9 Mission District Artists Face Eviction In Ellis Syndication Scheme

by Stephen P. Booth on May 5, 2016

Artists Will Fight Eviction

Serial Evictor Pools Loans From The Levine Family Trust And Others To Exploit The Ellis Act

San Francisco Ellis Act displacement as a profit-making scheme has become such a convention, that family trusts may now be increasingly funding the rip-off.  The following case illustrates the triple whammy rip-off that affordable housing advocates have been trying to curb: (1) the City loses valuable rent-controlled housing stock, (2) the City loses artists, dancers and musicians who have contributed to the cultural beauty of the community, and (3) long-term contributors to the unique fabric of San Francisco are expelled. Meanwhile, gluttonous speculators, including family trusts, profit hugely, never bearing the true societal cost of their Ellis Act exploits.

On August 19, 2015 affordable housing raider Shun You Sun, (aka Danny Sun), purchased the 2820-2824 Folsom Street building, located in the heart of the Mission where  Folsom and 24th Streets intersect. Sun is described as a flashy bejeweled little man, who drives fancy cars.  Barely 7 months after gaining title, Danny Sun served eviction notices on all 12 long-term residents, 9 of whom are San Francisco-based artists.

Whereas the Ellis Act was intended as the means for legitimate landlords  to go out of residential rental business, Danny Sun never intended to be a landlord. Rather, his history is to acquire rent-controlled buildings, expel the long-term tenants, perform a quick rehab and sell the operation as a tenancy-in-common at a huge gain. The Steven Adair McDonald law firm routinely cranks out the paper for these serial evictors.

In the case of 2820-22824 Folsom, family trust money enables the rip-off.  The Levine Family Trust, of which Howard and & Irene Levine are Trustees, loaned Sun $200,000.00. In addition $500,000.00 was borrowed from the Boris and Tiffany Beljak Family Trust,  $590,000.00 from The One to Four, Inc. Profit Sharing Plan and $350,000.00 from investors Leo and Donna Boger of San Jose.

Indeed, that funds are sourced from The Levine Family Trust is an outrage as it appears that Howard and Irene Levine funded the Levine Program in Housing and Social Responsibility taught at the UCLA Niman Center for Real Estate. It is incongruent that the  purpose of the Levin-UCLA program is to “augment the training of the most ambitious students pursuing real estate education in the areas of housing affordability, related policy and sustainability” yet the Levine Family Trust invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the pending affordable housing rip-off at 2820-2824 Folsom Street.   

Their borrower Danny Sun is a serial Ellis exploiter. Last year Sun completed the same kind of Ellis exploit, removing three long-term households at 642 Natoma Street, followed by sale as TIC units, which will bring about $2.7 million.  Former tenant Niki Khanna can tell the excruciating turmoil that Danny Sun’s eviction caused to numerous long-term community members; “for years the 642 Natoma premises was the home base for dozens of queer artists and creative souls.”

As in the instant case, investment money was syndicated from Portola Valley’s Jamie G. and Susan J. Koblick Trust ($300,000.00) and the Calgari & Morris Profit Sharing Plans ($692,000.00).  The ground level at 642 Natoma Street is now selling for $869.000.00, the other two TIC units having been sold at over $900,000.00 each.

Musicians, Dancers And Artists Being Eliminated From Folsom Street By Simple Greed

Jason King, a musician, born in Sydney, Australia found his San Francisco dream in a round-about way. His childhood was spent in the Australian countryside, but due to his father’s pursuit of a PHD in Zoology, Jason spent his teenage and college years in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Drawn to music as a 10 year-old, Jason first realized his creative talents with heavy metal bands and years later, Country music, which Jason continues to perform and produce. With the duality that characterizes many artists, Jason pursued degrees in Electrical Engineering and worked for solar energy and efficient lighting start-ups in Portland and then found work in green tech near San Francisco. In Jason’s words:

I found a beautiful home in the mission, full of artists, musician, dancers, comedians, and actors, and when home is not inspiring enough, I have a plethora of music venues, art galleries, bookstores, theaters, and records stores right outside my door. I’ve been playing in two bands, and I’m now helping to get a variety show off the ground. The life I’ve built for myself, and all the time I’ve spent networking and becoming an active part of my community is entirely at risk now. As eviction looms and the median price for a one bedroom apartment approaches $4k, living in San Francisco as a creative being is becoming virtually impossible.

