San Francisco Fines Landlord $2 Million For Renting Out Dwellings to Low-Income Veterans



For the past two years the City of San Francisco has been doing everything in its power to dismantle low-income housing units that run afoul of the city’s laborious zoning codes.

Over the past decade, San Francisco landlord Judy Wu (real name Xiaoqi Wu) converted some 12 properties she owns into 49 housing units which she and her husband, Trent Zhu, have rented predominately to low-income veterans, many of whom are disabled, or previously homeless.

These units, however, were only zoned for 15 dwellings. And in 2015, the city’s Planning Department first became aware of the excess units, ordering her to obtain permits to dismantle many of them. In 2016, as she was working to bring her units into compliance, and while her tenants fought to preserve their homes, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued Wu, claiming that her unauthorized dwellings “substantially endanger the health, welfare, and safety of individual tenants, the residents of the City and County of San Francisco.”

Many of Wu’s tenants dispute this characterization, saying they are perfectly happy in the units Wu provides them. The most immediate effect of the city’s actions against Wu will likely not be to improve her tenants’ “health, safety, and welfare”, but rather to kick them out of the only homes they have.

Wu’s trial began on Monday. Facing mounting legal fees and the prospect of $8 million in fines, she decided to settle on Tuesday.

“The basic reason for settling is it’s too expensive to fight city hall,” said Ryan Patterson, an attorney that represented Wu. “This will allow the owners to move forward and focus on legalizing these properties and working to ensure that as many of these veterans as possible can remain in their homes.”

The city’s lawsuit notably came before the administrative process that would allow Wu to maintain her current units had run its course, and yesterday’s settlement does nothing to settle their legal status.

Throughout the entire process Herrera’s office has sought to paint Wu as a slum lord, cramming poor tenants into barely livable tenements just to make a few bucks. “Defendants’ motive for flagrantly violating the law is simple: profit,” reads the city’s 2016 complaint against Wu. “They rent out units to the most vulnerable members of our communities…as such, they have a guaranteed stream of income.”

San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen—who represents the district many of Wu’s properties are in—echoed these sentiments, saying when the lawsuit was first filed, “Mrs. Wu targeted these people because she knew they were the least likely to complain in a tough housing market.”

Those who have actually rented from Wu paint a far different portrait of her.

“Judy Wu is offering veterans housed in these units a chance to rebuild their lives in a way that is respectful and humane to them,” says Fred Bryant, a 79-year-old disabled veteran, and tenant of Wu’s for the past four years.

He tells Reason that he has had an exclusively positive relationship with Wu, who has been very attentive to the needs arising from his disability, installing a handicap-outfitted shower, and letting him store his electric scooter in her garage.

“Whenever I needed help of any kind in the apartment, checking the smoke alarm or something,” Bryant says, “Judy Wu has been extremely responsive.” Bryant is not at risk of eviction, given that the unit he rents from Wu has been brought into compliance with San Francisco’s zoning codes.

Many of the other veterans Bryant has spoken to may not be so lucky. Of the 34 units Wu rented out without permission from the city hall, some 12 are still at risk of being dismantled, and the tenants forced to find another place to live.

The 2016 complaint filed against Wu accuses her of such offences as renting out a three-bedroom single-family home as three separate rental units, or maintaining seven units at a property that is only zoned for four.

However federal veterans and housing aid programs which paid the rent for many of Wu’s properties require that dwellings are kept “decent, safe, and sanitary,” with federal inspectors conducting biannual inspections to ensure this standard is met. Units rented to tenants using federal housing vouchers must have separate and working bathrooms, a separate kitchen area complete with a refrigerator unit and stove, and separate sleeping quarters. Violations can result in reduced rent payments.

Patterson tells Reason that Wu’s units met these standards time and again. So does Bryant, describing both his unit and those of the other veterans Wu rents too as nice, remodeled units “with all the amenities of a well-outfitted apartment.”

Bryant says the other veterans who rent from Wu share his view of her “without exception” and that they are concerned about the prospects of having to find another place to live. “They don’t want to move. The unanimous opinion is that we don’t want to move. We like where we are. We are in the process of rebuilding our lives,” he tells Reason.

Others have similar opinions. “There are a lot of homeless veterans that Judy Wu helped. She’s a good landlord as far as I’m concerned,” John Brown Jr., another tenant of Wu’s told
The San Francisco Examiner in July of last year.

Former San Francisco Mayor Lee even publicly lauded Wu at a 2013 press conference for her efforts to house homeless veterans.

Positive opinions of Wu are not unanimous.

A San Francisco Chronicle article written about Wu when she was first sued by the city includes a number of tenants who were critical of their landlord. One anonymous tenant referred to Wu as a “slumlord”, another complained that she was falling behind on maintenance. Neighbors complained about noisy tenants, and piled-up trash.

That article concluded, however, that “visits to Wu’s properties and interviews with her tenants create a picture of a landlord who, while allegedly violating the city’s zoning codes, also cares about housing veterans with few other options. She regularly leases to tenants whose eviction records made other landlords see them as off limits, and apparently is not quick to throw out those who fall behind on their rent, some tenants say. On the other hand, tenants complained of everything from broken stoves to lack of heat to Wu’s unwillingness to get rid of residents who are disruptive or engaging in illegal activities.”

