Claudia Tirado (right) speaks at protest outside of Google I/O. Photo by Leslie Nguyen Okwu.

After interrupting Google I/O to protest her potential eviction from a building owned by Google lawyer Jack Halprin, Claudia Tirado was escorted off stage and told us she had a surprisingly friendly conversation with Google’s senior VP of communications, Rachel Whetstone. In an email message to Mission Local, Whetstone confirms her promise to help out Tirado.

“I promised to look into the situation for her and call her back, but not today as we have I/O going on,” said Whetstone in her message.

Whetstone says she’s holding onto Tirado’s contact information and their conversation will continue at a later date.

Tirado, a third grade teacher and mother of a small child, has lived at 812 Guerrero, the building owned by Halprin, for eight years. She is one of six tenants facing displacement if Halprin goes through with his plans to convert the property to a single-family dwelling, though tenants have previously accused Halprin of being disingenuous about his plans.

“Why doesn’t he buy a regular house, why does he have to take seven units off the rental market?” asked Tirado of her landlord during a protest outside the property in April.

Those questions and more are likely to be the subject of any future talks between Tirado, Halprin, and, now, Whetstone.

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. Why do rent controlled tenants who already exploit segregated rent controlled landlords, think that the landlords are indentured to them for life ? It’s madness….

    1. that is an incredibly stupid statement based in no reality at all. learn the law first, fool, then write your half assed comments on the internet.

    2. oh pity the rentier. if you don’t want to be in the landlording business, don’t go into the landlording business. sheesh is it that hard to understand? and i say this as a small property owner for rent control.

    3. Um, because they pay the mortgages of the landlords.

      The tenants current rent is factored into the price of the building. If you buy a building full of 80 year olds paying low rent, you’re going to get a bargain. Then all you have to do is kick them all (while guaranteeing your place in hell) and get your obscene profits.

      Now I will ask you…why is it only property owners get the private gains when it takes a whole community of renters, police, fire, service workers, city infrastructure and gardeners to make a neighborhoods gentrify and produce insane housing costs? Why do you property rights fanatics never acknowledge the collective role that makes things nice and functioning?

        1. Show us the numbers for SF landlords losing money. Let’s quantify the actual risk. Judging by the state of the rent controlled rental stock inSF the ‘commitments’ are generally taken very lightly. That is also a trove of shocking stories in a supposedly world class city in unprecedented (and skewed) ecnomic boom.

          Being a rent-controlled landlord is no different then entering into any business with price controls or deep regulations — plenty of examples of that. And no one is crying …

          Or is nothing short of > 30% profit good enough? I hear drug running and sex trafficking are quite lucrative …

          1. The buildings I have looked at recently are giving a running yield of about 5% annually. That is half the long-term returns from the stock market, which takes a lot less effort for an investor.

            But the point isn’t so much whether a landlord makes money or not. Most do, if only because of the tax breaks and the price appreciation – neither of which result directly from the rental business itself.

            But to gain a better understanding, you have to realize that investors have many choices for deploying their capital. So they assess running a rent-controlled building in SF against a non-rent-controlled building elsewhere, or versus investing in stocks, or some other venture.

            If the risk/reward profile is more favorable elsewhere, then it makes sense to Ellis and sell your building, and reinvest the proceeds elsewhere.

            So you should not be asking whether a particular LL is making money so much as asking whether his return is at least as good as any other investment that has a similar amount of risk?

            And that is the dilemma for those who advocate for stricter rent control. It’s been getting stricter for 35 years and yet all the tenant advocates do is complain about the “crisis” in rental housing.

            The ultimate irony, of course, is that being a landlord can be a much more profitable business here precisely because rent control has constrained supply. Be careful what you wish for.

          2. Well, the risks for a > 30% profit should be high! otherwise it’s free money. In fact, as you say, between tax breaks, price appreciation, and multiple options to evict tenants, the SF landlord risk is actually quite low. Which means the profits are too high …

            The problem is that the rents and prices are being buoyed by a fast influx of affluence that apparently is bubbling with free money. So it must take lots of willpower for long term landlords to not evict to cash in on the profit …c

          3. You need to explain where you get that 30% ROI from. As I’ve demonstrated, the running operational return is more like 5% per annum.

            Anyway, it doesn’t matter what you think an investor’s return should be. It only matters that the investor is happy with his return relative to other comparable investments.

            And if he is not, rent control only really gives him one option – Ellis. So you really cannot complain either way.

            If you want more landlords, you have to give them better returns. People with millions to invest are generally not stupid.

          4. 20% has been average appreciation in SF year over year, and most landlords are in the game for much longer. So 30% profit for eviction+sale is hilghly conservative.

            More landlords? Only the decent, human, responsible kind …

          5. Wrong, B2TB. A 20% CAGR would imply a doubling every four years. Appreciation has been good but nowhere near as high as that.

