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UncategorizedAfter 8 months, developer still hasn't complied with city...

After 8 months, developer still hasn’t complied with city planning rules

The story of 660 Third Street is a sad example of how big commercial property owners can get away with ignoring zoning rules

This building is not supposed to have office space on the lower two floors. But it does, and it has for a while, and the city seems to be unable to do anything about it
This building is not supposed to have office space on the lower two floors. But it does, and it has for a while, and the city seems to be unable to do anything about it

By Zelda Bronstein

APRIL 29, 2015 — Last September supporters of PDR (Production, Distribution and Repair) jobs — and the rule of law in San Francisco — thought they’d scored a rare victory, when the Planning Commission told the owners of the PDR-zoned property at 660 Third Street that it would not authorize their illegal conversion of the entire property to office space.

But more than seven months later, there are still office tenants in the space that is supposed to be limited to PDR, and the building manager is advertising office space for lease, as Planning officials struggle to get the owner to comply.

The Planning Department had originally recommended the ex post facto approval of the illicit conversion. Planning changed its recommendation after a May public hearing where community members, with land use attorney Sue Hestor in the fore, vehemently objected. A subsequent 48 Hills investigation found major discrepancies between reality and claims made in Planning’s staff report and the affidavit submitted by David Silverman, the Reuben, Junius & Rose attorney representing the owners.

In September, Planning changed its recommendation, urging the commission to approve only the office conversion of the two upper floors of the four-story building, specifying that the lower two floors, or 40,000 sf, should be rented out to PDR users.

(That half-a-loaf approach seems curious, until you realize that planners’ failure to challenge false assertions that Silverman made in his affidavit—he said the building lacked loading capacity—and in his testimony to the Historic Preservation Commission—he said the building was vacant, because it was impossible to find PDR tenants—expedited the building’s landmarking, legally qualifying it for full conversion into offices.)

On September 11 the Planning Commission majority went along with the revised staff recommendation.

Four days later, SoMa Leadership Council President Jim Meko emailed planner Richard Sucré asking if the department had “any figures on what the occupancy of 660-3rd Street currently is,” adding: “I look forward to following what if any enforcement will be required to bring the building into compliance with Thursday’s resolution.”

Sucré replied:

Currently, the entire building is occupied by office tenants [now he tells us]. Since we have an approved action from the Planning Commission, our enforcement team will be working with the Project Sponsor to bring the building into compliance.

I’ve copied the head of our enforcement division, Christine Haw, on this email who can provide you with additional information on the enforcement process. Currently, the entire building is occupied by office tenants. Since we have an approved action from the Planning Commission, our enforcement team will be working with the Project Sponsor to bring the building into compliance.


Meko, replying to Sucré and Haw, wrote: “[T]he bottom line is that they’re going to have to vacate two entire floors, right?”

Haw responded:

“We’ll investigate and check the square footage of the floors prior to any determination.”

So far, so good.

But then the enforcement process failed to proceed.

In early March, Hestor’s challenge to another illegal PDR-into-office conversion—this one at 340 Bryant—made me wonder what had transpired at 660 Third Street.

A visit to the latter property revealed that six months after the Planning Commission action, the lower two floors were still occupied by two office tenants and a furniture retailer.

There are still tech offices where the space is supposed to be limited to PDR uses
There are still tech offices where the space is supposed to be limited to PDR uses

On March 13 I emailed Haw, asking “why the illegal office (and I believe, retail) uses are still active on the ground floors.”

A week later, having received no reply, I queried Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez. Sanchez told me to contact Planning Communications Manager Gina Simi, which I did.

On March 24, Simi replied:

“At this time, the Department is still working with the property owners to bring them into compliance. If you’d like to check back with us in the coming weeks, we’ll be happy to provide any updated information that we have.”

On April 22, I checked back. Two days later Simi informed me that on April 2, the Planning Department had issued a Notice of Violation. The NOVP, as it’s familiarly known, states:

On October 16, 2014, the Planning Department issued an Enforcement Notification for the subject property. This notice highlighted the conditions imposed by the Planning Commission on September 11, 2014 (to limit office use on the top two floors for the subject property) and informed you that office uses below the third floor’ are a violation of the Planning Code.

