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Monday, October 25, 2021

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News + PoliticsThe story Ahsha Safai doesn't tell in his campaign...

The story Ahsha Safai doesn’t tell in his campaign for supervisor

He's a real-estate speculator, house flipper, and gets almost half of his money from the real-estate industry -- so why is he getting progressive support?

Ahsha Safai is running for supervisor in District 11 as a labor activist who has the support of some of the city’s unions – and is building some support among what is generally considered the progressive community. John Burton has endorsed him. It’s possible that the Democratic County Central Committee, which progressives fought hard to control, could wind up giving him at least a secondary nod.

He’s well known among city insiders as a former city employee and Housing Authority Commissioner, and ran against incumbent John Avalos four years ago.

But there’s a lot about his record that hasn’t received much attention. Safai is a real-estate speculator who made a big chunk of cash buying a house that was in foreclosure and flipping it. He makes most of his money – more than $100,000 a year – from a consulting firm that works with landlords. Nearly half of the money he has raised so far, our analysis shows, comes from the real estate industry.

And while he doesn’t list Mayor Ed Lee among his endorsements (nobody’s listing Lee these days since he’s so unpopular) Safai has long been a Lee supporter and donated to the mayor’s 2015 re-election.

Here are some things we’ve found researching Safai’s history:

In 2004, he was sued for fraud in a real-estate deal that wound up with Safai buying a house that was in foreclosure at what the suit alleges was an artificially low price and flipping it for a profit of close to half a million dollars.

According to the lawsuit, Safai and his associates took advantage of a woman who was facing the loss of her property. Mary McDowell, who was working as a parking control officer in San Francisco, was living at 78 Latona Street in the Bayview when the bank that held her mortgage filed a notice of default.

She owned four other properties that were also in foreclosure.

Two real-estate sales people arrived at her home unsolicited in December, 2003, and told her they would buy her property and pay her enough to cover the notes on the other places she owned so she could avoid all the foreclosures.

The lawsuit alleges that the real-estate broker didn’t properly list the home on the Multiple Listing Service but instead brought McDowell an offer for $375,000 – “far less than market value,” according to the complaint. McDowell was “frightened and intimidated” into accepting the offer, and the house was sold to Ahsha and Reza Safai.

McDowell eventually dismissed the case, her lawyer told me, because “the defendants were dragging this out forever in court and she decided she had had enough.” Attorney C. Brent Patten said that no court ever determined whether Safai or the others had done anything wrong.

Safai in legal filings denied all the allegations.

But whatever the legality, Safai wound up buying a house that was in foreclosure at what turned out to be an excellent price. In 2005, according to the real-estate service Property Shark, the median sale price for housing in that neighborhood was $336 a square foot. Safai paid $177 a square foot for the 78 Latona St. property.

City records show that he and Reza Safai spent $60,000 renovating the place, and sold it less than a year later for $800,000.

So Safai was part of a group that bought a house in foreclosure from a woman who was in financial trouble and flipped it quickly for a short-term profit. That could be perfectly legal – lots of people have made lots of money buying properties in foreclosure and selling them for a quick profit.

But house-flipper is not part of his public resume.


Safai describes himself as the political director for SEIU Local 87, and had played his union connections into a number of endorsements. But forms he filed while he was on the Housing Authority Commission show that the vast majority of his income comes from his consulting firm, Kitchen Cabinet Public Affairs, that did work for one of Lee’s main consultants and at least one high-end landlord.

Safai’s economic interest statements for 2012 and 2013 show that he earned less than $10,000 as political director for Local 87, but more than $100,000 as principal in Kitchen Cabinet Public Affairs.

On his website, he describes that outfit as “working with nonprofits, community-based and political organizations throughout the Bay Area building community and revitalizing neighborhoods.”

And indeed, some of his clients include Local 87, the Teamsters Union Local 350, and Mission Housing Development Corp. Also on the list: SST Investments, a landlord that operates high-end apartments, and Left Coast Communications, the consulting firm that ran the somewhat legally dubious “Run Ed Run” campaign.

Clients also included Jacobs Engineering and KJ Woods Construction.


— Safai is the real-estate industry’s guy. A 48hills analysis of campaign contributions filed so far shows that nearly half his money – 45 percent – came from real-estate development, construction, landlords and landlord lawyers, and big downtown companies.

Among his supporters: Janan New, director of the Apartment Association; David Gruber, who holds the landlord seat on the Rent Board, Russell Flynn (one of the biggest landlords in the city), David Wasserman (an eviction lawyer), Oz Erickson (a big developer), Mary Jung (lobbyist for the Association of Realtors), and Jim Lazarus (who works for the Chamber of Commerce).

