“Four judges have looked at this, and four judges are in agreement” regarding scheduled Friday ouster of aged woman and her many tenants


From Nancy Pili Hernandez’s front door, you can smell the wild grasses of Bernal Heights Park. You can see them, too, but it’s the windborne scent you notice. It’s beautiful.

Hernandez, a tenant and room manager here since 2002 — along with 78-year-old erstwhile homeowner Kathleen Needham and more than a dozen other long-term tenants, including four school-age children — continues to oppose the sale of the property at 117 Ripley St. They contend, and have for years, that Vanguard real estate agent Shelley Trew and mortgage broker Steven Herbert pressured the elderly Needham into signing papers she didn’t understand, and which she immediately attempted to have nullified. Needham is currently under power of attorney — her affairs are now being managed by a woman named Maureen Uribe. Needham, per Hernandez, has recently been hospitalized.

In addition, Hernandez points out that in 2013, when the original papers were signed, Needham was diabetic, often “foggy,” and possibly entering dementia; her former lawyer, Yosef Peretz, describes Needham officially as “physically and mentally deficient.” Regardless, on August 10, everyone here is legally bound to vacate the property. Until that day, however, they repeat what they’ve been saying for five years: That their home, 117 Ripley, is not for sale.

But in the eyes of the law, that’s not their call to make. Herbert remains the legal owner of 117 Ripley, and is in the process of conducting physical appraisals at the property. Mission Local was unable to contact Herbert; messages left for his attorney have not been returned. Notices have appeared on all tenants’ doors, reading, in part, “VACATING ALL UNITS BY AUGUST 10, 2018 … As you know, this is not Kathleen’s idea. She does not want to leave, but is bound by legal contract to vacate and deliver the property vacant.”  The courts have repeatedly sided with Herbert and Trew — who didn’t answer messages requesting comment.

Needham’s original suit from 2013 contains 11 counts against Vanguard, including fraud and intentional deceit, undue influence, and financial elder abuse. The original deal, made five years ago, involves a $1.2 million sale of the two-unit property in the famously “hottest neighborhood in the country.” Court records say Trew sold the two units next door, 119-121, which are the same layout as 115-117, for $1,650,000 at about the same time.

Ripley is a steep, quiet street only two blocks long; on the 100 block, a row of on-trend mini-mansions share a chic, “fortressy” aesthetic and conceal panoramic, two-bridge views from sight of the street. But 117 is different: Its exterior might be called “late 20th-Century functional,” with peachy-yellow siding and a brick entryway. It isn’t even built out to the property line. Needham’s family bought the bare hillside lot decades ago. “I live here and this is my home.” Needham stated in a 2016 court document. “I built this house in 1981 with my brothers.”

A young supporter adds her palm print to the mural adorning 117 Ripley Street. Photo by Hiya Swanhuyser.

It’s different inside, too, says Hernandez. It houses musicians, artists, teachers, staff at the Good Samaritan Resource Center, Accion Latina and Precita Eyes. It has served as practice space for independent musicians and as an organizing place for the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition — Nieto was gunned down by police only steps away, on the ring road in Bernal Heights Park. The residents of this property, in other words, are deeply committed to local culture and community. “It’s where Carnaval starts and ends every year,” tenant and art teacher Joe Colmenares told Mission Local in 2016. Hernandez emphasizes that children live here, too: students of the San Francisco Unified School District and City College. “If they lose their San Francisco residences, they won’t be able to continue at school.”  

Although court documents state that Needham initially thought she was just finding out how much her home might be worth, multiple judges have ruled that she agreed to a binding sale. “She got the deal she signed off on,” says Mara Rosales, Needham’s current attorney. “I wasn’t there in 2013. Had I been, I might have helped her negotiate a better deal.”

According to Rosales, “We have done everything we could possibly humanly do. You name it, we’ve tried it.” Her law firm, she says, has contacted community groups, government entities, and non-profit tenant advocates. And so, in spite of the “Defend 117 Ripley” signs that have hung in the windows since 2013, in spite of public protest, and in spite of the giant mural that today reads “Not for sale” on the house itself, Rosales says it’s simply a done deal. It’s been a long, long process, including a turn through an appeals court. Documents show that over the past five years, judges have decided they didn’t buy Needham’s claims of mental or physical deficiency, with one judge stating that she’s simply “unhappy because she could now get more money.”

Rosales counsels acceptance, even in the face of the Friday deadline to vacate the premises. “Four judges have looked at this, and four judges are in agreement,” she says. No matter that the schoolkids who live there have left handprints in orange paint on the mural.

Shelley Trew lists as “sold” the properties 186 Ripley and 119-121 Ripley, among many other Bernal deals, and his website says he’s handled $100 million in sales over the past three years.

Surely he knows how much money might be made from a sale on Ripley Street where, in spring, you can probably smell wildflowers from your front door.