A landlord’s plan to remodel and possibly house parolees at his 15th Street property on the corner of Albion, has upset neighbors and raised questions about a city policy that allowed the owner to secure a building permit without alerting neighbors of his intentions.

Far from a not-in-my-neighborhood battle, nearby neighbors said, the area already supports its share of low-income housing including Valencia Gardens and more than nine single room occupancy hotels within a three-block radius. Moreover, they point to the upcoming opening of Dolores Hotel, a 59-unit building three blocks away that will house residents in transition.

“Don’t call us NIMBY’s (not in my backyard),” said Kathleen Johnston, a homeowner of ten years on Albion Street. “Look what we have in our backyard: I am not living in Pacific Heights. I don’t have a gate on my front door.”

Barak Jolish, the owner of the building at 1731 15th St.,  plans to renovate the former Buddhist monastery and lease it to the Recovery Survival Network, a nonprofit that manages nine single-room-occupancy hotels in the Mission, SoMa and the Tenderloin.

Lou Gordon, the self-described politically-connected executive director of the Survival Network, said plans for the building are still in flux.  At present, he said,  they imagine the tenants will be parents, referred by state and city agencies such as Children and Family Services, who are trying to retain custody of their children.

He added, however, that no final decision has been made.  In his proposal to the planning department, Jolish said he intended to house parolees in transition or possibly students.

The city issued Jolish a building permit on August 8 that allows him to move ahead with improvements on the three-story 20,000 square foot building. Those include adding new bathrooms, community kitchens, a new elevator, rooftop and to increase the number of rooms from 27 to 52.  Only one tenant per room would be allowed,  Jolish added.

After discovering the plans, a group of residents, the Albion Neighbors, filed to appeal the building permit  that will be considered on Sept. 21.

The appeal is an attempt to stop the project, said neighbors, who are also upset that without notifying them, the city would allow “vulnerable populations,” such as parolees and foster youth, to move in.

No one argued that such housing isn’t needed, but they argued that the neighborhood already houses many disadvantaged residents and has only recently has achieved some equilibrium.

Planning documents show the owner was aware that his plans would trigger objections.

In correspondence with the planning department he wrote that he wanted to avoid notifying the neighbors because he was trying avoid a drawn out process that would delay renovating the building and offering affordable housing to a vulnerable population.

“The purchase and renovation of this building will be extremely expensive,” Jolish wrote to the planning department on June 18, 2010 while he was in the process of buying the building for $2.1 million. “It would be specifically difficult to absorb carrying costs during a drawn-out planning process involving public opposition to a group housing use.”

In the letter, Jolish asked the zoning administrator if his project required him to notify his neighbors. “I specifically envision providing housing for residents participating in social services programs (e.g., parolees transitioning back into society or adult former foster children), or student housing,” he wrote.

Jolish said this week that he was simply not ready to notify the neighbors because he was still unsure about the kind of use he wanted for his building.

The San Francisco planning code does not require notification because the project was previously used for  “group housing” for monks and the use – group housing – will not change. Neighbors contend, however, that a project of this scope should require  notification.

As a result, only two neighbors received a notice about the plans and those arrived only after the permit had been issued in August, Johnston said.   The plans, however, had been underway for nearly a year.  Jolish filed for the permit on November of last year, according to planning documents.

Neighbors say that without notification, they’ve been left with little recourse other than an appeal.  “He’s left us with an appeals process and that’s it,” said Albion resident Chris Kapka.

For his part, Jolish said he has been trying to communicate with the neighbors this month -to no avail- to resolve any issues before the appeal hearing.

The appeal hearing is set for Wednesday Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. At City Hall room 416.

Building Could Change the Dynamics of the Neighborhood, Neighbors say 

For their part, neighbors  fear more housing for vulnerable populations could upset a recovery that has come slowly.

Valencia Gardens, which lies across the street from the building, was once infamous for being a place where drugs and violence abounded. The 260-unit mixed-income housing complex has made many improvements since being remodeled in 2006.

D.J. Brown, a resident of Valencia Gardens since 2006, said longtime residents of the area have told him about the horrors of the site.