On November 25, 2014, Dario Jones, Enforcement Planner conducted an interior site inspection of all stories in conjunction with Mr. James Reuben, attorney for the property owners. Aside from the basement, the site visit confirmed that all stories of the building are occupied by office uses.

To correct the violation, the Planning Department required the owner, Orb Partnership c/o Rabin Worldwide Inc., “to immediately proceed to cease and desist all office uses located below the third-story” and, in order “to prevent further enforcement action and avoid accrual of penalties,…to provide adequate evidence to demonstrate that either no violation exists or that the violation has been abated.”

Orb Partnership/Rabin Worldwide, Inc. had 15 days from the April 2 date of the notice either to correct the violation or to appeal the NOVP. Beginning on the following day—by my calculation, April 18—“administrative penalties of up to $250 per day” would begin to accrue. The NOVP says that “the penalty amount shall be paid within 30 days from the final date of the Notice of Violation.” The Planning Department also charged Orb a fee of $1,238 for Time and Materials to cover the cost of correcting the Planning Code violations.

On Friday, April 24, Simi told me that Planning had not received a response from the owners, and that the department was in the process of assessing penalties at $250 per day and would soon issue a notice of penalty to responsible parties. If after issuing a notice of penalty, Planning still hears nothing, the department will contact the City Attorney’s office.

According to Simi, as of Monday, April 27, Orb Partnership/Rabin Worldwide had paid no penalty.

As of Tuesday, April 28, the building’s property manager, Polatnick Properties, was running an online ad that described the spaces on the first and second floor as offices.


Rabin Worldwide, founded in San Francisco more than 60 years ago and still run by the Rabin family, is one of the world’s largest industrial auction houses—which is to say, liquidators—with an office in Manchester, England, as well as in SF. To this multinational corporation, the financial penalties associated with its violation of the city’s Zoning Code must seem like very small potatoes.


And viewed in isolation, Rabin’s offense at 660 Third Street looks like small potatoes, when it’s compared to some other violations of the Zoning Code—say, the Academy of Art’s rampages around town.


But the lawbreaking at 600 Third Street and, what’s more relevant, the Planning Department’s failure to enforce the city’s land use laws at that address, especially those relating to PDR, should not be viewed in isolation. They should be viewed in the context of the planners’ habitual inability and/or unwillingness to protect the city’s industrial lands, and their more general failure to enforce the Zoning Code—a double dereliction that plays a major role in the continuing drastic shrinkage of San Francisco’s industrial sector and the blue-collar jobs that go with it.


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  1. Online gaming is legal in many jurisdictions

    Why should a company running a legal business not continue to operate without any problem?

  2. Most of the anti-whiteism comes from other whites here in SF. Properly college educated whites would complain about the wrongly educated whites.

    People like to look down on other people for some reason, the properly educated whites are paternalistic towards minorities and poor whites, and have a healthy disdain for wrongly educated whites.

    People make of life what they put into it, if you don’t put much into it, fighting the cops takes the place of all those missing years of self improvement.

  3. You’re right I am not aware of the anti-white racism in SF, but I would imagine it is directed at the perceived rich white folks driving the others out of their community. America is a very racist country and SF is a microcosm of that. Most of the racism has a root in socioeconomic inequality and lack up upward economic mobility. The riots against young black men killed by police all over the country just scratch the surface of what is really happening in our country

  4. But what about all the other poker websites which have continued to operate without any problem?

    How do you explain that?

  5. wcw, you may be correct that that is the factor that drives Tim’s bias. It’s an interesting viewpoint.

    But I think it is more a matter that the left is structurally biased against whites and for non-whites. Informed people like you and I see that as racism. But I am not sure that they do.

  6. Yes, I agree with your statement that Tim’s bias may amount to bigotry where his bias clearly appears to oppose laws broken more by whites than by non-whites.