            One building I know has been in the same hands for thirty years and is now worth about ten times the price paid for it. Ignoring any improvements made, that represents a CAGR of 8%. Not bad but nowhere near your fanciful figure.

            And of course you only ever realize that return when you sell. It isn’t a component of the income that you need to fund the property. If you buy a building now, your costs will probably amount to 5% a year, and your rents will probably be 5% a year. So that is an effective net return of zero. It’s only viable because of some favorable tax rules and assuming that appreciation continues forever and that you can get out when you eventually want to.

            But, again, none of this really matters. What matters is that enough investors find those returns and risks to be acceptable, compared with other options.

            If they do not, then the universe of rentals in SF continues to decline, which is bad for tenants but presumably good for those landlords who stick it out.

            Decent, human, responsible landlords are quite common in places without rent control. The biggest profits in SF accrue to those landlords who are aggressive and pro-active. That is an inevitability given the nature of rent control.

            The phrase I hear the most from other landlords? “No good deed goes unpunished”.

  2. If Mr Halprin’s plan is indeed to convert an existing multiple unit residential building into a single family residence as the article suggests then this definitely going to require a conditional use permit and a hearing in front of the Planning Commission. As such a project (i.e., a reduction of dwelling units) is contrary to the City’s policy and its General Plan, I do not see Mr. Halprin being successful here; especially given the “agravating” circumstances of tenant displacement.

      1. That’s exactly correct. And the “convert the bldg into an SFH is what the protestors are claiming. His chances of getting that approved, even if here was no Ellis eviction, is practically nil. No way he’s dumb enough to seriously try that. It’s either a tic play, or he is tired of his pesky tenants, and can afford to keep bldg off the rental market for 5 years. Then he renovates the units, collects market rate, and he’s set.

        1. The irony is that this property owner is doing exactly what opponents of the Ellis Act claim they prefer. Those opponents don’t like speculators buying buildings specifically to Ellis them and make a quick profit.

          But that isn’t what is happening here at all. This is a genuine case of someone buying a rental building, hoping to happily co-exist with this tenants, and then finding that those tenants are resentful and troublesome. And so he gives up the rental business through Ellis, exactly as that law intended.

          So the anti-Ellis propaganda that it is only “speculators” who are the villains here and that they still want small landlords to be able to exit via Ellis is shown up to be a sham. The reality is that they oppose all evictions no matter how legal, justified and non-premeditated.

          The google employment here is a red herring and irrelevant. If Halprin switched employer tomorrow the material facts would be unchanged.

          1. That’s some fuzzy logic. Of course you have to make some sweeping accusations about the politeness of the tenants couched without any actual knowledge to make your silly claim. Where’s this proof of pesky tenants? He’s already evicted two units (for him self and his ex-partner) but then didn’t stop there and filed an Ellis. So you’re for the displacement of seven families so this one guy can live there?

            I’m glad that those with the most odious opinions just make stuff up; it really makes their arguments look weak.

          2. The beauty of the Ellis Act is that no reason is required. And an affirmative defense of retaliation is not allowed.

            I did read somewhere that some of his tenants took part in the protest about Google buses, which would hardly endear them to their landlord, don’t you think?

    1. Yes and no. If Halprin wants to formally convert a seven-unit building into a SFH then he would need to apply for permits to do that. There is no law or rule saying that cannot be done. But one of the factors that the city considers is whether housing units are being permanently destroyed.

      So the application may fail but it depends on other considerations as well, and such mergers do happen.

      But of course the owner would be free to use the entire building as if it were one single house anyway, by simply removing some doors and (probably) taking out all those surplus kitchens and making other uses for them. He may be stuck with the 7-unit designation but he certainly does not have to utilize the building in that way.

      After a few years of such de facto use as a SFH, it’s entirely possibly that the city would then just rubber stamp the reality.

      One other thing I have been noticing recently is where a developer buys, say, a regular 2-unit building and converts it into one huge home and a tiny in-law. That allows the claim that it is still a 2-unit building but is in effect converting it to a SFH. The fact that the city is approving such arrangements indicates that the problem can be finessed.

  3. What does Whetstone have to do with it? Google isn’t purchasing the property and kicking people out, Halprin is.

    1. I think the author probably assumed the connection would be obvious, but I’ll explain. Whetstone is the VP of Communications, so part of her job is managing Google’s image. She can work within Gooogle to pressure their executive (Halprin) to stop an activity that is damaging Google’s image in San Francisco. Obviously they can’t force him to do anything, but refusing to stop doing something that’s getting your company’s name in the headlines (and has already gotten him sued — the first OMI was illegal because Halprin lied about why he was doing a family-member OMI) in a very negative way is obviously not great for one’s career. So that’s why Whetstone is stepping in.