The photos of 1060 Potrero are exquisite. The upward angle is perfect; the sky is serenely blue and the two-story building’s green paint, red trim and burned exterior reflect the light perfectly. Alas, these photos are housed on the city’s 311 website under complaints that the abandoned building is a squat for vagrants.
And that’s the view if you look up. If you look down — as you’d be well-advised to do in proximity to this address — you’ll often see less serene things. Last week we saw needles. Garbage. Broken glass. The requisite human shit.
Just under a year ago we first wrote about this house, situated across the street from the sleek new wing of San Francisco General Hospital. There had just been a fire here — a disturbingly frequent occurrence — though longtime neighbor Arcely Paredes says emergency personnel later told her it wasn’t a fire, per se. Rather, squatters were barbecuing indoors and creating great plumes of smoke. In any event, it wasn’t a challenge for the fire department to gain entry, as there was no longer a front door. It hadn’t been replaced after firefighters kicked it in months earlier to quell another blaze.
For years, squatters had free run here. They hung out, did drugs, befouled the neighborhood, and, yes, barbecued indoors. Massive heaps of vermin-infested detritus were piled in the backyard; rotting garbage was stacked in front of the house and dragged within. Complicating matters, numerous neighbors confirmed that the man amassing this garbage and inviting increasingly sketchy people into his burned-out home was Mario Galande, who, along with his husband Roy Miller, had owned this property since 1990.
Neighbors called the cops, they called the Department of Building Inspection, and they called 311 often enough that the “3” and “1” buttons are probably loose on their phones. These problems persisted. For years.
Miller and Galande are now out of the picture. Your humble narrator tracked both of them down last week and, for the neighbors who lived alongside them for nearly 30 years and asked after them, I can say they are both housed. For the most part, they seem to be doing okay.
But — no matter what they claim — they no longer own this house.
Or its problems. Which persist: While the property is now in new hands, it’s still beset with its old issues. Several weeks ago, the boards covering this abandoned building were pried off. Early last week, we peered inside and saw it all: drug paraphernalia and smashed furniture and human shit splattered on the floors.
Miller and Galande were on the giving and receiving end of a number of lawsuits through the decades. Most notably, in 2017, an outfit called MACS Development, run by a man named Anthony Chase, sued Galande and Miller, claiming they had reneged on a deal to turn over a 50-percent stake in the property, and additionally failed to clear up hundreds of thousands of dollars of liens and other encumbrances on the building.
In July of last year, this case settled. Perhaps not coincidentally, multiple documents reveal that at the same time, the ownership of the house passed to MACS Development. That outfit has submitted plans to do a $1.6 million makeover to this structure, erecting a five-story multi-unit dwelling. Its site permit was issued in February.
On paper, things are ostensibly moving ahead. In the real world, things are stuck in a rut.
“It’s an empty house, so you can hear everything,” says next-door neighbor Jason St. Claire. “You can hear them banging and ruffling around.” He’s seen people moving into and out of the house. You can see what they leave behind.
Significant numbers of homeless men gather here nightly. Neighbors report that this is not a benign group; they purportedly harass and physically intimidate women and trash the neighborhood.
Area denizens have called the police and called the Department of Building Inspection and called 311. And these problems persist.
There has been enough 1060 Potrero-related paperwork generated by the Department of Building Inspection to fill several Russian novels (only with fewer patronymics and more excrement).
But there is one small passage tucked away at the bottom of a recent complaint that gives cause for hope: “The permit is well along in the approval process and a site permit may be issued next week. Demolition will be done right away and the construction will follow.”
Chase did not return multiple phone calls. But his attorney, John O’Connor, noted that “they are going through the process right now. The owners, MACS, are going through planning and arranging financing.”
But imminent change may be a false hope. Sources within the Department of Building Inspection said that, even if all goes according to plan, this may be a yearslong process. And all is not going to plan: With new owners, the avalanche of complaints now becomes MACS Development’s responsibility. Last Monday, they were sent a Notice of Violation regarding their rotting, abandoned building. Last Thursday they were hit with a “final warning letter” regarding “squatters bldg not secured.”
“Per what I understand about this case, the owner is not yet moving towards rapid compliance,” says Department of Building Inspection spokesman William Strawn.
A hearing is forthcoming, likely this month, “to ascertain why he is not moving more quickly on these outstanding non-compliant matters. These will have to be cleared up in order to move forward with the new construction.”
On Friday, neighbors report, the derelict house was boarded back up, slapped with a fresh coat of paint, and the pavement outside was power-washed. It is not known whether this timing was coincidental or had something to do with Mission Local asking questions all week.
That’s a welcome development. But the yearslong pattern is that entropy will ensue and Jason St. Claire and Arcely Paredes and all the other neighbors will soon be stuck calling the cops, calling the Department of Building Inspection and calling 311. Eventually, they’ll probably have to call the fire department, too.
Watching the neighbors’ ongoing efforts to cajole the city into dealing with a uncontrolled and dangerous situation, one can’t help but think of a parallel situation a few zip codes over. Wealthy waterfront residents recently started a GoFundMe page to hire a lawyer to combat efforts to locate a homeless Navigation Center in the shadow of the Bay Bridge. This, by contrast, would be a controlled and not-dangerous situation. It would provide a place to sleep and receive services for people who otherwise might be squatting in rotting vacant buildings.
But it would do so on a site visible from the rooftop lap pool of one of the city’s most exclusive condo complexes. Ay, there’s the rub. Your humble narrator is told that the HOA board for that condo complex is voting on a special assessment to potentially grow its legal fund by multiples of the GoFundMe campaign. They’ve lawyered up. And up and up and up.
It will be interesting to see whose needs are met first (if at all): The rent-controlled neighbors of 1060 Potrero, who want this city to take action, or the well-off waterfront dwellers, who want this city not to take action.
Well, it never hurts to be wealthy and powerful. And, in this city, inaction is always easier than action.