“I heard it compared to the Coliseum where they threw the Christians in to fend for themselves against the lions,” he said. “It was so dangerous, so crime-ridden, so drug-infested, so horrific that an old timer in the neighborhood told me finding a parking space in this neighborhood was never a problem, finding your car when you got back here was.”

“It was a hellhole,” said Johnston of Albion Street, who is a mother of 14-month old twins.

Today that is no longer the case. Developers and urban planners credit the Valencia Gardens new design, which includes individual house numbers, porches, stoops and walkups, that create  a sense of ownership.  Nowadays you can hear children playing on the street and Johnston said she has come to know her transient neighbors and can even walk her dogs outside at 11 p.m.

“You can’t house a felon at Valencia Garden’s but you can house one across the street?” Johnson asked, noting the housing authority rules that prohibits it.

Despite the continuance of nuisances like litter and some drug use, there is a level of co-existence in the neighborhood, Johnston said. She added that this could be disrupted if there is a new influx of parolees to the neighborhood.

Moreover, just down the corner near 15th and Valencia there are three single room occupancy hotels.  Three blocks away on Mission Street between 16th and 17th Streets, there are another six of the Mission’s 47 single room occupancy hotels.

Instead of housing more transitory residents, Johnston said,  the area needs more market-rate housing.  The latter, he said,  would be a better fit because it is crucial to have people who have a vested interest in improving the neighborhood.

“If you are bringing parolees in, it’s institutional housing,” she said. “It is very different than group housing.”

For his part, Jolish said developing condos and market rate housing was way too expensive. Moreover, he said,  the nonprofit is committed to improving the neighborhood, he said.

“Even if it is a parolee program,” Jolish said,  the Recovery Survival Network runs “very successful programs and don’t have any complaints.”

Gordon, from Recovery,  declined to say whether some of the new tenants would include parolees.

“We are not going to put a bad population there,” Gordon said. “It’s going to be clean and sober. They are working and earning a living wage, otherwise we wouldn’t put them in there.”

He also said they would provide 24-hour on site management security.

“Whether monks were there before or veterans or parolees, the building is the same building,” he said. “You can’t make law or make any public policy based on the individual.”

Still, the residents have been appealing to the Planning Commission and appear to have the attention of Commission President Christina Olague.

“I think at some point it might be good for us to have a conversation, either here or in public hearing perhaps,” she said. “Because I do think the we need to look more closely at the conversion of some of these spaces to programmatic uses.”

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. As a Mission resident for many years, I am sick and tired when people get called NIMBYs for raising legitimate concerns/objections to things going on in the neighborhood. You can’t even get more street cleaning (which we really need) without voluminous protests. From what I can see this part of Mission has more than its fair share of SROs etc. City Planning should strive, in fairness to all sides, to spread these types of facilities throughtout the City otherwise you get ghettoization.


    My name is Lou Gordon and I am the founder and Executive Director of Recovery Survival Network (RSN). We operate our nonprofit agency about 3 blocks from 1731-15th St. I also am a neighbor and have the safety and security of the neighborhood in mind daily. We have operated our agency from 3012-16th St. #201 for the past 14 years and I can honestly say we have had a positive impact on one of the roughest corners in the Mission District, 16th & Mission.

    I want to assure everyone in the neighborhood that there was never any intention of moving forward with any specific target population until such time as we had a chance to get the support of our neighbors. The property sponsors and I along with the Chairman of the RSN board of directors discussed many potential target populations, but none were decided upon during the early stages of our discussions.

    I was shocked to hear about and read some of the comments, objections and misleading statements and literature being distributed; describing the intended use as housing for “potheads and parolees” at that location before ANY population was chosen.

    All housing RSN currently provides is under a Clean & Sober Living Agreement between each program participant and our agency.

    RSN provides critically needed services to various populations including: the homeless, Veterans, Welfare-to-Work Families, Former Foster Care Youth and ex-offenders. We served Valencia Gardens and provided weekly deliveries of bread and food and computer training at 360 Valencia to the residents of that housing development through a contract with Mission Housing Development Corp.

