City officials confused by political scion’s attachment to troubled residential hotel accused of pushing out tenants
[dropcap]The [/dropcap]first thing you’d notice was trash. Everywhere. There was garbage scattered across the front staircase and overflowing from every trash bin in the building. That’s what you’d see when you’d open the door.
Then things got worse.
“The kitchen: You could smell it. Trash was piled up and you could tell it had been there for days. The smell permeated through the walls,” recalls Juan Garcia, an organizer with the Mission SRO Collaborative. The garbage and rotting food “had been there for days.” Not surprisingly, residents complained of vermin, and Garcia and his nonprofit colleagues watched roaches scurry across the walls.
The city has, for years, been slapping violation after violation on this residential hotel at 1312 Utah. Since 2015, there have been three dozen complaints registered with the Department of Building Inspection; and a jaw-dropping 248 reports made to 311 regarding this building. The city has worked with any number of managers and representatives in attempts to abate myriad habitability problems. But for every problem that’s fixed, another crops up. Sometimes more than one. “It is,” sums up one frustrated official “a pit.”
City employees have seen blood on the walls. There were months on end in which every last resident of this single-room occupancy hotel was forced to use just one bathroom. City workers have responded to overdosed drug-users. They have watched raw sewage flowing into the streets. Little here surprises them anymore. Until quite recently.
That’s because, per multiple city sources, Paul Pelosi has been dropping by the offices of the Department of Building Inspection, and established himself as the city’s point person for this troubled hotel.
“We didn’t think it was him,” said one city official, “until we saw him.” Another confirmed he recognized the 49-year-old entrepreneur and son of Rep. Nancy Pelosi “because of the pictures of him at Mar-a-Lago. We thought, ‘Oh shit. It’s really him.’”
If the son of the House minority leader rubbing elbows with the Trumps on New Year’s Eve was surprising, so was his appearance on behalf of this crumbling hotel.
“We are baffled,” summed up a longtime city employee.
[dropcap]Paul [/dropcap]Pelosi told Mission Local he started dropping by 1312 Utah St. a decade ago to get foot massages from the now-deceased prior owner, Edward Feng, at Feng’s Holistic Healing Center.
Undercover federal agents would, in 2011, buy pills from Feng there which contained arsenic and hallucinogenic chemicals derived from toad poison. Pelosi downplayed this; Feng’s business, he said, wasn’t about the herbs and the arsenic. It was about foot massages (On this, he and the Food and Drug Administration differ).
From these beginnings, Pelosi said, he befriended Feng’s daughter, Karena. He said he has helped her navigate the confusing landscape that comes with the city calling out rampant violations on your residential hotel. “I helped her clear one, like, a month ago,” he says. “It’s ongoing.”
But here’s where things get odd: Go through the ownership documents of this building and you feel a bit like you’ve been slipped some of that hallucinogenic toad poison. This structure has passed between a goodly number of entities — and yet, per the documents, no transfer taxes have been paid. As far as the city is concerned, the owner is still Karena Feng.
But that’s highly uncertain.
Pelosi said he has no equity in the building and never has. “It’s not my business,” he told us. “I never got paid. I never expected to get paid.”
And yet there he is, listed in 2015 as the Chief Financial Officer of Feng RE, Inc., the entity that owned 1312 Utah.
Oh. That. That was when Feng gifted him 20 percent equity in the building on his birthday, Pelosi said. He says he refused this offer — it was just too kind and, frankly, the building was hemorrhaging money. Pelosi noted that he had hoped to help Feng unload this money-loser. “At one point,” he says, “I was going to list it for her.”
But it appears Pelosi actually did list this building for Feng.
A purchase agreement is included as an exhibit in this 2016 lawsuit against Feng RE, Inc. by an outfit called West Edge Halo, Inc. This signed agreement from July 2015 denotes Paul Pelosi as the “listing agent” in a $4 million sale. When the sale allegedly went sideways, the result was this lawsuit.
Ownership of the building last year changed from Feng RE, Inc. — of which Feng was the sole shareholder — to Feng 24, LLC.
Parsing LLCs is complicated, but this much is clear: On a December 22, 2017, deed of trust, the signature for Feng 24, LLC is affixed by “West Edge Halo, Inc., A California Corporation.” The name Georgina Rodriguez Ramirez appears below. She is listed by the Secretary of State as the CEO of West Edge. She is also listed as the manager of Feng 24, LLC.
Ramirez and her colleagues have represented themselves to the city as the owners of this building. When Mission Local called their number, the receptionist said multiple businesses were housed at the site. The receptionist confirmed that Feng 24, LLC “owns 1312 Utah.” She also confirmed that “Gina owns Feng 24, LLC.”
Ramirez did not return multiple calls. She appears to have signed several thousand dollars worth of checks paid to the Department of Building Inspection in March, drawn from a Feng 24 LLC bank account.
The address for the LLC listed on the check is a single-story Fremont home that, on Google street view, appears to have a loveseat sitting in the front yard.
If you’re confused as to why Feng 24, LLC, apparently has nothing to do with Ms. Feng, join the club. City officials late last year wrote to Feng asking her who owned 1312 Utah. She curtly wrote back “I was robbed of my property with title transfers and fake liens. Due to settlement, the new owners agreed to have my name on title without authority.”
Feng has not returned the city’s subsequent communiques following this eye-opening response.
Pelosi claims that he has been acting on Feng’s behalf well into 2018. Well, that’s fascinating.
[dropcap]All [/dropcap]of the above intrigue came as news to the folks on the ground at the Mission SRO Collaborative. Their interest comes because of what they describe as extreme negligence in remedying terrible conditions for this structure’s inhabitants.
On a recent walk-through, Garcia says he saw an empty room that was supposed to be a lavatory. There was no tile, there was no plumbing: “All I saw was wood.” This restroom has gone unfixed for around half a year, leaving some dozen or so tenants only one place to defecate in the entire hotel.
At a March 29 Department of Building Inspection hearing, plumbing inspector Steve Pinelli excoriated the hotel’s management. “It’s been five months! I can do a whole house in five months. By myself! I don’t care if I started from the ground up. Five months? To do one bathroom?”
Pinelli gave them seven days to fix the problem. Garcia says it has still not been taken care of. Either through out-and-out negligence or by design, he and his colleagues at the Mission SRO Collaborative believe this hotel’s management is making life unlivable for the residents of this hotel — which, tellingly, sits half-empty — in hopes they’ll leave and make room for higher-paying tenants. Others in the city echo this assessment.
In fact, in 2016, an anonymous complainant accused building management of knocking down walls between rooms to create larger rooms and installing kitchenettes — a surefire sign of aiming to bring in higher-paying residents, and clear-cut violations of this city’s Hotel Conversion Ordinance. A building inspector could not verify this complaint, and the case was dropped — but city officials tell Mission Local that this hotel is “a maze” and that building inspectors are not cops who can demand to see what’s going on behind locked doors.
Fast-forwarding to March’s hearing, where the manager at 1312 Utah — somewhat inexplicably — told Pinelli that “They’re going to start putting kitchenettes and restrooms” into rooms (no permitting has been granted that would allow this). Furthermore, she said there are fewer rooms in the hotel than the city accounted for because “we broke ’em down.”
“They are flipping that hotel,” says Garcia. “They are waiting for the remaining tenants to leave so they can fix up those rooms and have a complete set.”
Following the March 29 hearing, the violations on 1312 Utah were referred to the City Attorney’s office. The focus of its forthcoming investigation will be on habitability issues and code-compliance. But, unavoidably, determining just who owns this building will also be on the agenda.
You need to know who to sue, after all. If it comes to that.