Evicted tenant demands Supervisor Vallie Brown apologize and retract ‘false accusations’ — or face potential defamation suit

Painstakingly detailed month-by-month receipts prove that the tenants evicted 25 years ago by Supervisor Vallie Brown were indeed paying rent, and had been for years — contrary to Brown’s repeated claims that they were not. 

What’s more, a sworn 1994 declaration from probate attorney Edward J. Watson states that the property at 148-152 Fillmore St. was “occupied by long-term tenants who were paying rents substantially below market value” (emphasis ours) and “Our firm collected all rental receipts and other income due the estate.” 

Brown’s long-ago eviction of low-income African American tenants has become a contentious issue in the closing stanza of her race against Dean Preston for District 5 supervisor. 

That the evictions took place is not contested — but the circumstances are. Brown told Mission Local that Mary Packer, Wandolyn Dessman, Thomas Cotton and other tenants “didn’t want to pay rent. They didn’t pay rent.” In an e-mail to a constituent, Brown wrote that the probate lawyer for the former owner’s family told her that “folks in the building hadn’t paid rent in years.” 

And yet the 1994 declaration from Watson — the attorney for the executors of the will of the Fillmore Street home’s prior owner — unabashedly states that all “rental receipts and other income” had been paid by the residents of 148-152 Fillmore. 

The locus in quo: 148-152 Fillmore Street.

This is in contrast to another tenant of the prior owner, Gilbert Clark, residing elsewhere, who “became difficult and stopped paying rent” — spurring Watson’s firm to initiate eviction proceedings against that tenant.

Month-by-month receipts of rent payments from Packer, Dessman, Cotton, and others were provided in a cease-and-desist letter delivered to Brown yesterday and penned by Packer’s attorney, Robert De Vries. 

“Mary is not a politician or activist. She was shocked to recently find out that you publicly accused her (and the other tenants of the Fillmore Street building that you and your cohorts evicted) of not having paid rent in years and refusing to pay rent,” reads the letter from De Vries. 

“To be clear – this is not a she said/she said situation. Attached to this letter as Exhibit “B” is a copy of an accounting filed with the probate court relating to the sale of the Fillmore Street property. That accounting clearly shows that Mary Packer, as well as the other tenants in the building, were in fact paying their rent. There is no legitimate question that your accusations against Ms. Packer are false.”

De Vries goes on to demand Brown “immediately and publicly withdraw your false accusations against Mary Packer.” If this is done by tomorrow evening, “Ms. Packer will accept that as an apology and will forego her right to file a defamation action against you.” 

Calls to Brown and her campaign consultant Leo Wallach were not immediately returned. Wallach sent a text message stating that their attorney is “working on a response.” 

We will update this story when we receive that response. 

Wallach didn’t deny the veracity of the receipts. “No, we assume they are correct,” he texted. “We were not correct in restating there was an issue with rent before Vallie and her friends took possession.” 

See also: ‘She ended up ruining my childhood’: Three former Fillmore residents dispute Supervisor Vallie Brown’s account of evicting them


Receipts and a sworn declaration have broken a ‘she said-she-said’ story — and now Supervisor Vallie Brown is being threatened with a potential defamation suit.

The first reporting on the evictions at 148-152 Fillmore came earlier this month in SF Weekly. The sworn declaration from Watson was unearthed by the San Francisco Tenants Union. 

“I told you. I told you. It’s all there,” said Packer when reached for comment regarding the receipts indicating her dutiful payment of her $205 monthly rent between August 1992 and April 1994. 

Brown and three friends bought the building on April 13, 1994. By April 25, multiple tenants had filed wrongful eviction petitions. In 1996, De Vries represented Packer in a suit against Brown and her colleagues for rent control violations. That case settled; while Packer says she cannot discuss the terms, Brown has said that Packer received a $30,000 payment. 

Packer took umbrage not only to Brown’s claims that the tenants were not paying rent, but to the supervisor’s written charge that “my opponent and his allies are once again using vulnerable people to attack me.”

Regarding her payment of rent, Mary Packer says “I told you.”

This claim, that Packer, Dessman and others lack agency and are merely pawns, garnered a fiery denial. 

“That’s a lie. Ain’t nobody asked me to do nothing,” Packer responded. “I called Dean Preston’s office. I called [De Vries]. I do have five senses; I’m not a dumb black woman. I did it on my own: me, myself, and I. And I know what’s right and wrong and I’ll put my hand on the bible and swear.

“You tell Vallie Brown that she’s the one who manipulated me when she said I wasn’t paying my rent.” 

Update, 3 p.m.: Vallie Brown’s attorney, Jesse Mainardi, has released a letter.

In it, he opens by stating “an opponent exploited a situation involving Ms. Packer twenty-five years ago to attack Supervisor Brown and to distract from the real differences between the candidates’ policy positions.”

It remains to be seen if Packer finds that characterization, like so many others that have preceded it, to be fair and accurate. It also remains to be seen what is to be done about the dissemination of claims the former tenants did not pay rent on mailers cluttering the mailboxes and recycling bins of District 5 residents.

