Larch St. in the Tenderloin
Larch Street. Photo courtesy of Denise Hart

The owners of three Tenderloin buildings filed a lawsuit late last month against the city and county of San Francisco calling for the city to clean up the tents on Larch Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street and move the homeless residents to a safe place.  

The city’s failure to do that, the plaintiffs allege, has “created dire consequences for the Tenderloin’s residents,” according to the lawsuit, consequences that include increased risk of COVID-19 infections and vacancies at their properties.

Curtis Dowling, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said a similar lawsuit in the Tenderloin was settled this year and he expects more such lawsuits as residents deal with the city’s lack of action on the homeless encampments. 

The plaintiffs in the Tenderloin lawsuit are members of the Giosso family who own 725-727 Van Ness Ave., which includes 31 units and a ground floor commercial space, and Mike O’Neill and Sons who own the apartment buildings at 828 Franklin St. and 880 Franklin St. 

Larch Street is a one-block street referred to as “the alley” in the lawsuit. It runs between their buildings and tents and activity on the alley are the main focus of the lawsuit. 

View from above of Larch Street. Photo courtesy of Denise Hart.

Denise Hart, one of the suit’s plaintiffs and property manager of 725 Van Ness Ave., estimated that there are 30 tents. “People (are) yelling and screaming, they’re mentally ill,” she said. “At this point, we are not going after damages. We just want the situation resolved.”

Hart has managed the building, which is owned by her family, for the past 22 years. The situation with the alley has become particularly bad in the last six months or so, she said.

“My tenants feel like they can’t even leave the building,” she said. “They feel like a prisoner, they’re not able to sleep, and it’s hard to work.”

Tevaite O’Neill of Wicklow Management, the property manager for 828 Franklin St. and another of the plaintiffs, has been hearing similar issues from her tenants.

“Our tenants are working from home,” said O’Neill, “So now there’s no relief when they could at least go to an office.”

“You can’t even walk down the sidewalk, in the alleyway, and it’s just all day,” she said adding that they fight, play music and participate in illegal activities.

Before resorting to the suit, Hart tried calling the city’s 311 line numerous times, “daily calls,” she said. She also called the Mayor’s office, non-emergency police, and emergency police. “Nobody listened,” she said. O’Neill’s experience was similar.

In the beginning, city officials were sympathetic, Hart said. But after a while, it became clear to her that nothing would improve. The usual reason they gave was COVID-19. “At this point, I think COVID is an excuse. They don’t know what to do,” she said.

Larch Street was not included in the recent block-by-block assessment of the Tenderloin, which stopped at South Van Ness Avenue. That study found that since January, there had been a 280 percent increase in tents in the Tenderloin.

Hart installed cameras for better safety, and has been doing more pressure washing on the surrounding sidewalks.

O’Neill said that since the pandemic began she has witnessed drug abuse, heard complaints that one of the alley residents was armed, and recently one of their managers was walking through the alley and an unhoused woman slapped him, knocking the glasses off his face. “And he’s eighty-something-years-old, and he didn’t feel that he could call the police to report that because they don’t do anything,” she said.

Some of O’Neill’s residents have left. Others are considering leaving. “We are at our highest vacancy that I’ve seen,” she said, adding that she’s been with the company for 17 years. A handful left because of the pandemic, and a handful left because of the conditions in the alley.

“I actually have someone who is leaving, who has been in our building for 25 years, that is leaving because he can no longer deal with the alley,” said O’Neill.

As for Hart, a little less than a third of the units in her building are currently vacant. To have a few vacancies is normal, she acknowledged, but, “some of it is due to the situation in the alley.”

Hart also has a vacant commercial storefront, but the tents make it impossible to show.  

Dowling, their attorney, said the lawsuit is similar to a case filed in early May. In that case, the University of California Hastings College of Law, along with other co-plaintiffs, sued the city and county of San Francisco to clean up the Tenderloin’s sidewalks and move those in the encampments into safer shelter options. A settlement was reached on June 12. 

In that case, officials agreed to move about 70 percent of the tents and encampments in the neighborhood by July 20, relocating the unhoused individuals to hotel rooms, safe sleeping sites in other parts of the city, or off-street Tenderloin sites, such as parking lots. 