The fact that a candidate takes money from special interests doesn’t always mean that candidate will do what they want. But it’s pretty clear from the preponderance of money that the people who have been making big money from evictions, displacement, and the destruction of neighborhoods think Safai is the one who will represent their interests at City Hall.


— He is a supporter of Mayor Ed Lee. Not a single politician in June used the mayor’s endorsement; in fact, polls show that more than half of San Franciscans would vote against someone associated with the immensely unpopular mayor.

Safai doesn’t list Lee’s endorsement on his website either. But he’s clearly a fan: In 2015, when 46 percent of the voters chose candidates with no name recognition, no electoral experience, and no real campaigns over the incumbent, Safai donated $250 to the Lee campaign.

That suggests that he endorses the agenda that the mayor has promoted: A tech boom that has created the worst displacement crisis in modern history.

Safai didn’t return messages left with his campaign. He will try to avoid a lot of these issues as he seeks progressive support. But it’s all there, on the record. And it’s worth thinking about.

Research assistance for this story was provided by Don Ray and Sofia Aguilar.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Most of the older properties that you see have withstood a fair number of earthquakes. I would worry a lot more if I lived in a highrise near the Millennium tower or any of the new, as yet untested, buildings sitting on landfill than I would if I were in an older wooden structure that has already been tested and is still standing.

  2. So, this is, IMO a completely true statement, but it also is a symptom of a much larger set of problems, which, as a lot of people have pointed out, has been going on for decades. So I don’t think that this statement is actually in conflict with what a lot of other commenters are saying. This city, I feel, is very ungenerous and unwilling to make tough calls. There is a lot of talk about what should we do for the homeless – which people wrongly think of as being only the poor schmucks you see on the street – but nobody wants a homeless shelter near them, for instance. Here is a proposal: we have 2000+ unreinforced masonry buildings in the city. These buildings are beautiful and historical, but deadly dangerous in an earthquake, and WHEN the big one hits, they will be the source of many lives lost and injuries sustained. Let’s start replacing these buildings with affordable, multi-dwelling units. Let’s think about wiser ways to use the space we have. I don’t want Hong Kong or Manhattan either, but there is a lot of room between here and there.

  3. I feel like the Mission is just one of the problem children of SF that gets all the attention, while the well-behaved children are left to fend for themselves. I get it, problem children need and demand more resources, but surely there is room for D11 and other neighborhoods to be a priority at least sometimes. If you looked at the news you’d think the only SF n’hoods were in and around downtown and the Mission. We work hard, too. We have families and needs. Why is D11 so neglected? The conspiracy theorist in me suggests that the neglect is intentional to drive away speculators and help keep the district affordable :/ If that’s so, I sure wish people would be more creative about their “solution.” 🙁 I worry that my vote is to choose between obstructionism and laissez-faire capitalist speculation.

  4. I have noticed several closet “moderates” who are pretending to be progressives. As someone else points out, Josh Arce is using the same strategy. In fact, the “moderate” faction in the recent DCCC race called themselves the “Progress Slate.” I guess they thought people might get confused and then they were progressives. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the progressives are in ascendance, and the “moderates” are struggling to regain power.

  5. The tech boom is largely responsible for the displacement crisis. A lot of small and large political decisions to favor tech over other jobs was a major cause of the housing shortage, starting with Airbnb and the tax-free zone. When the courts overturned Prop M they killed protection for a lot of existing affordable housing and lead to the removal of height restrictions through the legislative process. Greed put the nail in coffin.

  6. Anybody can file a complaint. Proving it is another matter. Many in the media are very good at reporting on the complaint but not its resolution, which comes later, and usually with less fanfare. And when you say it was “settled without an admission of liability,” that allows folks like 48 Hills to “read into it” and then spin it in whatever way suits the agenda of the moment.

  7. <<o. ✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤:::::::!be840p:….,…

  8. I think that speaks more towards the enormity of the project, and the bonanza of back room profiteering it will bring.

    I don’t see that as some crowd winning design that even a hardened NIMBY could support. It’s utterly stupid looking, and I don’t trust their ability to error in function over design. But to your point that there are projects NIMBY’s will accept, I don’t think that’s a revelation to anyone who lives in the City instead of just reads the blogs and comments. We’ve seen major projects right and left and nobody tried to stop them.

  9. But current project management isn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about how it more or less sailed through the approval process because of it’s design but also how the vision was communicated, compared to the decades long process for Yerba Buena Gardens.


  10. Yerba Buena exists though. Transbay Center is far from open, and it’s already earning headlines like “Ousted Transbay Center exec exits with big perks” and “Deja Vu: Transbay Center Needs Another Bailout”

  11. Every project has problems. But something the size of Transbay Center could have been snagged for decades – like Yerba Buena Center.