Marie Markovic:  has been making art in one form or another since early childhood. Marie grew up in Montreal, studied French literature, then pursued Drama. She ended up in Actor Studio, Montreal where she developed character-creation, dramatic Improv and stage-combat skills and pursued a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. Marie also studied Ceramics, has exhibited sculpture in Montreal and San Francisco, and she has co-written a feature-length show titled Cross-dressers and Criminals which was featured at the Montreal 2013 Off-Fringe Festival. In addition, Marie is co-founder if a long-form Improv group in San Francisco and is currently pursuing an MFA in California Institute of Integral Studies.

Finding a household of creative and sensitive beings in San Francisco has allowed Marie Markovic to flourish. She does not know how she will continue to produce her art and finish her studies if she is evicted.

Brian Lucett: is a flourishing San Francisco performer who pours tremendous effort into the community. He plays guitar and sings in a garage-style band called The Nurseries and is the drummer in an alternative band called Brunch whose music focuses on the social issues facing the San Francisco community. Brian also performs with the Mission-based theater, Endgames Improv and hosts variety show called The Warm Red Variety Show.

Brian’s background in community development is impressive. In college, as he earned a degree in Philosophy, Brian was founder of the campus Chapter of Amnesty International. Originally intending to be a civil liberties lawyer, Brian realized his talents were better served as a high-school English teacher. Upon receiving his credential, Brian worked in Orange County as a substitute teacher by day and by night was a performer, comic and variety show host. Brian also helped start an art gallery, lead art workshops for kids and published a quarterly magazine featuring local writers and artists.

From 18 years, Brian dreamt of coming to San Francisco, following the paths of Jack Kerouac, Barry McGee and Jello Biafra. Out-of-the-blue, Brian received a call from a friend about a teaching in an alternative K thru 8 start-up school in the Bay Area. With the new school the challenges were immense but the rewards have been monumental. Brian’s students learn by doing, the classes encourage physical movement and the students’ emotional needs are well cared-for. Brian discovered kids thrive when encouraged to think creatively and critically and when instructed in social justice service. The school is bursting with success, now tripling in size, and Brian has been a teacher trainer and was recently invited to speak at a conference at Harvard on emotional intelligence.

Lisa Burns: was born to dance. After ten years of a burnout career in an office job in Seattle, Lisa came to San Francisco to revive her long-lost heat beat of dance and performance and art. Her career as a dancer has taken off in San Francisco and her home has facilitated her growth. In her words “as soon as I set foot in our house, I immediately recognized I was alongside four other individuals, as unique and varied as can be; we were all artists! I was no longer alone!”  She would often think:  “How incredible that the heart and soul of San Francisco is alive and well within our five hearts and souls, held together under this one roof.”

Lisa now dreads what it will be like if her household is evicted: “where there were once five artists migrating towards art and discovery here at this house on Folsom, attempting to fill and share their own hearts and souls, those same artists are now in threat of being forced to create elsewhere and once again dream and hope to one day reinvigorate art and humanity back into the bleeding heart and disappearing soul of San Francisco.”

Nick Nava:  is a musician who came from Indio, California to San Francisco 19 years ago. He was drawn to San Francisco’s underground music scene and over the years performed with bands in many of San Francisco’s night clubs. Nick has also promoted other bands for years and works as a Door Man and Bar Back for Mission District clubs. Four of the five bars he works at are walking distance from his home.

