628 Shotwell. Photo by Lydia Chávez

San Francisco real estate developers Mel Murphy, Luke O’Brien and James Kavanaugh are in the process of converting a residential board-and-care facility into a duplex, according to city documents.

Up until a fire in August 2015, 628 Shotwell St. operated as a residential facility for six adults. The proposed change of use would eliminate the possibility of reopening the building as a board-and-care facility.

It’s a loss to the city’s stock of board-and-care facilities “that should have never happened,” said Sara Shortt, director of public policy and community organizing at the Community Housing Partnership. The city, she said, should have stepped in to purchase the property or located another property where it could at least replace that facility. “Any of these properties we lose right now means a net loss in resources for extremely low-income people with behavioral health issues.”

The city appears to have done little to mitigate the loss. The Shotwell property sat vacant for close to four years before Murphy, his wife Nuannoi, O’Brien, Tanwaratna O’Brien, and Kavanaugh scooped it up on March 28, 2019, for $1.35 million, city records show. Though Kavanaugh is not listed directly on the deed, a limited liability company he is the sole manager of, 460 Natoma LLC, is. 

These are the types of purchases Mayor London Breed and three supervisors hoped to limit with a plan they announced in September 2019 to stop the mass closures of board-and-care facilities, which dropped from 1,000 in 2012 to around 600 today.  The facilities provide stable housing for elderly, formerly homeless, mentally ill, and drug addicted people. They have run into increasing financial difficulties and often end up on the real estate market.

Breed’s plan increased city subsidies for board-and-care facilities from $22 a night to $35 a night, required would-be conversions to get a special permit known as conditional-use authorization, and urged the city to buy more of these properties when they go on the market. 

But, so far, that has proved ineffective. 

“What’s happening now, it seems, is that the city is going about their business and if they happen to hear about a care home at risk or they get a state official notice, they will see what they can do at that time,” Shortt said, noting that board-and-cares are often at risk long before the city hears about it. “If the city were aggressively monitoring the situation and having these ongoing conversations with all of the stakeholders, we think they could do a much better job of hopefully preventing closures to begin with.”

As for preventing conversions to residential housing, the conditional use authorization hasn’t appeared to be a barrier for the Shotwell property yet. 

Murphy, O’Brien, and Kavanaugh are in the process of applying for the permit after their required pre-application meeting on Zoom on July 2, which had one community attendee — this reporter. To get approval to transition the former board-and-care into residential housing, the owners must provide documentation of compatibility with the neighborhood to the Planning Department, followed by a Planning Commission hearing. 

The public hearing will determine “if the proposed use is necessary or desirable to the neighborhood, whether it may potentially have a negative effect on the surrounding neighborhood, and whether the use complies with the San Francisco General Plan,” per the San Francisco Planning Department. The hearing has not been scheduled yet. 

It is unclear how the Planning Commissioners will view the past dealings of some of the owners. Two of the current Shotwell owners were previously accused of violating state and city housing law and engaging in “unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent” business practices with several of their residential properties. Murphy, who served on San Francisco’s Building Inspection Commission from 2006 to 2012, and his wife faced a civil lawsuit in April, 2015, for allegedly converting a property they owned from a two-unit to a four-unit residence without permits, failing to follow building permits for another property that partially collapsed, and other allegations. Murphy and his wife denied several of the allegations, and the suit was settled in December 2018.

Further investigation into the proposed board-and-care conversion and ensuing home remodel reveals a lack of transparency on behalf of the building’s owners.

In his application to remodel the building, the project’s architect, Mark Thomas, wrote, “interior alteration to remodel existing fire damaged single family home.” His description failed to identify the building’s designation as a board-and-care facility, which would trigger a separate conditional use application process.

Project details failed to mention the proposed change of use, an omission that city planner Claire Feeney noted. In her second response to Thomas’ project application on March 23, Feeney requested that Thomas submit pre-application and conditional use authorization materials to comply with the new board-and-care removal code.

In the pre-application Zoom meeting for neighbors to learn about the project on July 2, Thomas did not disclose the property owners’ names when asked twice, only stating that there were three individuals operating under the name 628 Shotwell LLC. O’Brien and Kavanaugh, who were on the Zoom call at the time, remained silent. O’Brien and Murphy could not be reached at their real estate office after several attempts to speak with them.

The proposed Shotwell remodel would replace existing fire-damaged features in the building’s interior and convert a floor previously used for storage and parking into a one-bedroom unit that includes a bathroom, kitchen and living room. Other changes include the addition of a deck and spiral staircase, as well as new landscaping and paving to bring the land up to code. 

