The Tenderloin’s Worst Landlord  

by on August 24, 2015

Shastri owns the Page Hotel, 161 Leavenworth (at Turk)

San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood is coming back.  No, its gambling and bordellos are not reopening. But the bars and restaurants that drove its legal economy for decades are on the upswing, and along with new evening entertainment venues the Tenderloin is on track to resume its historic role as a place people came for fun.

Yet a few property owners are still profiting from the community’s problems. The worst offenders are longtime absentee landlords who profit from leasing to bad SRO operators and commercial tenants at residents’ expense.

Take Subhash Shastri. Many believe Shastri is the Tenderloin’s most destructive landlord. Like other Tenderloin bad landlords, Shastri has owned his property for over 30 years.  The value of his Page Hotel at 161 Leavenworth has skyrocketed during this period, despite Shastri investing little in building improvements.

Few have likely heard of Shastri. That’s because he does not operate his Page Hotel, 161 Leavenworth, or the smoke shop on the corner under the Page. But his leasing decisions for both the hotel and corner retail impact thousands of Tenderloin residents each day.

Last March, CW Nevius wrote a great piece in the SF Chronicle about the serious and even life threatening problems that Shastri’s smoke shop was causing to seniors at the nearby Francis Curry Senior Center., Unfortunately, the smoke shop is as big a problem today as when the story was written.

Reckless Endangerment for Profit

In February 2014 I met with Shastri, his SFPD officer son (who is said to have no connection to the Page Hotel, though he presumably will one day inherit it) and then- Tenderloin Captain Jason Cherniss to address the problems caused by the Page and the smoke shop.

I learned that Shastri leased his corner retail to a smoke shop without checking with anyone in the neighborhood about whether that was a good use for a corner site next to a senior center and health facility. I also learned that Shastri did no investigation into Bill Thakor’s track record of SRO management before leasing the Page Hotel to him (Thakor just paid over $1 million to settle a city attorney’s lawsuit over his hotel operations).

Thakor’s hotels routinely have drug activity in front of their properties.  His brother, who now runs the Page, was running the Warfield Hotel at Turk and Taylor when it featured bad habitability conditions and illegal drug dealing.  After the City Attorney sued the Warfield, the owner moved to evict Thakor as lessee.

This led Thakor’s brother to leave the Warfield for the Page.

Shastri could have looked into this history before leasing the Page to Thakor, but chose not to do so. Instead, he engaged in the reckless endangerment of the community for personal profit.

Shastri’s leasing to a smoke shop under the Page is an even more outrageous example of an absentee Tenderloin landlord putting dollars ahead of the community.  Shastri told me he spoke to nobody in the community nor the local police before turning a onetime bar that caused no problems into a smoke shop.

Shastri’s SFPD officer son could surely could have told him about the problems such businesses cause in the Tenderloin, but he was apparently not consulted.  Instead, Shastri signed a longterm lease with a foreseeably problem tenant, the impact on nearby seniors be damned.

Under pressure from Cherniss,  Shastri initiated eviction proceedings several months ago against the smoke shop. But the case has gone nowhere. Shastri seems to be using the eviction to show he is “doing something” about his tenant, when in fact he is doing nothing to stop drug activity around the store’s entrance (it’s not exactly concealed, as anyone walking by the store is likely to see cash being doled out with no attempt to hide it).

Security Guard Needed

What makes Shastri’s conduct so outrageous is that he could take some of his profits from smoke shop rents and hire a security guard that would greatly reduce if not eliminate the problem.  That’s what a new operator of the Adrian Hotel at 493 Eddy Street did a few months ago.

Since they hired a fulltime guard there was an almost overnight transformation of a corner (at Hyde) long plagued by drug dealers. The dealers have been gone for months, echoing the dramatic improvement in the first block of Turk Street when extra police were posted on the block.

Shastri knows the difference a security guard could make. When he was under pressure to do something following his February 2014 meeting with Captain Cherniss, he hired a security guard to monitor the area around the smoke shop.

During the two weeks the guard was there, it made a noticeable difference. But once the heat from the Captain was off, the guard was gone and the problems have returned ever since.

That’s why Shastri is the Tenderloin’s worst landlord. He takes and takes from the community, and gives nothing back.  He sees himself as a victim of tenants he himself selected, and acts like he is powerless to stop the problems he himself has caused.

Problems a security guard would end.

Shastri fits a pattern of nearly all of the Tenderloin’s remaining bad owners—they bought cheap in the 1970’s or 1980’s, have put no money into their properties, and still make big profits through rising rents and real estate values.  Fortunately, their numbers are dwindling but those like Shastri are still there to profit at the community’s expense.

Shastri could sell his property to a new owner who cares about the neighborhood, but refuses to consider it.  It will likely take civil lawsuits by residents and nearby business owners—both of which would hurt Shastri’s pocketbook— to finally give seniors at Francis Curry Center and other Tenderloin residents the safety at Turk and Leavenworth they should be taking for granted.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He is the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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