1,971 is still full staffing. The number is probably several hundred officers more,” Wiener said.
Safety in the Castro is garnering attention. Castro Cares, a pilot program launched in March aimed at addressing neighborhood quality-of-life issues and homeless outreach, has created a collaboration involving the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, SFPD, Patrol Special Police and the Department of Public Health to increase police presence. Castro Cares will be paying for an additional 15 hours of Patrol Special officers, which will increase to 30 hours a week in May.
According to Captain Daniel Perea of the Mission Police Department, Castro Cares has been well received in the community due to an increased police presence in the entire district. The Captain asks all of his officers on duty to walk a beat every shift. This means better patrolling of Castro Street, Market Street and 18th Street, “so that if anything happens, the cops are around,” Perea said.
“I walk around quite a bit on Castro and Market Street myself,” he said. “ I get stopped on a daily basis by people that are pleased to see more officers in uniform patrolling the streets. Not only do people feel safer, but it acts a great deterrent for anyone looking to commit a crime.”
In addition to more police efforts, volunteers are dedicated to making the Castro Neighborhood a safe place to live and to play. Castro Community on Patrol is a volunteer group that works to create a safer neighborhood for those who live in, work in, or visit the community. CCOP volunteers patrol the neighborhood and create a visible safety presence. Patrol volunteers note and report violent and property crimes, as well as conditions conducive to that kind of crime, and educate the public about safety issues in the community.
Besides volunteering with CCOP, Casto residents can also contribute to public safety through their everyday actions. Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association President David Troup urges residents and property owners to help light the sidewalks by leaving porch lights on at night as crime is less likely to occur in a well-lit area. And since street trees often block the streetlights, he also asks that property owners maintain the trees in front of their homes to make sure the streetlights are visible.
Although the Castro’s crime rate ranks low across the greater San Francisco area, unexpected acts of crime can happen at anytime, anywhere in the city. SFPD spokesperson, Albie Esparza, is confident that Captain Perea is doing a great job of monitoring crime and keeping the community informed of criminal activity in the Castro. The SFPD reminds its citizens to be aware of surroundings and belongings at all times, to keep devices hidden and not to text and walk.
The End of an Era: Last Call for the Lexington Club
The first quarter moon rose high over Twin Peaks as young, queer, lesbian women lined 19th street from Lexington to the edge of Valencia, arms circling, heads on shoulders waited to get into the Lexington Club—the only queer lesbo bar in San Francisco—for one last time, before the doors would close and ownership would transfer to the Plump Jack, owned by former mayor Gavin Newsom.
The two closing night parties on Friday and Saturday had been anticipated by many after owner Lila Thirkield’s disclosure on facebook, stating that after 18 years the Lex would have to close due to rising rent and declining population of queer women living in the city. Long gone are the ‘90s, when the Mission was populated by queer women living communally in flats and hanging at the Lex, which became known for its coming out stories, literary readings, and even knitting clubs.
Speaking to the women lining the block, many commented that they had just had to come, that even if they hadn’t been regular patrons, they felt the necessity of coming one last time to pay homage to a place, a spot that they could call their own.
One woman profoundly moved and placing her hand over her heart replied, “It was a hate and a love thing I had for the Lexington. I fell in and out of love here so many times, I can’t even tell you.”
Her friends sighed and moved closer, “Yeah like we can’t even imagine where we will go now, and worse where the younger generation, the women behind us, will go?” Their query implied that this was not just another displacement story, but something iconic or even historical.
Others repeated the question, commenting on the randomness of queer women’s nights, perhaps on an off night—a Tuesday or Sunday, at clubs on either side of the bay, but lamenting the loss of stability that the Lex, offered with its open door policy of 7 nights a week, and no cover charge even during Gay Pride week.
Moving through the line, a common tale emerged of how many had heard about the club through the community and had moved here because of its existence. One transgender woman said, “I moved to the SF from LA because of the greater ease in transitioning and had immediately made friends from the queer women at the Lex because they were my immediate sisterhood.”