The estimated cost of the project is $488,000, according to city records. The one-bedroom would include 893 square feet, excluding the garage. The second unit, a four-bedroom and three-bath residence, would include 3,262 square feet. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom Mission residence was $3,200 in July and $5,999 for a four-bedroom, according to Zumper

The loss of board-and-care facilitiess in San Francisco dominated headlines before being squeezed out of the mainstream news cycle by COVID-19. 

“This is the kind of thing that may get pushed aside during a large-scale crisis such as the coronavirus, but it is actually all the more important that it continue to be front and center on the city’s radar. More vulnerable people on the streets during the coronavirus pandemic is the last thing we want to see,” Shortt said.

Madison Alvarado

Madison Alvarado is a Bay Area native currently pursuing the Policy, Journalism & Media Studies Certificate at Duke University. She fell in love with reporting in high school, and after a brief hiatus...

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27 Comments

  1. Where are the non profits in the Mission on this? Shouldn’t MEDA have a list of these facilities and try to work out a plan to purchase these sites as they come up for sale? Seems like the city should give a list of these sites in each district to the local non-profits that fight for tenant rights. You could have an intern go through the list monthly and monitor what’s happening.

    The reporter goes out of her way to make it seem like “evil” real estate investors are getting rid of an old folks home. Claiming they want “luxury” housing is a flat out lie. It’s a duplex with a one bedroom and 4 bedroom unit. Based on the cost to purchase the building and the renovation cost, they are spending less than $2 million total. This is about the same per unit cost of 100% affordable housing being built at 18th and Mission. Even less if you consider the cost per bedroom.

    The reality is that this building hasn’t been a residential care facility for 4 years and would be many more if these folks didn’t step in to buy what would be a derelict building.

    Madison, you are young and naive so I know you just repeat what older folks have said/written. Please define what Luxury is in your mind. The actual definition is “the state of great comfort and extravagant living.” I don’t think you can say that about ANY unit in the “redlight” district of 20th and Shotwell. Unless you consider hookers at night a luxurious perk!

    1. John,

      Boy, you sure did ‘man-splain her back into the kitchen.

      I’m looking around Google to find out who you are and you sure have a common name.

      You’re most likely (according to Google) a tech exec or a musician/artist living in his mom’s garage.

      Buttar for Congress!!

      h.

      1. h. brown,

        You accuse Mr. Thomson of “man-splaining” , and then proceed to voice your support of a (failed) congressional candidate who has recently been accused of harassing a female acquaintance and outed by his own campaign staff for misogynistic behavior.

        That’s quite a cognitive disconnect you have there — bordering on hypocrisy.

        1. Koba,

          Yeah, I’ve always been a terrible and partisan liar.

          Worse, but none of that has come out yet.

          How about yourself?

          Bottom line is I don’t believe her.

          I watched Al Franken lose a friggin’ Senate seat for nothing.

          Recall what happened to Julian Davis here?

          Next thing you know I’m gonna hear from one of my 6 wives
          and 30 plus girlfriends claiming I wasn’t always perfect.

          Where’s a near 80 retired stud gonna go for sympathy?

          Giants have bullpen full of batting practice pitchers.

          h.

          1. > Al Franken lose a friggin’ Senate seat for nothing

            He grabbed a woman’s breast while she was sleeping and there was photographic proof of that.

            I mean, if that is nothin…

          2. Ivan Ho,

            Senator Franken did not grab anyone’s boobs.

            He ‘feigned’ grabbing at them but never touched them.

            Douche bag conduct but no sexual assault.

            Again, we’re looking at same film?

            Glad I was here to correct your accidental misstatement.

            You wouldn’t want that on your uncorrected resume.

            Go Niners!

            h.

            H

    2. I agree with your point that the house has been vacant for a long time so ii’s prior use as board and care is now irrelevant. But it was likely vacant so long because the owner was asking a exorbitant price and not motivated to sell. So I disagree with the writer’s characterization that the buyers, “scooped it up”.

      But you falsely quoting the writer wrote the buyers are evil, subsequently slurring and demeaning her as young and naive, and insulting her as repeating others demonstrates you have lots of bias and a mean spirit. So while you have some facts here correct, you’re not credible nor admirable.

      1. “look to flip former board-and-care into luxury housing amidst homeless crisis”, this is the statement I was referring to when I said the reporter went out of their way to make them seem “evil”. I never said she directly said they were evil. Her dog whistle was enough for me to determine this.

        And you are correct, I do have a bias and mean spirit when the entire article is mean spirited to begin with. This is what you are not seeing. Trying to make these real estate folks the bad guys. They bought a building that was for sale and empty for four years. I’ll say what I always say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. Blame the lawmakers for the rules they put in place.

        I’m neither a tech exec or musician/artist living in my mom’s garage. My mom wouldn’t let me.

        1. John,

          lol

          I couch-surfed America when in-between.

          My main chuckle from your post is that you think that
          a 4 bedroom place in San Francisco is not ‘luxury’.