Whatever the condition of many of these units, Wu’s tenants have been insistent throughout that they do not want to move, testifying in favor of legalizing their dwelling units at Planning Commission hearings, and expressing fears that they will be forced into shelters or back onto the streets.

That is not an uncommon place for veterans to find themselves in the city. Leon Winston of the San Francisco-area veteran’s advocacy group Swords to Ploughshares says that his organization works with some 700-800 veterans who are in need of housing assistance.

More broadly, San Francisco has a homeless population of roughly 7,500 according to a 2017 “homelessness census”, with 4,353 unsheltered. The city is hardly an easy place to live on a budget, with almost all estimates of median rent placed at $3,200-$3,400 for a median single-bedroom apartment. Vacancy rates are exceedingly low as well, sitting at 2.8 percent for the second quarter of 2017.

An undeniable contributor to the linked crises of homelessness and housing affordability is San Francisco’s zoning code—described by Patterson as both “onerous and byzantine”—that stifles new developments, while restricting the number of people that live at existing ones.

Often these costs are unseen, paid in the number of units that are not built, or the number of people not moving to or staying in the city. Wu’s case is so striking it shows even in the midst of a housing crisis the city government would demand the rigid enforcement of its zoning code even at the cost of destroying housing for low income tenants.

To make matters worse the City Attorneys’ office sued Wu while she was in the process of trying to legalize her units, extracting now $2 million in fines. According to court documents filed by Patterson, the City Attorney’s office even actively lobbied San Francisco’s Planning Commission to not permit many of the units that Wu was trying to bring into compliance.

Reason reached out the City Attorney’s office multiple times for comment, but received no response.

City officials have said that they will not allow the eviction of any of Wu’s tenants to go forward until alternative living arrangements have been made. Even still, the city is kicking tenants out of homes they are perfectly content to stay in, putting yet more strain on San Francisco’s already low stock of housing.




SF safe injection sites expected to be first in nation



San Francisco is on track to open its first two safe injection sites this July, a milestone that will likely make the city the first in the country to embrace the controversial model of allowing drug users to shoot up under supervision.

Other cities — including Seattle, Baltimore and Philadelphia — are talking about opening their own safe injection facilities, but San Francisco could get there first. Facilities already exist in Canada, Australia and Europe.

Barbara Garcia, director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, said Monday that she’s tending to the details, including where the facilities will be located. She’s working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and offer other drug addiction services, and two of them will be selected to offer safe injection on-site.

The city’s fiscal year starts July 1, and Garcia said safe injection should begin “close to that date.” After officials get a sense of how the first two are working, a third and fourth could open, she said.

The safe injection sites will initially be privately funded, though Garcia wouldn’t say where the money’s coming from. She said that will help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is against state and federal law. Opening the sites doesn’t require the approval of the Board of Supervisors or other city officials.

Asked whether opening the country’s first safe injection sites would place an even bigger target on San Francisco for retribution by the Trump administration, Garcia didn’t sound too concerned.

“That’s to be seen,” she said. “I’m more worried about people dying in our streets.”

It’s a legitimate worry. Today’s San Francisco is one big unsafe injection site, as many of the city’s estimated 22,000 intravenous drug users openly shoot up in plazas, parks and public transit stations with no consequence, often strewing their dirty needles around them. It’s become the norm to see people on our sidewalks in broad daylight sticking needles in just about every body part.

The safe injection sites could mean fewer dirty needles on the streets, since they’d be collected inside. Public health officials believe that 85 percent of the city’s intravenous drug users would use safe injection sites and that the city could save $3.5 million a year in medical costs.

Spencer uses a rubber band to get his veins to pop before injecting heroin on S.F.’s Redwood Street in October.

Garcia has been working on the idea for six years and had made little headway until recently. Now, residents and City Hall alike have finally warmed up to what was once a taboo idea.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Dignity Health CityBeat Poll is conducted every year, and for the first time this year included a question about safe injection sites. It asked respondents whether they support or oppose “drop-in facilities called safe injection sites where intravenous drug users could use their drugs, off the street, and in a place where medical and social services are available.”

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they back the idea — 45 percent strongly and 22 percent somewhat. Twenty-seven percent opposed it, and 6 percent didn’t know. The poll found support for the sites regardless of age or homeownership. Progressives, liberals and moderates all backed the idea, though just 42 percent of self-described conservatives did.

The poll was conducted in January by David Binder Research and surveyed 500 registered city voters in English and Cantonese. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for public policy at the chamber, said he wasn’t surprised to see such strong support for safe injection sites. He said the annual poll consistently finds support for just about any potential solution to the devastating quality-of-life problems that plague the city’s streets.

“I think the open and notorious use of drugs on the street gives rise to overwhelming support for safe injection sites as a possible solution,” he said.

Another proponent of safe injection sites? Mayor Mark Farrell.

At a Chronicle editorial board meeting last week, Farrell said the status quo isn’t working.