  12. Transbay Center isn’t built, or without problems, so hopefully you have better examples of projects flowing.

  13. <<o. ✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤:::::::!be317p:….,….

  14. I’ve written this several times: If you want growth, it has to be smart growth. And that starts with having a target population – say 1.5 million, and then creating a robust plan to reach that goal. Infrastructure and services have to come ahead of the development, not afterwards as an afterthought.

    Then the vision needs to be communicated to San Franciscans. There will always be a group of people who will object to everything. But an exciting vision and plan would be received well by some who you would call NIMBYs. For example, see how easily the Transbay Center project flowed, given it’s immense size and overall footprint I thought for sure it would have been stalled for decades. But the vision and models worked well, as did meeting facilitation, which cannot be left to planners. It is a special skill and it is sorely needed in SF.

    This is doable. As for NIMBYs, they have a point. Most of the builds in SF are just ugly and many are inappropriate. Over the years, it was the activist community who prevented the completion of the Embarcadero Freeway to the Golden Gate Bridge, the plan for a golf course in the Embarcadero, the plan for a parking garage under Washington Square, the plan to build a bridge to Alcatraz, the plans for major chain retail and restaurants throughout the city, and dozens of other idiotic projects. Instead of focusing upon high-density corridors with transit hubs (as we seem to be doing now), for years development was spotty. And that brings me back to ugly and inappropriate buildings. Buildings on Market could be taller and plazas should be included between buildings. It should be a massive, grand boulevard. What is happening now is episodic variances as and NO vision. It is uglier than shit, does not flow well and should be renamed the boulevard of lost opportunities.

    I think the first step in moving ahead is recognizing that even though we think we are ‘the city that knows how’ we are a city of inept politicians and planners, which may be by design to make somebody money. We need help, preferably from highly skilled adults.

  15. I agree with Geary. Who cares if he has ties in real estate, he seems to give a crap about District 11–where people own homes, drive to work and have families, some going back a few generations. John Avalos has been a terrible supervisor, trying to force solutions that might work in the Mission on a District that is VERY different. We could use some development in D11 vs John Avalos hose biggest accomplishment will be to close down a major freeway on ramp so working people get an extra hour a week added to their commutes.

  16. Progressives aren’t the problem. Rather, it’s people who think they are progressive by opposing new growth because they have arbitrarily declared the city full. Those are the types who say things like “leave us alone.”

    Putting a NO VACANCY sign at the city limits isn’t a progressive response to population growth. Refusing to take real action to ease the housing crisis isn’t progressive, it’s not even conservative, it’s absolutely regressive. Like it or not, people want to live in San Francisco. It’s not the worst problem for a city to have, but if it’s not managed properly, it can result in runaway housing markets which unfairly burden the poor and benefit the wealthy.

    There are many options between staying in the mess we’re in and becoming Hong Kong or Manhattan. I agree that we need to push for as much affordable housing as possible and curb displacement of longtime residents and vulnerable populations, but we should also be looking at how to increase market-rate housing to help offset additional demand from a growing population.

    Viewing the issue in a less black and white manner is one step towards being a real progressive. It shouldn’t be “us-vs-them” when it comes to people who’ve lived here for years and built a life here and people just arriving, eager to build their own lives. You have a valid point that other areas in the region also need to build more (lots more) and not just count on the densest areas being able to absorb all the growth, but you must realize that people cannot live in homes that do not exist and many areas in the suburbs like Palo Alto are more expensive than places in SF.

  17. Krauss is astroturf. They also cut and pasted their comments on the bonus density vote, with verbatim replies in Hoodline and Curbed.

  18. It is the geographical version of wealth inequality and injustice that companies don’t spread the wealth to other areas in the country that desperately need economic development.

    It almost seems as if they don’t want to mingle with the middle class and poor.

  19. People need to, want to and should be able to move to places of economic vitality such as the SF/Bay Area — and there should be sufficient reasonably-priced housing in these places that would allow them to enjoy (and retain) their fair share of the economic opportunities available.

  20. Castigate ‘progressives’ for allegedly preventing building in San Francisco because it is is an environmental issue and then respond with the same bullshit response (I’ve got mine) when I rightly point out that the rest of the country needs to catch-up to San Francisco’s density before we are considered the cause of environmental issues.

    When I was younger I really wanted to move to Manhattan. But I couldn’t afford it. I sure as hell didn’t whine about it nor did I blame it upon “progressives” or anyone else.

    And the voters have voted several times to limit heights and restrict building, because they have a vision of San Francisco that isn’t shared by those who want to turn San Francisco into Shanghai or Hong Kong.