Officials said that after July 20, they would work to prevent further encampments from going up and reduce the rest of the existing ones.

The current suit’s plaintiffs had tried to have their area, specifically Larch Street, included in the settlement, but missed the cutoff and had to file independently. 

Dowling said the suit is, “literally, pretty much confined to cleaning up the alley for the benefit of the residents of the building.” 

The city has yet to file a response. “We’re certainly willing to talk resolution and settlement,” said Dowling.

John Coté, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote in an email, “We’re reviewing this lawsuit, and we will address it in court.”

Dowling anticipates that similar lawsuits are likely. Already, he said, one of his colleagues is talking to Mission District residents with the same concerns. “I myself may ultimately be filing other suits,” he said. “The city seems to be inviting this.”

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  1. Raise property taxes 1% and use the money to remove the tents to lots owned by the city or controlled by city. Clear the tents from streets and sidewalks due to health and safety of our community. Due not allow tents to remain. The city must due their job and clean the streets or officials in charge must leave office and allow qualified people that can manage the clean up of our beautiful city and stop the tents.

      1. Jayson, it’s the true that the problem been around waaayyyy before her, but it looks like the problem had been tripled since she became a mayor, and she doesn’t do nothing to even try and get this problem under control! She does need to resign and give this job to someone with actual balls to clean this city and take care of the homeless people. The misery and crime in our streets is just mind blowing!

  2. Wondering when the Mission nonprofiteers is going to sue Breed (who funds them) to compel her to follow the progressive Board of Supervisors’ law and house the Mission’s homeless people in hotels.

    1. Go read Marcos. There isn’t sufficient staff to house all the homeless in hotels. Additionally, its cost prohibitive. Better solution is to keep our elderly from becoming homeless. To all the drug addicts and mentally ill from other cities, stop all the hand outs and they will piss off

      1. Yes, stopping the handouts worked perfectly in the dust bowl era.
        All those pesky Oakies just went on back to Oklahoma….. …..errr…ummm….wait….have U ever read “The Grapes of Wrath?”…..
        I highly suggest U familiarize yourself w the history of Western Expansion in the United States & the tendency of People to show up in places where there are jobs/opportunity even if they’re are no “handouts”. Good Luck w your plan to “stop the handouts” to get those pesky Oakies to leave. Or Texans. Or Las Vagasians. Or……….

        1. Oakies didn’t have needles and alcohol compassionately handed out out them to keep their drug habits going. SO not the same thing thing. In case you missed it there are NO jobs in the alley. You think these “migrants” don’t have phones and see the news about California?? You think they don’t know that living here requires no means of self sufficiency if you opt for the street because San Fran and LA will take care of ya or even better as a homeless person you don’t need to respect the law or others. They know so here they are. You totally need to familiarize yourself with the current events and human behavior in relation to living without rules and free stuff.

  3. It’s a strange situation coming back around full circle. Housing has been over priced for so long, now that prices are dropping, people are moving into cheaper places(still expensive never the less,) and also many that most their work are moving out of SF, some going back to live with their parents in other states and cities.

    The mentally ill on the other hand have been send with a one way bus ticket from other cities. Other unfortunate functioning people also ended up on the streets with their lives going into a down spiral, one from not being able to get pain medications, another not being able to afford rent coupled with emotional instability.
    There’s countless stories.

    Where do you move the unhoused? Shelters have such a strict guidelines that doesn’t accommodate so many. One of the issue being, people couldn’t have medications with them.

    In any case, what’s missing is a solid mental health help. These once functioning people will need a lot of care to feel normal again, and others will need permanent care. it’ll be an enormous undertakings. You’ll need a dedicated massive institute designed to rehabilitate and house people. Maybe even eventually give them work that they can handle within the institute.

    But let’s not forget that many of the unhoused was the result of the ridiculously high rent, set by the greedy landlords. And now that their seeing vacancies shouldn’t come as surprise. Some landlords have even raised rent during this pandemic to further antagonize their business tenants.

    With genuine care much can be accomplished. But greed must be curbed.

