Anti-Skyline Campaign Set to Picket Theatre District Hotel

by Casey Mills on August 4, 2006

Over the past few months, the anti-tenant practices of CitiApartments and Skyline Realty have become increasingly apparent to the public through media attention, legal efforts, and a committed group of activists intent on exposing the company’s dark side. Tomorrow, these activists will descend on the Diva Hotel, a high-end tourist hotel owned by the family that also owns and operates CitiApartments and Skyline. A hotel originally converted from residential to tourist through a scam during the Feinstein administration, the Diva now helps fund Skyline’s purchase of rent-controlled buildings they then turn into market-rate rental units. Protestors will be meeting in the middle of Union Square at Noon tomorrow before heading over to the Diva to inform patrons and passers-by the story behind the hotel.

The list of abuses tenants have suffered at the hands of Skyline continues to grow, and primarily revolves around the company’s attempts to force long-time tenants out of rent-controlled units so they can be rented out at market rate. Physical and psychological intimidation by people hired for specifically this purpose, unaddressed bedbug infestations, and noisy, length, and unnecessary construction are all tactics Skyline has employed.

A group of downtown hotels called the Personality Hotels helps fund these practices. Owned and operated by members of the Lembi family, which also owns and operates CityApartments and Skyline, these hotels appeal to wealthy tourists visiting San Francisco. Some of the revenue from these hotels goes towards purchasing apartment buildings.

The group of activists devoted to exposing Skyline’s practices, which call themselves CITI-STOP, hope they can educate San Franciscans and tourists about the role Personality Hotels play in the eviction of tenants.

“The idea is to confront this hotel part of their business, where they want to keep its image really different that the slumlord style tactics they employ in their apartment buildings,” said Greg Shaw, and organizer with CITI-STOP. “We want to draw the connection that the money is all intermingled and that it’s all the same business.”

To that end, activists will be picketing the Diva Hotel, as well as handing out informational fliers to patrons of the hotel and passers-by.

In addition to its contributions to the Lembi empire, the Diva Hotel has contributed to the displacement of San Francisco tenants in another way. During the Feinstein administration, the hotel’s previous owners sought to convert it from a residential hotel to a tourist hotel.

Then called the Somerton, the hotel was home to many permanent residents, all of whom thought they were protected by the Hotel Conversion Ordinance, which prevented the conversion of residential hotels to tourist hotels.

The owners, however, in co-operation with the then Bureau of Building Inspection, invented a scam to circumvent the conversion ordinance. Any hotel that was in the process of converting to tourist when the ordinance was passed remained exempt from it. The Somerton’s owners claimed that because they had installed televisions in some of the rooms before the ordinance passed, that meant they had started converting and were exempt.

For the price of some televisions, all of the residential rooms as the Somerton were lost.

To join in tomorrow’s protest, meet at Union Square at Noon tomorrow, Saturday, August 3. For more information, e-mail contact@citistop.org.

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