“I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from people who don’t support it, but we absolutely need to give it a try,” he said.

San Francisco has rarely shied away from breaking state or federal law when its leaders felt they were right, and city officials don’t seem all that concerned about breaking it again.

Needles at the Cactus safe injection site in Montreal, where drug addicts can shoot up using clean needles, with medical supervision and freedom from arrest.

State Sen. Scott Wiener is still trying to get state law changed to ensure that anybody associated with safe injection sites — including the property owners, employees and drug users themselves — don’t face arrest. The bill passed in the Assembly last year but remains two votes short in the Senate.

Even if it does pass, it needs Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature and wouldn’t go into effect until next year. In the meantime, Wiener supports the sites opening in San Francisco “as quickly as possible.”

“I’m fully supportive of the city moving forward, just like we did with needle exchange before it was technically legal,” Wiener said. “We need to do everything in our power to keep people healthy, to get people off the streets so they’re injecting in a safe space indoors instead of on people’s doorsteps or in public parks, and to make sure we can intervene quickly if they overdose.”

As for making San Francisco even more ripe for retribution from the Trump administration, Wiener said, “They’re already gunning for us in every conceivable way.”

What’s one more?




San Francisco police were handed a few unexpected firearms during a Saturday gun buyback: An AT-4 a.k.a. a Bazooka-like anti-tank weapon, a rocket launcher and a cannonball.

The weapons were turned over to officials during a “no questions asked” gun buyback event in San Francisco.

A picture on the @SFPDCares Twitter account shows an officer holding and peering down at the weapon.

Police said that was one of 280 firearms turned over during the gun buyback, which was hosted along with United Playaz, a San Francisco-based violence prevention and youth development organization.

“I am not against the Second Amendment, but I am against senseless gun violence,” said United Playaz executive director Rudi Corpuz Jr.

Each person who turned in a handgun received $100 and each person who turned in an assault weapon received $200.

According to Corpuz, all promotions for the event were done by 10 men who were serving life sentences and are now on parole.

Another dumass throwing it all away…….

Aldon Smith

The San Francisco 49ers have released Aldon Smith after the 25-year-old linebacker’s arrest Thursday night on hit-and-run, driving under the influence and vandalism charges.

Smith was booked into the Santa Clara County jail and released Friday on $26,000 bond. It was his third arrest on suspicion of drunken driving since entering the league in 2011 as a first-round draft pick out of Missouri.

A team source tells ESPN’s Jim Trotter that 49ers general manager Trent Baalke met with Smith after he was released from jail Friday morning, and after Smith refused to take responsibility for his latest arrest, the team decided to release him.

The 49ers spoke earlier this week about wanting to keep Aldon Smith. His NFL future, however, took a drastic turn Friday. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

“This organization has tried very hard to help Aldon fight his issues. Although he is no longer a member of this team, our support and concern for him will continue,” the team said in a statement.

49ers coach Jim Tomsula canceled the team’s morning practice Friday, saying his players were hurting. Tomsula was emotional himself in talking about Smith’s situation.

“It’s a sad day,” the first-year 49ers coach said at a news conference. “We’re not worried about football. This has nothing to do with football. … If one person out there reads this and you’re struggling, get help. Go get it. You’re worth it. We value every human being. Get the help. You don’t have to walk alone. Find it. It’s there.

“Although Aldon will not be playing football here, he will be supported. He will not be alone,” Tomsula said. “We saw a man fighting, working and trying. … Once again, real life, everyone has struggles. They’re just in different ways. … From our perspective, from him, we need the things that need to be addressed with 100 percent of everything he has.”

Because Smith has accrued four seasons in the NFL — meaning he played in at least six games in each of those four seasons — he immediately becomes a free agent. It’s not expected, however, that he’ll be immediately picked up by another team.

Smith was arrested on suspicion of DUI in January 2012, a charge that was later reduced to reckless driving. Later that year, he faced three felony weapons charges stemming from a June 2012 party at his home. Police said several shots were fired, two partygoers were injured and Smith was stabbed. Smith pleaded not guilty, and the weapons charges were later reduced.

Smith was arrested and charged with DUI again after a car accident in September 2013. He voluntarily entered rehab and missed five games that season. In July 2014, Smith was sentenced to 11 days of work release for that DUI in Santa Clara.

In August 2014, Smith was suspended for the first nine games of last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies, in connection to the 2013 drunken-driving arrest.

Smith also was arrested April 13, 2014, at Los Angeles International Airport. Police said he was randomly selected for a secondary screening and became uncooperative, telling a TSA agent he had a bomb. No charges were filed in that incident.

On Tuesday, Baalke talked about re-signing Smith, who was in his contract season with San Francisco.

“Aldon’s like any young player,” Baalke said. “He’s growing up, he’s maturing. You see that with a lot of these guys. Some of them get themselves in a few more situations that you wish they didn’t … [but I’m] really pleased with the way he’s handled things, the way he’s working both personally and professionally. I think he’s doing an outstanding job. He’s always been a great teammate. He’s always had an excellent work ethic. Those are things he’s even stepped up.”