    Why would a reasonable non-biased person ever slant and skew in that way?

  7. No, that was all the web sites operated by all the defendants in the US v Pokerstars et al case. Pokerstars and friends were breaking the law, the US sued, and the settlement was not small.

    Online gaming is legal in many jurisdictions. The US is not in the business of shutting down legal businesses.

  8. Right. It may constitute a certain amount of bias not to appreciate all communities perfectly evenhandedly. Not being perfectly evenhanded is not, however, bigotry on its face.

    Please stop making comments that are themselves bigotry.

  9. That was one website that was conveniently under North American control.

    What about the dozens of other paid poker websites that Americans use that are operating with impunity because they are beyond US jurisdiction?


  10. Gary is under-employed and has made clinging to a rent-controlled hovel his life’s work.

    Why would you ever think that you can reason with such an inveterate loser?

  11. Mary, since you do not live in SF you may not realize how far anti-white racism has gotten here. It has gotten to the point where an allegation that a neighborhood is “becoming more white” is actually used as an indication of something bad happening

    Why is that a positive healthy thing?

  12. Something similar happened to my bank when it was seized by federal regulators. I tried logging into my account, but I was redirected to a message from the feds.

  13. Simple:

    A) Hover over my comment and click the ‘-‘ in the upper right quadrant of my comment. You won’t see it any longer.

    B) Don’t respond to my posts, distorting what I wrote or asking questions.

  14. The graphic above is a screenshot of what poker players saw in 2011 after the US seized various online gaming domains.

    Not grasping technical or legal details doesn’t change the past.

  15. Honestly Phil it is apparent that you have absolute contempt for the publisher and writer of this website and scorn/hatred for most of the commentators why do you spend so much time here? You are of course free to express your opinion but I’m sure the slant of the article would be the same if the building owners were African, Indian, Asian or Latin Americans.

    And the point of the previous article was not to support illegal immigrants but to give a break to those under 18 brought here by their parents who would like to become law-abiding citizens of the US. In a nation of immigrants isn’t that the American way?

    And get real – all you have to do is look at the front page of the NY times or watch fox news for five minutes to see the incredibly racist slant of most mainstream American media news coverage against African Americans. This is alternative reporting . Go start your own right wing web site if you want.

  16. Yes, any company that violates a local law can potentially get into trouble. However, if that company has no physical presence in that locality then it may be difficult for that locality to enforce its laws.

    The other factor is whether that other country recognises US court judgements. If it does, then collection of damages or enforcement of an injunction may happen. Otherwise, not.

    If it is important enough, then the State Department may get involved, diplomacy used and even a military intervention or CIA action is possible.

    But not for zoning issues and local regulations. That is why many municipalities are struggling with the sharing economy. Often there is no there there.

  17. Nor is it clear that the Italian company would have been on solid legal ground had it not complied. I suspect that any company is on shaky legal ground if it ignores local laws.

  18. You misunderstand Tim’s rule. He never said you cannot post with two names on the same thread. He said only that once you start using a new name, you should not go back and use an old one. That is what he means by:

    “One identity at a time”.

    I agree with his rule and disagree with your interpretation of it

  19. Again, it is useful to understand what kind of behaviors lead to retribution. Ratting out your peers is what the most spiteful things anyone can do, and police informers often meet with a grisly end.

    Worth remembering.

  20. Fantasizing about violence and the murder of someone with whom you disagree on a comment thread is never reasonable.

    Anyway, I reported you to Disqus.

  21. Tim made his rule about posting here very clear. He insisted that people only use one account name at a time

    He never said that people are stuck with the same name forever and, indeed, marcos has changed his account name a few times. So probably have others

  22. It is entirely reasonable to point out what kinds of behavior might expose a person to increased risk of harm.

  23. jhayes, in that example you cite, the website was in Italy and they chose to voluntarily comply with the CA.

    It is not at all clear what the SF CA could have done had they not voluntarily complied.