    About 99% of the rest of the US does not limit buildings. Move there and leave us alone.

  21. It’s hilariously easy to become a bee under Foginacon’s “fact-free” bonnet.
    Not something I set out to do, but a nice bene nevertheless 🙂

  22. I’ve seen you sociopaths borrow from posts I’ve made, so what ideology is that? What City policy are your foaming about – Mayors with an open door policy to builders isn’t enough for you career lunatics?

    See, what is obsolete are trollish two bit agitators who cross paste their rants across forums, and think nobody notices.

    And you had no problem with Ad Homs in your repy to Redmond’s post, or Hiker_SF.

  23. I live in D11 and I just hope whoever gets elected pays more attention to the district than Avalos has. You see him standing outside the BART station shaking hands around election time and then that’s it. I like to think that he spends the rest of his time hanging out in the Mission and ranting about the Blue Angels.

  24. Oh great, it’s a messaging vomit dump from astroturf SFBARF, the loser brigade making the best argument for a moratorium since 2013.

    One might think they get Pokemonz every time they work these phrases into a post.

    “We” are aware you’re a fraud, and “We” include those who would normally stand up to absurd talk that scapegoates techies, or builders, or landlords – Oh, wait, you hate landlords. See, never mind, you scapegoat plenty.

    People like you should be social pariahs for the worthless agitators you are. Who in their right mind rolls into a City, or a suburb of a City, and decides they’re an expert on local politics in 3 years? Self entitled shit disturbers, that’s who.

  25. What was the outcome of the fraud lawsuit?

    Approaching someone who invested in real estate, and got underwater on multiple properties, then misrepresenting how they would help her, isn’t morally right, but as with most of these stories, we’re not getting the full story. Safai still had to settle the debt, and in 2004, in the Bayview, it doesn’t sound like he got the property for a song. You don’t get market value when you’re doing a short sale.

  26. Q.E.D. — True to form “hiker_sf” has spoken like a true “I’ve-got-mine” Faux-Progressive.

  27. Density-wise, apart from about 20 other cities in the nation, the REST OF THE US needs higher density. But hey, don’t bother yourself with facts. Watering half-acre lawns and dumping them full of chemical fertilizers is good for the environment.

    Yeah, San Francisco isn’t the problem. Come back and blame us when the rest of the US reaches our level of density and we’ll listen.

  28. “A tech boom that has created the worst displacement crisis in modern history.”

    The “tech boom” has not created the housing crisis.
    The housing crisis is a political creation; it has been caused by 40+ years of poor, anti-housing policy.
    The arrival of “tech” and the last migrants to the city are merely the “straws that have broken the camel’s back”.

    When it comes to housing there is a massive cognitive disconnect with the Faux-Progressives — such as Mr. Redmond — between their supposed values and their actions when it comes to the creation of adequate amounts of housing.

    From the outstanding “Better Institutions” website, the following effectively communicates this disconnect that has lead directly– via incredibly poor development policies over the past 40 years — to the current housing crisis in SF and in other self-proclaimed Liberal/Progressive jurisdictions:


    We are (supposedly) pro-environment…

    …but anti-growth and density (e.g. SF’s “build-it-somewhere-else” Sierra Club)

    We are (supposedly) pro-immigration…

    …but anti-migration (i.e., don’t move into my neighborhood.)

    We are (supposedly) pro-equity…

    …but anti-housing (NIMBY’s and those fearing change, that somehow their “quality of life” will be degraded.)

  29. He sounds a lot like Josh Arce in the D9 race. Backed by Mary Jung and the realtors as well as our lovely Mayor yet pretending to be progressive.

  30. I think you mean Hillary Ronen and you don’t have to look far for her wrongdoings, but 48 Hills is above writing gossip and innuendo to imply that a candidate is hiding something:

    Also according to the article the woman who owned the property had 4 other properties and managed to keep hold of those. So it is one speculator making money off another.

  31. True, They bought the SFBG name so that they can make their endorsements there.

    And Y. is right — there is no way that this is ‘opining’:

    “But it’s pretty clear from the preponderance of money that the people who have been making big money from evictions, displacement, and the destruction of neighborhoods think Safai is the one who will represent their interests at City Hall.”

    I’m sure that Tim is diligently looking for dirt on Hillary Rosen so that he can enlighten his audience with a similar piece on her.

  32. They are not endorsing, nor contributing to a political campaign. They are not even opining. They are reporting. A non-profit can report factual matter about political figures, whether or not it can be used for or against their political campaigns.

  33. How can you be called a nonprofit when you write an extremely slanted profile like this? This is not a news story. Someone should report 48 hills to the IRS.

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