    We are community servants and safety and consideration for our neighbors and our clients have always been at the top of our agenda. I can honestly say that the Jolish Family are very good people and they have been wonderful to our agency and to the Mission neighborhood.

    We at RSN have an open door policy and we believe the services we provide have helped make our streets safer from the reduction of repeat offenses committed by clients we have served that have criminal histories. Again there was no determination as to the target population to be housed in the group home located at 1731-15th St.

    RSN is not and has not been involved with the business part of 1731-15th St. so we had no idea of the restlessness of the neighbors until I got a call from a reporter who came to interview me.

    Please accept this explanation and communication as our effort to help resolve any conflict regarding notification issues for the intended use that has developed in which Recovery Survival Network (RSN) had no idea was a problem.

    In conclusion, RSN is only here to help those that need help. Our Mission Statement is simple “Helping those who want to help themselves”. Hopefully the neighborhood will continue to embrace our efforts. If anyone has any questions or concerns we are happy to answer them.

    1. Aren’t you the tenant of one of the Jolish’s other properties? Didn’t Jolish explicitly state that he envisions providing housing for “parolees transitioning back into society” on his request for a letter of determination? if you and Jolish were so concerned about the greater good of the neighborhood why did Jolish explicitly state that he wanted to “avoid a drawn out planning process involving public opposition to group housing”?

      1. Hi Missiongirl, I am in fact a tenant at their 16th St property and I have been in this building longer than they have owned it. I posted a realistic response and I had no idea there was any controversy.

        I have had a very nice visit from one of your neighbors and she was very nice to talk to. Please feel free to call me. I have nothing to do with the business, permits, or planning with regards to that location. There was never any omission implied or requested of RSN. I believe this line of concerns need to be addressed by the Jolish Family. they are very nice people and i think the world of them.

        No one made any definitive decision about the population to be served and yes many early thoughts were lightly discussed but NOTHING went past a brief mention.

        Again, In conclusion, RSN is only here to help those that need help. Our Mission Statement is simple “Helping those who want to help themselves”. Hopefully the neighborhood will continue to embrace our efforts. If anyone has any questions or concerns we are happy to answer them.

  3. I like to drink hard and smoke pot too. I don’t like back room deals, skirting code and disingenuous developers who think they pull a fast one on this community.



  5. “What you people are not realizing is that the reason these SROs are being crushed into this area is the city going out of their way to make them cheap here and they don’t fear a fight from the neighborhood. This area is where the city sweeps it’s problems under the rug. ”

    This is exactly right. The city is essentially turning Mission into their ghetto, concentrating SROs into a small area so as not to upset the rest of the city. It’s absurd, and everyone should be fighting this.

  6. I have lived the upper-middle class life most of my life, over-sized warehouse loft, sports car, traveling, single family house with a pool, you know. I have also sleep in Delores Park, Elea Hill-Hutch, MSC South – on a mat on the floor of a gym, “Next Door” shelter and worked myself out of a situation that I was put in due to circumstances beyond my control. I can still remember how over joyed I was when I moved for the shelter system in the city to the Mission Hotel, an SRO at 16th and So. Van Ness. I had a key. I had a key to MY room, that was a big deal. A BIG DEAL.
    Today I live about 300 feet from 1731 15th Street, in subsidized housing that without I could not live in this city. I am the target population for this proposed new development. For those of you that have never sleep in a park or shelter, or lived in a SRO, it is not something you can truly understand what it is like from a book, you have to live there to understand.
    This to some may sound ridiculous or hypercritical, but I support the Albion Neighbors concerns and have attended there meetings. I do not have an issue with an SRO, “Group-housing”… I have a problem with the project sponser. As a former successful business professional to another professional, Mr. Jolish has set his own path by making a continuous disposition to, and to put it in print on his application for permit, to do what is needed to not notify the neighborhood of his intent shows by his actions that he has NO interest in the community or the neighborhood. I have not had the opportunity to meet Mr. Jolish in person. Although regardless of what he may say now, a year later after being caught, his actions have already spoke for him. Mr. Jolish is the NIMBY in this situation and lives on upper Castro and not in the Mission. A question to Mr. Jolish, Would you want someone to slide under the radar, move into the upper Castro neighborhood and place this in YOUR back yard without any notice? I’ll will wait for your response.
    If your intention were truly honorable, you would have been proud to share your plans with the neighbors.