          Just on an aside?

          How big’s your place?

          I have 450 sq. ft. and it’s paradise.

          Splain to me about the time Murphy gave a commissioner 20 grand and a washer/dryer?

          Go Giants!

          h.

    3. I always find it hilarious when people describe barebones code-complaint homes as luxury. The same buildings thrown up in Riverside, CA would have 2 bedrooms going for under $1,500 apiece.

      In a similar vein, I find it hilarious when people are willing to name and shame specific developers when the same approach to rampant drug abuse, meth induced destruction of property, and sidewalk squalor is to focus on “systemic injustices.” Oh wait, I forgot, the systemic injustice at play here is the entirety of capitalism itself, nevermind that there are plenty of affordable and capitalist cities. Has one ever had trouble renting an apartment in Taiwan or Tokyo?

      1. Blah blah, classic whataboutism.

        You sound like the typical Trumper bot on twitter.

        “Squalor, human feces on street, homeless, squawk squuuuuaaawk!!!”

    4. Is it possible for you to rebut this article without insulting the author personally?

      No?

      Because it really detracts from your argument. Makes it difficult to respect you as a human being, too.

  2. no wonder there wasn’t anyone but the reporter at the pre-application meeting. I live a few doors away and wasn’t notified. isn’t there a notification requirement?!

    1. Pre-Application Meetings are only for the immediate neighbors (i.e., those sharing property lines and property line corners) and those (3) neighbors directly across the street

  3. I can’t believe that Murphy is still able to develop property in SF after his flagrant disregard for pretty much all aspects of the process. Wasn’t he a “beneficiary” of Rodrigo Santos’s faked engineering reports, which resulted in his house sliding down the hill?

    1. Phays,

      Yup, he was the one whose house slid down the Hill.

      Was he the one who bribed another commissioner with 20k plus a washer/dryer?

      FBI better be wearing their hip boots as they wade thru DBI!

      h.

      1. Does anyone know the status of the former Morning Star Elderly Center, 3 doors south of the place discussed in this article?

  4. After the BOS shouted down Scott Weiner’s housing plans and Mayer Breed’s efforts to lift height limits on affordable housing, my sympathy for these stories is pretty limited. This is the status quo. Either we push for zoning reform or this keeps happening and the Mission will look like the rest of San Francisco in a decade. Not sure what people on here want to actually do, but pie in the sky socialist dreams of million dollar apartments for everyone aren’t going to actually happen (sorry Jackie..) and in the meantime this march towards ever more expensive housing continues (being cheered on by single family homeowners and market rate landlords across the city).

  5. The city had five years and unprecedented amounts of tax income, and it did nothing. Though people are celebrating the supposed “exodus” of technology workers leaving these days, prices have not come down much and the fiscal budget, which must be balanced, is at an almost $3b deficit. At what point will the indignant stop and wonder if they themselves are to blame for what’s happening?

  6. I totally agree that this building must be considered a board and care facility and should be treated as such: the fact that it slipped under the city’s radar notwithstanding. The city’s radar isn’t very good. I hope the community organizes to make sure it is once again a board and care and thank you to this reporter.

    There is no reason to have sympathy for the current developers who have enough money to retire forever now and are perfectly happy to get permission from the city to do one thing and then to do another (if it will make them a profit)–these guys are kinda famous for this and some folks I know depend on them doing this, (for instance to carve out that unwarranted in apartment in the basement when they have a permit for foundation work).

  7. This is a good story so thank you Madison. The title does point however that Mission local has an agenda against market rate housing. The main point of this story is that nobody wanted to touch this fire ridden property for 4 years as it sat on the market. Now that somebody stepped up to the plate (and it it noteworthy who did) it’s being portrayed as a crime against humanity. I’m glad the article was written just a little perplexing why it’s a market rate housing shame piece.

  8. Check out Mel Murphy….,former president of the sf building inspection commissionisn, has had two places (that i know of) ‘collapse’? His buildings seem to fall down unexpectedly at night and he starts from scratch building many units and doesn’t pay for a demo permit. One on 26th went from a single fam sweet little house to multi units. ‘Vandals’ cut out the foundation supports?? Another one on 125 Crown Terrace was a reno and oops it slipped down the hill one night. Wonder what will happen to this one.

  9. Luxury housing doesn’t mean expensive. Luxury housing is a place that provides amenities, such as valet parking, door attendant, etc. otherwise home in SF would be a ‘Luxury’ home, Using the author’s definition even this building four years ago could be called a ‘luxury’ board and care facility.

  10. For Ivan Ho,

    Franken did not grab the lady’s breasts.

    He pantomined doing it like some ignorant middle school kid.

    The basis of much of his comedy, I think.

    Why is there no ‘Reply’ after your reply to me?

    h.

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