  24. How do you seize something that is physically located overseas, other than sending in troops, which i am fairly sure we won’t be doing to enforce local zoning rules?

  25. Can you describe to me how American law would shut down a website from Iran?

    Can you describe to me how Iranian law would shut down a website in the US.

    Explain why the two cases are different?

  26. There’s no place for tacit advocacy of violence just because someone doesn’t agree with you.


    “I suspect we might read about his abused, multiply-stabbed corpse being found in some alley in North Beach. And the police note that no neighbour can recall seeing what happened, with a glint in their eye.”

  27. What does Iranian law have to do with the demonstrated ability of the US to stop websites operating in other jurisdictions?

  28. How does support for good reporting in articles that evince no evidence of overt bigotry equate to that?

  29. Gary, so you know, Phil79 is at least Sam’s third alias since Tim set up the new system. There may have been more. He keeps one name until people get sick of it or call him out.

  30. Sam, your assertion that foreign based companies are beyond reach when they operate off the Internet is not true. Not long ago, a foreign based company developed an app that allowed it’s owners to sell access to public parking spaces. The city attorney complained and the app was pulled from the market.

  31. Same question. How do you seize a foreign domain?

    You might get lucky. But US laws stops at the water’s edge. Some Americans have a hard time getting that.

    Do you think Iranian law can restrict your freedom in the US?

  32. It is easy to support good reporting.

    It is hard to support casual bigotry, or screeching, unsupported assertions of imaginary, antiwhite racism.

    Please stop both. This is offensive and tiresome.

  33. Two problems with that

    1) Given that it was a settlement, you have no way of knowing how much MORE the settlement would have been had the other entity been under US jurisdiction

    2) What about all the other offshore poker sites that are not owned by a North American entity and which continue to operate free and clear of the pesky aspects of US law?

    And you still haven’t answered my question – how do you enforce the collection of a US debt outside of the US if the other party refuses to settle with you?

  34. There’s not much about which to think. Amaya bought Rational last summer. Amaya is Canadian. Amaya will make sure Pokerstars pays the last $97m, if it hasn’t already.

  35. How is it easy for you to support zero tolerance towards white collar crime and a total indulgence towards non-white crime?

  36. Tim is a good reporter, whose articles evince no evidence of overt bigotry against any group. That’s easy to support.

  37. So you really really want to live in a world where neighbors are encouraged to rat on each other?

    Presumably that is because you are incapable for forming normal relationships, and because all your neighbors hate you

  38. I am asking you to explain why you are giving tacit support to a writer who appears to hate all crimes committed by whites and yet who appears to hate no crimes committed by non-whites

  39. OK, so you admit that you do not know how a virtual web-based entity can be controlled? Very good.

    Tim has said no such thing

  40. Explain how you collect from an entity in a nation that does not recognize US court judgements.

    Think carefully before you answer.

  41. Expressing bigotry is a really poor way to protest racism.

    It may express a certain amount of racism not better to appreciate nonwhite communities. Violent crime rates may be lower, but are still too high, especially in poorer areas. That omission is not, however, bigotry on its face.

    Please stop making comments that are themselves bigotry.

  42. Living next to an AirBnB rental that was badly managed, I’m sure many neighbors are very aware of vacation rentals in their buildings or on their blocks. Start with those.

  43. I didn’t realize that you are Sam. Among your many issues, that include being a racist and a bigot, is that you think that something can’t exist because you don’t want it too.

    Other jurisdictions have sucessfuly fined and gotten compliance from AirBnB.

    I’m no longer engaging you in conversation, so blather to yourself. Apart from constantly changing your screen name, Tim made it clear that posting too many comments (such as you have done here) is something that he doesn’t want. I’m not responding to you again. You really are a pathetic human being.

  44. No it is not ugly at all. It is the opposite of ugly. What it says is that the ideological pursuit of some transgressions without an equal pursuit of similar or worse transgressions is indicative of a level of prejudice and bias that has no place in a dispassionate debate about ethics.