    Do you agree that Mr. Jolish is the NIMBY here?

    1. Misionman,

      I am the Mr. Jolish you’re writing about. I understand your position, and would like the opportunity to meet with you. I can explain things from my perspective, show you my other projects in the area, and get your input re the building use. I’ve certainly made mistakes in this process, but there is a lot of misinformation out there about my intentions.

      You can reply to this post if you don’t have my contact info. I’ll figure out a way to get it to you.

      1. Mr. Jolish

        I believe that we will be meeting on Monday and we will discuss this at that time.

        Thank you for your reply.

  7. Did anyone read that the building will likely house “parents who are trying to retain custody of their children”?! Is this really a threat to anyone? The alternative is worse: more children growing up in foster homes, institutions or on the streets. How safe will we feel with a new generation of at-risk youth being incubated?

    1. If the space is really going to be used for “parents who are trying to retain custody of their children” as RSN (the tenant) states…then how is it possible that “only one tenant per room would be allowed” as Jolish, the property owner states? something is very suspect here. no neighborhood notification, fast-tracked permit. seems like jolish has been around the block and is trying to slide another sro-like project into a neighborhood where he thought there wouldn’t be any objection, and if there was, it would be too late.

      1. Hi Missiongirl,

        I’m the project sponsor. To answer your question, the RSN clients would need to establish stability first–i.e., before they get their kids back. Once they do that, they would move out to be reunited with their kids.

        That said, we haven’t even reached the stage where we pick the resident popluation. I’m willing to work with the neighbors to find an organization and people the neighbors would find acceptable.

        Please feel free to contact me. If you don’t have my info, reply here and I’ll figure out a way to get it to you.

    1. That was my FIRST thought. Bring back the Buddhists or Buddhist clones 🙂
      And by the way I DO live next door. The issue for many neighbors was lack of notification and unfortunately it got out of hand from there. I believe we are on our way to working this out through dialogue.

  8. “I love how most folks that cry “NIMBY” are never the ones who actually live next to one of these things.”

    Baseless conjecture. You don’t know where anybody on here lives. I live on a block in the mission with a lot more SROs than 15th and albion (oh yeah it’s so hood on that side of valencia), and I know that Albion Neighbors sounds more concerned with their property values than with the well being of this neighborhood. If you are concerned with retaining the character of this neighborhood, why not have a campaign against the fact that development on Valencia has turned that side of the neighborhood from the mission to the marina? People who were raised in this neighborhood can’t afford to live here anymore, yet your great cause is fighting against some low income people having a place to live?

    1. “that development on Valencia has turned that side of the neighborhood from the mission to the marina?”

      So? I know it’s easy to disparage (“Oh, it’s *so* Marina” /rolleyes), but would you prefer that neighborhood stay that way? I’ve lived on 15th, and if the choice is between Four Barrel/ LittleStar vs AbandonedWarehouse/ DrugHousing, I’ll take the former.

      As for housing not being affordable, that’s what happens when a place becomes livable and attractive–people want to move there. The other option is to make the place unattractive to live– lots of cheap housing in Bayview and TL.

  9. This is an SRO, plain and simple. It will bring more drugs and danger to the area, and will also be a scary place to live in.

  10. Yes this is much needed housing – why don’t they ever put this much needed housing in the Marina or Pacific Heights? The Mission has plenty of this housing.

    1. Um…its no mystery. which can non-profits with limited funding who are providing community services better afford: The Marina or the Mission? Property values in our higher income neighborhoods make it impossible to create housing programs there. simple.

  11. The area for sure has its share of market rate condos as well…and plenty of neighbors have already been priced out.
    New affordable housing is definitely needed – especially housing that supports folks in transition.

