In an email to an architect fortifying her house — “please think Fort Knox” — Supervisor Catherine Stefani referred to San Francisco as an “insane asylum” overrun by a “zombie invasion yet they are mentally ill homeless. Orinda anyone?” 

The email, hailing from 2015 — prior to Stefani’s appointment and subsequent election to office as District 2 supervisor — was written following an attempted break-in at her home. An attorney for her longtime upstairs tenant, Clifton Thomas, claims this is proof Stefani knew there were security issues in the neighborhood — yet denied Thomas’ requests to install a deadbolt lock in his back door. 

Thomas, who moved into the unit in 1986 and originally rented from the grandmother of Stefani’s husband, filed suit against his landlords in 2017. He lost that case; a hearing Wednesday will address his motion for a new trial. 

In the meantime, he filed suit against Stefani and her husband, Christopher Bankovitch, a second time, in September. At issue, he claims, are ongoing habitability problems. In addition to the deadbolt matter, a March visit to the unit from the Department of Building Inspection produced a voluminous “Notice of Violation.” 

Among many issues cited by the building inspector include a lack of smoke or carbon monoxide alarms; wall and ceiling damage; and the presence of lead and lead dust on site.

“I am still camping out in my own apartment,” said Thomas, 71. “There’s a lot of lead dust. Everything is not put back together. They keep telling me they’re going to put it back together, but they haven’t.” 

Supervisor Catherine Stefani’s office is disavowing a flippant email included within a tenant’s lawsuit against her as “sarcasm.” Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

The Department of Building Inspection website notes multiple attempts to gain access to Thomas’ apartment since March were not successful. 

Stefani is not in City Hall today and was not available via the phone. Her office released a statement regarding both the lawsuit and the four-year-old email included as “Exhibit 1.” 

“Clifton Thomas is our longtime tenant in Cow Hollow,” reads the first statement. “After my husband and I remodeled our house, including Mr. Thomas’s unit, we welcomed him back immediately, at the same rent. He currently lives right above us in a completely updated unit, and he is welcome to continue living there for as long as he would like to stay. I cannot make a more detailed statement at this time, because litigation is still ongoing, but I will say that Mr. Thomas already filed one lawsuit and failed to win even a dime from me.” 

Regarding the language in the email, Stefani’s office claimed it was “sarcasm” — and that the move to Orinda is not forthcoming.

“The Supervisor has lived in San Francisco for nearly two decades and she will never leave the city she loves and was born in. Unfortunately, in the last few years she has had to call the police multiple times about break-ins at her house and her daughter has been accosted on the street in front of her home. Any San Francisco parent who has been a crime victim will instantly understand her sarcasm.”

Thomas’ attorney, Marc Branco, said that the earlier lawsuit deals with alleged wrongdoing prior to May 2017 and the most recent covers purported problems since then. 

In Wednesday’s hearing, Branco will argue before Judge Curtis Karnow that the jury in the first case was improperly informed that a verdict in Thomas’ favor could result in trebled damages and attorney’s fees — thereby allegedly influencing their decision. 

A case management conference in the second case will come in 2020. Regarding fixes to the apartment, the Department of Building Inspection website notes that “due to ongoing litigation, property owner requested time extension till the end of November 2019. Request granted.”