    1. You’re out of touch with reality. The problem is nothing like what you describe. We all want to help, and it’s not about who is more compassionate. Allowing the tent encampments is not a solution. It’s the problem.

    2. Cadence thank you for the thoughtful post. It brings up some good points about the reality of our situation.

      However I don’t agree that people are being sent here on one way tickets. This seems to be a recurring line after the Las Vegas lawsuit a few years back. Some people do come here on their own, but I don’t see any coordinated effort by others to send them over. If you have something to share I think we’d like to take a look.

  4. “Larch Street was not included in the recent block by block assessment of the Tenderloin, which stopped at South Van Ness. That study found that since January, there had been a 280 percent increase in tents in the Tenderloin.”

    South Van Ness is nowhere near the Tenderloin. The western border of the Tenderloin is Van Ness (normal Van Ness, no directional), so no that block of Larch wouldn’t be included in the Tenderloin discussions unless (see above comment).

  5. That block of Larch Street is NOT in the Tenderloin. Unless “Tenderloin” means any part of the city that is kind of near City Hall and has a lot of homeless people living in tent encampments on the sidewalk.

    1. Thank you! It has been with a bit of chagrin that I’ve watched the ‘March of the TL’. When I got here almost 50 yrs ago, Polk St was vibrant (pre-Castro), and the ‘slums’ (TL) were east of Hyde. The SFPL (located at the Asian Art Museum then) was a safe and welcoming place. Then, during the 80s the line moved to Larkin. In the 2000s to Polk. And now its over to Franklin?! OMG.

      Meanwhile, shills like Randy Shaw claim he’s “cleaned up the TL” – yeah, by moving it over a few blocks. You may feel safe(r) going to Leavenworth & Eddy these days; but now you don’t feel safe going to Polk & CA!

      Shesh. (yeah, and “South Van Ness” gotta be a typo)

      1. Shaw’s understanding of the TL is clearly jaded. His June 30 article on City Making the Tenderloin Safer” included a photo of approximately a half dozen or children walking from the few blocks from Wu Yee Children’s Services on Golden Gate Avenue to Boeddeker Park at Eddy and Jones. His caption for the photo: “Children return to Tenderloin streets.” While technically true, it glosses over what’s (still) missing: the other 3,000+ kids in the TL..

        Make no mistake, I am very happy those few kids are there. I see them every day when I go to Boeddeker. Yesterday, they were there as were the six or eight kids from the Wu Yee location at the Cadillac Hotel. So about a fifteen pre-K kids walk to and from the park. It is a poor success story that focuses on those kids while ignoring their older and younger siblings, their neighbors, and their friends who didn’t get into the program.

  6. Along with Rights come Responsibilities.

    We will be unable to solve the homeless encampment problem until we reform our outdated and counterproductive conservatorship laws in order to have the necessary tools (e.g. compulsory treatment) to address the significant and debilitating mental health and drug addiction issues underlying the most chronic cases.

  7. Usually I’m impressed with the stories in Mission Local, but my reaction here is why didn’t the writer interview the residents who are sleeping on in the tents so the reader could better understand the lawsuit.

    1. What is the point of interviewing the people living on the street? So we can get “their side of the story”, as if there is any justification for allowing this travesty to continue? Allowing these encampments to fester is the very antithesis of compassion, and a slap in the face of the people who live there, the so-called “house residents:” who’ve complain to the city for God knows how long. A lawsuit seems to be the only way to force the city and the Board of Supervisors to get off their ass.
      The interim solution to encampments has been tried and proven to work. It’s called the :”Safe Sleeping Village,” (SSV) like the one now being dismantled at Everett Middle School. The homeless are provided with a socially-distanced spot to put their tent, a place to store their stuff, sanitation, showers, meals, security, and even privacy from the street. AND, it’s the perfect place to allow them to access other city services and an eventual path out of homelessness. It’s not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than having garbage-strewn encampments all over the streets, exposing the homeless to harm (to say nothing of COVID-19) and sparing the citizens who live in the area from the crazy-making presence of these horrible “favelas.” (the encampments at 16th and Dolores are a prime example). If you don’t agree with the SSV model,, please offer a better solution. You can’t because there is nothing else.