In what amounts to a party-line vote in San Francisco, the Planning Commission today rejected an application to convert to condominiums a building where low-income and senior tenants were evicted a decade ago.
The three commissioners appointed by the Board of Supervisors voted to deny the conversion permit. The three appointed by the mayor voted in favor.
There is one vacancy on the panel – a mayoral appointment – so the motion to approve failed 3-3.
Commissioner Frank Fung, a mayoral appointed, then moved to continue the application for two months to give the mayor a chance to fill the vacant slot.
That motion also failed, 3-3.
Voting in favor of the condo conversion, which increases the value of the property, were Fung, Joel Koppel, and Sue Diamond. Voting no were Kathrin Moore, Deland Chan, and Theresa Imperial.
The commission staff had argued in favor of the conversion, saying that the group that bought the building in 2004 had not “intended” to evict their tenants for the purpose of condo conversion.
A speculator group called North Beach Partners LLC bought the building and evicted all the tenants. That group sold it to the current owners as a Tenancy in Common, a legal process that allows unrelated people to buy a building together then allocate one unit to each of them.
But TICs are less valuable than condos, because condos can be sold as individual units without group financing or approval. And condos are not currently subject to rent control.
The supervisors have made clear in the past that buildings where seniors were evicted under the Ellis Act should not be eligible for conversion to condos.
And it’s clear that there was an Ellis Act eviction here. Some of the former tenants have died.
But the planning staff argued that enough time had passed, and that the current owners didn’t do the eviction.
Still, commissioner Chan said that the conversion would violate the city’s Master Plan guidelines by removing rent-controlled property. Commissioners Moore and Imperial agreed.
The vote sends a clear message: If you buy a building that has been cleared by the Ellis Act, don’t expect the right to turn it into condos. The city can’t stop Ellis Act evictions, but it can make them less profitable by saying that those buildings get no favors, ever.
Unless the applicants wait another 18 months, when the mayor’s appointees have a majority, and reapply.