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.” 

Joe Eskenazi

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...

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25 Comments

  1. she accurately described an aspect of this city. pretending crazy ppl in your face walking down the street, doing ___ on the street … are ok; that all homeless are incapable of being responsible for their bad and criminal behavior is absurd.

  2. She might not be wrong, in theory, but the language she used is not inclusive and further stigmatizes mental illness. I would say we should hold our elected officials to higher standards…but then there’s trump in the white house…so yea.

    1. We should hold our elected officials to higher standard.

      But Stefani wasn’t in office when she sent that email.

      But if we still demand that she be held accountable for the email shall we hold Sandra Fewer to the same standard ? After all Fewer was in office when she decided to curse, in public, during a rally

    2. You make the wild assumption that all homeless have mental illness.
      Have you ever asked any where they are from? Almost all are young and almost none are from California.
      They come to California, and specifically San Francisco to be homeless because San Francisco seems to embrace them and not hold any of them accountable for the crimes you and I would be jailed for.
      The same thing is happening in progressive cities along the west coast like Portland and Seattle.
      They need to be sent back to the communities where they came from and where they likely have a family.
      SF can’t and shouldn’t bear the financial burden. SF citizens shouldn’t be prisoners in their own homes because of them.
      They need to go and they need to go NOW

  3. If you truly feel unsafe, you can buy a deadbolt and have it installed for about $100. Seems like that would be much easier than taking the time and money to hire an attorney.

  4. I do like DBI notices because they enumerate, at least to a small degree, all the work a landlord is expected to perform for a job many deride as passive, easy money. Hard to reconcile that notion with a “voluminous” litany of shortcomings.

    1. Jake —

      These are three items excerpted from a list of 16. That qualifies as voluminous, I think.

      Best,

      JE

        1. “No smoke detectors, bathroom tub/floor is deteriorating, toilet not sealed to the floor, walls cracking/paint peeling in unit, carpet is old – causing a tripping hazard, and kitchen appliances not working.”

          What other ‘volumes’ were there?

  5. I’m not a big fan of hers — but her description is spot on. The 7 Haight bus from downtown to the Upper Haight is like an insane asylum on wheels.

    1. Exactly. I’ve experienced that firsthand more times than I care to remember. I recall one time when one of these lunatics started yelling in my face, for no reason, and laughing with his friend; this is when I dared close my eyes for just a minute because I was so exhausted on public transit. I was furious and just wanted to empty my can of pepper spray in his face.

      Could you imagine being a first time tourist and thinking, how’s about we check out San Francisco like a local and take a tour on the locals bus and then all of a sudden have some like stench ridden, swamp creature screaming, spitting and flipping out on the bus all while you’ve got your kids, your grandma, etc? It’s a colossal embarrassment and failure on behalf of San Francisco to allow this behavior to persist.

      Innocent residents just trying to make a living , families, tourists, etc all held hostage by this unbelievably sad, toxic minority.

    1. You clearly endorse this toxic, awful behavior in SF then??

      Quite honestly, It’s “funny” and refreshing to hear someone speak the way a lot of people are feeling and can’t open their mouth because the PC police is going to flip out and demonize them. And again this is coming from someone who is liberal leaning; your attitude is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with San Francisco.

  6. we’ll, I would hardly call it an inaccurate characterization. Try walking down market street any evening for a focused experience.

  7. Is she not aware that Zombies and/or their forthcoming apocalypse don’t exist? However in Orinda this is a completely different story. At least according to Devin Nunes.

  8. I’m thinking if I lived in a rent controlled apt for over 30 years I might spring for the deadbolt myself.

  9. This long term tenant needs to get his own deadbolt. Did he really have to sue? He could’ve just been upfront with the landlord and said hey I’m gonna do this could you please reimburse me and that’s that. So stressful and all that litigation will take forever. He just wants $.

    Plus, the city tried to visit him numerous times. He wasn’t there obviously. He needs to think priorities and take responsibility for his role in this whole thing.

    And that supervisor totally nailed it. San Francisco has become a disgusting, imbalanced cesspool. And I’m a Blue Dog Democrat, so no, I don’t think it’s ok for drugged out whack Jobs to piss, sh!t and do drugs on the street and harass people without repercussions. Enough is enough.

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