She along with others, were saddened by the history of their lives that was reflected in the club’s walls, the many photos on the south wall that lived in their memories of “firsts,” implying that it was more than just a place, but a depository of identity.
Women in their early 30s who didn’t remember Maud’s, a beloved queer lesbian bar which had closed in the late ‘80s, were unable to express the lack of continuity in their own young lives, and stated with maybe a hint of regret that it was something they had taken for granted—a belief that the Lex would always be open for the late night beer or for meeting up with an old girlfriend or seeing who was new in town.
It was hard to imagine what would take its place, surely not something as temporary as one night parties, but as the crowd surged and the stories merged with the fog, the stares and mounting queries of walkers, “What is going on,” the crowd suddenly parted for two lesbian women on a motorcycle, who roaring up to Valencia Street, their leather clad backs posing the question, “What will happen to the queer lesbian woman in the Bay who just want a place to call their own?”
Photo: Yvonne Campbell
Castro Clay Studio Eyes Water Use
Ruby’s Clay Studio is a non-profit collective of clay artists located at Noe and 19th streets that has operated for more than 30 years. The gallery will offer art for plants on May 3.
Working with clay requires a cleanup that uses a lot of water, and in the midst of a record drought, a little non-profit clay studio in the Castro is beginning to reckon with this fact.
Ruby’s Clay Studio is a clay workspace with about 100 ceramicists who pay monthly rent for 24-hour studio access, which includes the use of electric wheels, glazes and kilns. There is currently a three-year waiting list to acquire such rental space, but there are also year-round 8-week classes at beginning and advanced levels.
The board of directors has only recently begun to discuss the drought and how to conserve water, so it has not yet formulated a strategy for dealing with this issue. Currently, it’s not about cost but rather the inevitable water restrictions that it is assumed the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) could impose in its efforts to comply with the 25-percent water deduction Gov. Jerry Brown has mandated for state water districts.
The studio is open to members of the public, who are welcome to explore the fascinating multi-level, somewhat ramshackle collection of artist work areas and displays. Many thousands of finished pieces and current projects are crammed into every nook and cranny of the basement and ground floors on Noe Street.
There are 75 “locker holders” who rent an approximately 2x2x2 foot cubicle in which to store tools and clay, and there are several studio “managers” who are employees, as well as being space renters. Board members, who are also studio members, are elected yearly, as is required by 501(C)(3) regulations.
Outdoor plants flourish on the front sidewalk near a bench covered with ceramic tiles, each of which was made by a different “Ruby-ite.” A creaky sliding door opens onto the studio’s exhibit gallery, where 2-3 week long exhibits are displayed throughout the year. These include an annual Holiday Show each December, an April fundraising sale of ice cream bowls, a sidewalk sale Sunday, July 26, where studio members will virtually give away their unsold work. This event draws bargain hunters from the entire Bay Area, who find tables on the sidewalk overflowing with literally thousands of discounted ceramic bowls, plates, mugs, vases and sculpture. From 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, the gallery will be offering “Potted: Ceramic Art for Plants,” selling hand-made ceramic planters and vases, each filled with live plants or cut flowers.
Founder Ruby O’Burke was a long-time Castro resident and renowned ceramic artist who worked from her home, halfway up the steep hill between 18th and 19th streets at 552 Noe St. In 1967 she opened her clay studio to include other ceramic artists, which helped her pay the bills. The clay studio work area gradually expanded, as did her band of ceramicists. When she died in 1983, the studio continued as a non-profit ceramic workspace and educational facility.
There are always various studio members working at Ruby’s between 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. who gladly provide studio tours or sell any piece for sale.
Ruby’s Clay Studio is located at 552 Noe St. at 19th St.
Photo: Rebecca Sawyer
Fundraiser Brings Castro Care Some Neighborhood Lovin’
Photos: Bill Sywak
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© Castro Courier 2014
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