    When will 48Hills ever worry more about murder, rape, violence and illegal immigration (typically non-white perps) than it will about some obscure zoning issue (typically white) that not one person in a hundred gives a crap about?

    And why arent you calling Tim out on his racism?

  45. This article is more news and reporting than opinion. What little opinion it expresses is reasonable and dry: the city generally and Planning particularly should do a better job enforcing the rules.

    By contrast, a comment in a thread about code enforcement that out of the blue brings up disfavored groups of people as violators the author plans to turn in is, on its face, bigotry.

    It is ugly. Please stop.

  46. LOL. And how much of that has been collected?

    You appear to not understand why business entities domicile themselves beyond US jurisdiction

  47. This article is expressing strong and unfair dislike and prejudice against the building owners.

    Care to explain why that is OK? But criticism of illegals is not?

  48. I’m picturing Grandma proactively ringing her neighbor’s doorbells to tell them that her daughter in law from France is coming to visit so please don’t try to earn a quick $5k off of her.

  49. San Francisco needs more development, not less.

    The world needs less bigotry, not more.

    Please do not casually express strong and unfair dislike and prejudice against people or ideas.

  50. OK, so you confirm my allegation that there is no current cause of action? Excellent. QED.

    And I like your idea of private suits against illegals and parole/probation violators. Great idea.

  51. wcw, I will stop as soon as you stop your casual bigotry against those who wish to develop their buildings


  52. Yeah, I wonder what it is like to be Gary, who seemingly has no agenda or purpose in life other than to spy on his neighbors and rat them out for minor code violations.

    I suspect we might read about his abused, multiply-stabbed corpse being found in some alley in North Beach. And the police note that no neighbour can recall seeing what happened, with a glint in their eye.

    On the subject of which, have you seen the movie “Murder on the orient Express”?

  53. I agree, wcw. My top priorities going froward are to sell out the illegals I know for cash payments, and low the whistle on a couple of black guys I know who are on parole and dealing pot.

    Thank you for your support

  54. You are intentionally jousting at straw persons to create a red herring against which you joust. This would be new legislation to combat corruption.

    Now that you mention it, perhaps it makes sense open up a private attorney general cause of action for criminal cases perpetrated by government officials such as the Police and Fire chiefs and the City Attorneys who cover for Members of the City Family In Good Standing.

  55. People respond to incentives, which truth underlies the existence of whistleblower payments.

    Why shouldn’t the government pay people who help enforce the rules?

  56. @garySFBCN –

    Just a couple of problems with that, um, “solution”.

    There is no support for leaving short term rentals as illegal. Campos begins every speech by saying that there is a need for short term rentals and he himself has proposed legislation that regulates them. So you are pretty much alone on that one.

    So if I understand your plan it is that Airbnb is required to turn over their data but with their competitors we’ll set up a system that incentivizes neighbors to turn against each other for big bucks. Great plan! Can’t wait to see it in action.

    And exactly how are the neighbors going to know where the short term rental was placed? I thought we couldn’t know such stuff unless the hosting platform turned over all their data? Remember??

  57. OK, so you support citizen vigilante movements to fight all crimes and violations, and not just the ones that you personally dislike?

    So if I sell out the illegals that I know to ICE, you are fully 100% supportive of that? Good to know.

  58. Where have you been? There are ‘citizen patrols’ on the border and guardian angels in cities.

  59. Ah, OK, so you now admit that you have no existing right to a private action, as I stated?

    Should we assume that you are not promoting this putative new legislation and license for acts of murder, violence or rape? But only for technical infringements of obscure zoning regulations?

  60. It is very simple, new legislation creates a new cause of action in code that allows for a private right of action to sue on behalf of the public interest when the government can’t or won’t.

  61. Can we have a “citizen’s arrest” equivalent for illegal aliens, people who go on disruptive demonstrations, black parole and probation violators as well?

    Or do you only want a “citizen’s arrest” capability for transgressions that you personally dislike?

  62. As always you miss the point. In the situation I describe, SF could do nothing to Airbnb.

    Of course they could go after their own residents if having a guest for the odd night is considered a mortal sin. But Airbnb would be immune.