Nick loves his home of 19 years and he considers his housemates his family. He states that his rent-controlled flat is what enables him to stay in San Francisco and if he is evicted he will lose his jobs and have to leave the Bar Area.

Thomas Seiler: moved from Ohio to the Mission District in 1985, the only community with which he has had close community ties in his entire life. For over 20 years at 2822 Folsom Street, Thomas has cultivated and maintained a lush garden including six fruit trees, which has fed butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. For 21 years Thomas has worked for Mission District music and print distributors who promote local music and art.

Thomas will tell you that he is so integrated with the Mission District that on evening walks he can remember seeing John Ross sitting at the window at the Boheme then playing at his birthday party later in the evening. He recalls the great shows at the Komotion at 16th and Folsom Streets. He even hears poems from the poetry readings that he held in his backyard. Sadly, Tom can remember the faces of many families that were once neighbors, forced out during previous housing speculation bubbles. Thomas says that if he is evicted, he will not be able to stay in San Francisco and will lose his job, along with the most precious and vital part of his life, being a San Francisco citizen and worker.

Catherine Van Sacker: her appreciation for the aesthetic compelled her to come to San Francisco. She grew up in Sacramento but went to Art School at the University of Montana.   After living in Germany she attended Culinary school in Seattle. Catherine now applies her artistic skills in helping to establish an independent San Francisco coffee roaster.  She anticipates extreme loss and hardship if the Ellis Act eviction she is facing is successful.

Hanna Israel:  Hanna’s art is activism. Out of high school, in lieu of college, she pursued animal rights, earth conservation and political prisoner activism. When enrolled in community college Hanna became active in conservation and education organizing. She advocated for greater rights for undocumented students, for gender-neutral restrooms given the large number of transgender students and for better access to grants for low-income students. At community college Hanna was engaged as an elected officer each year, served as Chair of the Sustainability Committee, was a Student Trustee and tutored in Philosophy and ESL. Hanna was accepted to and began at Mills College. Over the summer she worked in Los Angeles and Sacramento to ensure passage on an Assembly Bill that would establish and autonomous statewide student representation organization.

Hanna’s dream is to finish at Mills College, go on to law school and she is particularly interested in Constitutional and Immigration law. She wants to work as a legislative aid, to draft bills to protect persons on the societal margins and she is committed to acquiring the education, skills and experience to have the power to make positive changes in her community. It has been a blessing for Hanna to find a home with such socially conscious and creative beings at Folsom Street.The recent sale and now the eviction attempt has led to great stress and anxiety. If evicted, Hannah’s dreams seem almost impossible.

Leigh Ann Cavanaugh: could write volumes about her life as an activist, Iraq and Afghanistan war protester, survivor, and artist. Born in the Central Valley, Leigh Ann was accepted, and began a Pre-Med program at UC San Diego. She realized her true passion was in visual art and after a series of challenging and life-changing events, relocations, jobs and temporary homes, Leigh Ann fortuitously found her home at Folsom Street, which she considers the community that she had been searching for her entire life. “Fellow artists, intellectuals, radicals, queers, mentors and friends. I knew I was in the right place and was able to hone my practice as an artist and find my voice.”  While living at Folsom Street Leigh Ann was able to obtain her degree from the San Francisco Art Institute.

With activist passion Leigh Ann articulates the rip-off occurring all over San Francisco:  They are bleeding the colorful rainbow of people out of San Francisco and making this place into a harsh and stony land; they shouldn’t be allowed to take something so great that belongs to everyone. I stand in solidarity with all those who struggle to have their humanity and their rights to a home recognized; home is a human right.

So too, the activist is Leigh Ann, forged with past life triumphs, sums up how all the tenants feel:  I will stand up and fight for my home, my community and what I know is right. We have joined with Eviction Free San Francisco and we will take direct and any other necessary action to protest these evictions and bring to account the people who perpetrate these heinous deeds.

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