The letter goes on to state:

Yesterday, you indicated that one contention among the many in the response – that the tenants of 152-A Fillmore Street had not paid rent for years and had refused to pay rent – was inaccurate. Supervisor Brown is sorry for repeating incorrect information and she thanks you for bringing it to her attention.

Supervisor Brown and her campaign apologize to Ms. Packer, and to the other tenants, for that misstatement, which they retract and which they have removed from their website.

Supervisor Brown would also like to convey her apology directly to Ms. Packer, and to otherwise discuss the situation with her. Please convey Supervisor Brown’s apology and request to Ms. Packer and let me know if she would be willing to meet with Supervisor Brown.

Reached for comment this afternoon, Packer said this letter is unsatisfactory. “The letter has to be signed by her,” meaning Vallie Brown. “Not him” — her attorney, Mainardi.

“All those fliers she sent out saying the tenants weren’t paying their rent — I want all that backtracked. I want mailers saying we were paying rent.”

When asked if she would be filing a defamation suit on Oct. 30, Packer said she couldn’t discuss that now.

De Vries Letter (1) by Joe Eskenazi on Scribd

Follow Us

Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thank you for shining a light on this story. Vallie B was inserted into D5 and she does clean the neighborhood. Besides that she has done little or nothing to keep vulnerable tenants in their buildings. She has taken money from developers and hasn’t been honest about this story. Defamation is real and tenants who stand up deserve to treated as human beings with their own unique story. The fact that the lies were then covered up shows she doesn’t deserve the job she was handed. Dean Preston for D5 because tenants deserve to be heard!

  2. is it any surprise that the supervisors don’t support dramatic changes in SF’s restrictive zoning laws when they’re profiting off of them on the side? they should all be required to rent market rate apartments and prohibited from investing in real estate. shameful

  3. Great story. Thank you, Mr. Eskenazi and Mission Local for this excellent coverage of this important issue. Was glad to find this via SFGate, but that fact that the SF Chronicle is still officially ignoring this story as if it does not exist is a shocking betrayal of journalistic integrity.

  4. I’m unclear on one detail. These receipts show that amount, but not the recipient. Mary Packer had previously said that she was paying $205/month to the niece of the former owner. If the recipient was not Vallie Brown et al, how could she know that the rent was being paid?

    Seems to me there’s a story in tracking down the niece.

    1. While there may be a question of how the checks sent to the niece ended up being forwarded to the probate attorney, it is obvious that the amounts were paid.

      A very simple scenario might be that Ms. Packer sent them to the only person she knew who might be in line to own the property. The niece then sent them to the probate attorney who was handling the will. Or the niece cashed those check and told the probate attorney to withhold the amounts from any possible inheritance.

      Ultimately the rent was paid and Packer was not the deadbeat tenant she was characterized as.

  5. Mary Packer was, indeed, a good tenant, always paying the rent on-time or before. That can’t be said for the others, particularly Tho. Cotton, who was the person she evicted. He appears to have paid consistently late and to have missed a few payments. This whole story is confusing. And what about the other owners?

    One item that was cleared up – the ‘$30k settlement’ happened 2 yrs after the new owners moved in; which doesn’t dispute the “bought with a few thousand borrowed dollars” line.

    Valle really does need to come clean – as clean as she can remember. Obviously not all the tenants were ‘behind’ (much) or ‘hadn’t paid’. FYI, I’ve got to dispute that apts in the area went for ‘under $400/” in the mid 90s. It was difficult to find anything under $500/ in the early 90s in hooker-infested Hayes Valley, and the mid-90s were over $600/.

    1. Read the Statement of Declaration. The tenants were long-term in a rent-controlled building – I am going to guess long-term since the 1950’s / 60’s long before gentrifiers scavenged the neighborhood.

      1. I grew up in the neighborhood. Moved in in early ’70s. My parents were scavenging gentrifiers. They were also people who actively wanted to raise their children in a diverse neighborhood. They also bought their home from a white couple. Real estate purchases/sales are a bit more complex than rapacious colonizers and bullied locals. That’s not to say that I’m happy with how the neighborhood has turned out. It’s now a swamp of tech schmucks. But we all have to acknowledge that this city’s housing history is complex and simple good guy/bad guy narratives do not help illuminate the root of the problems.

        1. On the first page of the statement, it notes interest payments to VB et al , which I assume are part of the probate transaction or escrow. While there was nothing inherently illegal (and some would add nothing wrong) with the eviction, subsequent claims of non-payment need to be clarified – if not retracted.

          And of course this does not detract from all her subsequent work on behalf of neighbors and renters (or former tenants of hers, not the previous owner).

          But alas, it appears that its not the crime, but the cover-up …

        2. @T.Borne-
          My recollection was that Duboce Triangle was ‘diverse’ and that the Lower Haight was “Black”. Duboce Avenue was a stark dividing line; Duboce Park was almost exclusively used by Black folk. But, white (and others) did start moving in around that time.