    True, there are also other transitional housing complexes in the area. But the city is in such need of more…It would be nice if this housing can additionally be built in several other districts

    1. ya it has a “share” but by no means anywhere near as many condos as most other areas. What you people are not realizing is that the reason these SROs are being crushed into this area is the city going out of their way to make them cheap here and they don’t fear a fight from the neighborhood. This area is where the city sweeps it’s problems under the rug. Those that accuse us of “NIMBY” have no idea what it’s like to live in the area and tolerate more of this than any of you self-righteous folks ever would. Everyone only thinks about the prospects of one or two recovering felons, but when you roll the dice to many times in the span of a few blocks you’re risking health and safety for all the recovering folks, not to mention driving out the folks who are working to improve the community.

  12. Nice whitewashing of the fearmongering this group is doing. I don’t see any mention here of the “hard drinking / pot smoking hipsters” or the giant “Parolee warehousing?!” title that appeared on the flyer they delivered to my house. Not NIMBY? Bullshit.

    1. I love how most folks that cry “NIMBY” are never the ones who actually live next to one of these things. Try living directly next to one and a block from two more. Then come back and tell me about “NIMBY”.

      1. I live a block away from this site. I’ve lived within a block or two of half a dozen SROs, valencia gardens, etc for several years now. I guess I technically haven’t lived immediately next door to an SRO, if that’s what “one of these things” is, but pretty goddamn close. I walk past them daily to go shopping, or get to bart. So don’t presume to talk about me like I’m some preachy outsider, ok?

        Look, maybe in their heart of hearts they’re not NIMBY, but a group calling itself “Albion neighbors” protesting a development on Albion with inflammatory rhetoric about parolee warehousing and the bugbear of “pot smoking hipsters” (ooooh scary!)… walks and quacks like a duck.

  13. There are already far too many SRO’s, projects, etc. in this area. Plus, housing parolees in an area such as 16th and Mission is just asking for trouble — there’s temptation all around. Why not go ahead and build place some of these facilities in areas that are not so saturated already? Or use the facility to house students. This is not a black/brown issue as some like rico would point out… it’s an issue of balance. The same way rico would not want this area to be overwhelmingly white, it should not be overwhelmingly ex-cons, homeless, drug addicts, etc. Go anywhere else in SF apart from SOMA and the tenderloin and you will not see such a high concentration.

    1. I live less than 50 yards away on Albion St and Jolish hasn’t reached out to me? Why do I get notices about liquor licenses on 16th St and nothing about this?

      1. I received a notice today regarding Permit #11MFF-0134. This is a notice to inform me that a “Mobil Food Facility” will be parked on Valencia Street and will be selling “Falafel Sandwiches, Fries, Soda, Iced Tea & Various Drinks”. Oh my. What a danger that could be. Some using a parking space on Valencia to sell food to the public.

        But I am not notified of 1731 15th Street.

        @ Scott Sanchez, the rubber-stamper of the permit for 1731 15th Street. What is in this for you?

  14. They have a point– that end of mission is already heavily concentrated with SROs. Not sure if this is the city’s way of ghettoizing this population, but that’s what’s happening.

  15. Felons who have served their time are not criminals. Not providing them the services they need to readjust to life outside of jail is a sure fire way to send them back to a life of crime however. The objections to this plan is a classic NIMBY move. Who cares if there are already projects or SROs in this neighborhood, obviously, this plan is intended to serve a population that is not currently being served. Instead of fighting housing for released convicts, I think Albion neighbors and other such groups should be looking at our failed drug policies which send so many people of color to jail in the first place and completely ruin any chance of a shot that they may have at making it in our culture. While white kids can smoke pot, snort coke, and shoot heroin without getting caught, if you’re black or brown, you are immediately suspect and often searched without cause, because high arrest rates are good politics. I’m so sick of hearing people blame the victims.

  16. seems like this area already has it’s fair share of SRO/supportive housing. I’m not sure how it’s more respectful to concentrate all SRO/supportive housing in one area.

  17. this kathleen woman sounds like a heartless gentrifier who needs to leave my neighborhood. ever thought of the fact that OTHERS have lived here, too, for decades and decades? and maybe some of these “vicious ‘felons'” you speak of might have been FROM THE HOOD here and perhaps had a bit more difficult of a life than you, miss JOHNSTON? sickening. everyone deserves respect, opportunity, and a pinche bed to sleep on. disgusting, get out of OUR neighborhood!