Richard Padilla, perhaps better known by his drag name, “Renita Valdez,” stood in a long hallway of his apartment at 1779-1781 15th Street Monday evening. He pointed to the constellation of plaques covering the walls that Renita Valdez has garnered throughout the years.
“These are my accolades,” Padilla said. “You know, for being a part of the community.” He was particularly proud of ones given to him from former State Sen. Mark Leno and current State Sen. Scott Wiener.
This personal Hall of Fame, in fact, has been growing for the last 22 years — the time Padilla has lived here. But now, he, his three roommates, and the resident of an in-law unit downstairs are facing an Ellis Act eviction.
“They just want to get rid of us,” Padilla said.
Padilla believes it’s not a simple case of his landlords, Leslie Wan and Brian Keller, wanting to exit the rental market — the nominal purpose of an Ellis Act eviction. “We’re being discriminated against,” he claimed.
Although his landlords deny that discrimination is involved — and Padilla says they’ve never explicitly used derogatory terms — the longtime tenant says he has felt an undeniable sense of repugnance from the landlords, who live in the unit above them.
“The look of disgust, the look of shielding their children from us when we’re dressed in drag,” he said. “You get that feeling, when people look at you.”
He added that Wan and Keller have harassed them by throwing away some of their drag costumes and disposing of furniture in their backyard, where the roommates and their friends would often hang out. “That’s another form of discrimination,” he said.
These episodes are only part of an ongoing saga between those residing with Padilla and their landlords. They are detailed in a lawsuit filed last October that alleges the harassment and discrimination. (At one point, the lawsuit alleges, Wan covered her son’s eyes and told him to go upstairs when she saw one of the tenants, Freddie Miranda, dressed in drag.)
Although Padilla alleges the landlords have been trying to shoo him out for years — first with an owner-move-in eviction in 2014 that was later dismissed by a judge — the situation came to a head three weeks ago, when Wan and Keller offered all four of their tenants a $50,000 settlement, according to Padilla.
“My lawyer laughed and left the room,” Padilla said. “That’s when we knew we had to fight.”
A trial is set for November. The tenants have also alerted media outlets, and hosted a press conference in front of their house Monday evening.
Logos Branchflower has been living at the residence for the last eight years. The only emotion he could convey was “exhaustion.” Sadly, he said, the feeling was all too common.
“We’ve been going through eviction attempts at this house for years,” he said.
Before he moved into his house on 15th Street, he said, he had been priced out of his longtime residence in the Castro. He said it was very difficult to find his current living arrangement. “I don’t know where I’d go,” he said, when asked if he would have to leave San Francisco if evicted.
Branchflower pointed to his artwork, which seemed to populate every bit of space in his room — paintings, artificial stained glass (tissue paper and foam board), a plethora of Fimo clay votives that line his shelves. He has been working with Fimo since the 1980s, but said he has not been producing much artwork lately.
“I’m exhausted,” he reiterated. “It’s hard to do anything when your living situation is in jeopardy.”