  63. You want to live in a world where a big brother government pays neighbors to rat each other out?

    How about 5K to anyone who rats out an illegal alien?

  64. I find it more interesting that 48Hills demands zero tolerance towards technical infringements of zoning and yet would happily give a pass to every illegal alien, non-white criminal or protester.

  65. Yes – the Academy of Art’s long-standing violations that were not addressed for years until Sue Hestor and her ilk turned-up the heat is a good example of why we need a “citizen’s arrest” equivalent for violation of building/zoning codes.

  66. Gee, I guess the technology doesn’t exists that could sort though gigabytes of AirBnB postings to find those in SF who are renting.

    You can run to Switzerland, but you can’t hide.

  67. You can’t be that thick to think that this is impossible.

    Anyway, AirBnB is the symbolic bad guy. We can start there are, develop a good model based upon our experience and move to others.

    For sites other that AirBnB that may be doing his: Offer $5k rewards to people who report homes/apartments rented out on other sites, payable from the $30k finds to those homeowners/landlords or renters who illegally rent vacation/short-term rentals.

    Of course, I only thought about a solution for 20 seconds. If I really was going to propose something, it would require a committee of experts a few weeks to develop something that can easily be operationalized.

  68. We see a lot of complaints about laws the Planning Department does not enforce. Does it not enforce any laws?

  69. I never said it was not legal. I said that having some skin in the game is an important legal precept.

    That implies not that you cannot try (anyone can sue anyone for anything – this is America) but that you are highly unlikely to prevail.

    You demanded the right to sue and then claimed that you can already sue. Which is it?

  70. I said that we need a right of private action. You said that would not be legal. I provided a citation for how it would be legal. Then you claim that it is already legal. This is the anatomy of a red herring troll.

  71. No, you seem confused. First you demand the right to sue privately and then you claim that you can already do that.

  72. The old school lefties in SF have never really gotten their head around the internet. It’s just too modern and vague. They seem to think they can command and control a web-based business as if it were a physical location or resource.

    And all this despite the fact that the US still cannot stop the offshore poker sites and states still fail to collect sales tax off internet purchases.

    If I ran Airbnb, I would move the entire operation to Switzerland and then give SF a big fat old fnger

  73. @Gary-

    Could you please share your plan for getting a Chinese version of Airbnb to hand over all their data??

    Or, for that matter, a French or German version?

    Exactly how are you planning to stop people with homes in San Francisco from just using sites that could not care less about your ballot measure?


  74. LOL. If you think you already have the right to sue about this, then what are you waiting for?

    Good luck with that.

  75. How could the city stop a virtual business like Airbnb from operating in SF?

    They could perhaps compel Airbnb to move its physical location from SF. And the city could go after its SF-resident hosts.

    But it cannot stop a website from operating in another jurisdiction. The US government has been trying to stop on-line poker sites from operating for years, with little success.

    I suspect that many Planning technicalities are not enforced because the people don’t consider it to be a priority

  76. It is a fairly fundamental precept of the law that in order to bring about a civil action, you have to have been in some way personally harmed by the incident.

    You are not harmed by some businesses operating from a building

  77. What we need is a private right of enforcement action so that if the City won’t enforce the law, members of the public can sue for damages.

    We need a private right of action not just for this, but for a wide range of cases across departments where enforcement is pocket vetoed.

  78. We don’t need the mayor – we need one or two fierce supervisors on the board and measures on the ballot about business (and business models) that flaunt the law.

    Start with getting something on the ballot that forces AirBnB and like companies to hand-over all their data for rentals in San Francisco. Or, if they do not want to comply, they can stop doing business in San Francisco.

    Anyone can make a buck by breaking the law, but that is now how our country is supposed to work.

  79. What a load of crap. A building provides jobs, tax revenues and services for the city and all petty-minded spite-mongers like Hestor can do is try and destroy what has been built.

    Pathetic. She really is interfering and evil.

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