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Slumlords, shady money and the ‘Castro’s most hated man’: SF candidates’ awful landlords

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San Francisco mayoral candidates London Breed and Mark Leno, as well as Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, are renting campaign headquarters with problematic ties. (All: Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)


From alleged “slumlords” to those running PACs, those renting out campaign headquarters to San Francisco candidates this year are eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

Mayoral candidates Mark Leno and London Breed, as well as Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is running to keep his District 8 seat, are all renting HQs from those with problematic ties.

Leno’s HQ at 2390 Market St. is owned by J&V San Francisco LLC, whose proprietor, as the Bay City Beacon first reported, is John Hovannisian, a man referred to by the group Tenants Together as the “Central Valley’s biggest slumlord.”

SEE RELATED: Chinatown remains divided on mayoral candidates as Breed gains support

And — yeesh — the more you read about Hovannisian, the worse it looks.

Tenants Together accused him and his business partners of maintaining properties in Fresno, inhabited by low-income tenants, rife with roaches, leaky plumbing, defective wiring and a “plethora of unsafe conditions,” according to an announcement of a class-action lawsuit against Hovannisian in 2014.

Now, Leno’s rent goes straight into Hovannisian’s pockets.

Signs fill the windows of Mark Leno’s mayoral campaign office on Tuesday in San Francisco’s Castro District. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“We were disappointed to learn this,” Leno said in a statement. “Well, guess what? I intend to be a pain in the ass as a tenant — if I’m elected mayor, I’m going to help tenants across The City take on their bad landlords.”

That’s bad, but at least Leno’s got company.

Mayoral candidate and Board of Supervisors President London Breed’s campaign headquarters at 11 Grove St. is also the home of the Community Alliance for Jobs & Housing, according to the Alliance. The Alliance doesn’t own the space — they rent it — but told me they charge Breed’s campaign to set up shop there.

Now, why is that a bad look? Well, put on your tinfoil Giants’ caps, folks, we’re going deep …

The Alliance has from 2010 to 2017 maintained political action committees, spreading tens of thousands of dollars to moderate Democrat campaigns in San Francisco, such as the San Francisco Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth PAC. That committee gave more than $15,000 to Progress San Francisco, the same group that took more than $25,000 from tech billionaire and Airbnb investor Ron Conway to topple progressive candidates in 2016.

Breed, who has been attacked by Leno ad nauseum for being backed by Conway’s deep pockets and for being backed by independent expenditure committees — which, like Super PACs at the national level, can take campaign donations in unlimited amounts — housed her campaign HQ at the home of another notorious PAC.

Hell, her campaign HQ’s windows still say “Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth” in black stencil right above the “London Breed for Mayor” signs.

That’s just funny.

I reached out to the Alliance for Jobs for comment, and co-chair, Chris Wright confirmed that’s one of the alliance’s locations. Records show the alliance had an open PAC from 2010 through at least the end of 2017.

“The community alliance has a place on 11 Grove, yes,” Wright said. “They’re paying us right now for use of our space, that’s correct.”

However, Wright added, “The PAC will exist but there are no plans on doing [independent expenditure committees or PACs] in the mayor’s race this year.”

It’s also noteworthy that among the alliance’s officers are treasurer Ken Cleaveland, who sits on the Fire Commission, and Gary Delagnes, a consultant for the Police Officers Association.

A woman walks by Supervisor London Breed’s mayoral campaign office on Tuesday in San Francisco. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Former supervisor and current San Francisco Democratic Party chair David Campos found both Leno and Breed’s campaign locations to be problematic.

“It’s a minefield, you know,” he said of Leno’s HQ, but “it’s not enough to look at the property’s history relative to San Francisco, but also the entire Bay Area really.”

As for Breed’s campaign headquarters, Campos said, “That raises more legal issues because of the potential for coordination, at least the appearance of coordination.”

Campos is referring to coordination between candidate campaigns and PACs or independent expenditure committees, which is illegal. PACs can raise unlimited amounts from each donor, unlike candidate campaigns, which are limited to $500 per person. But there’s a catch: They’re not supposed to coordinate with candidates.

“We’re not aware of any independent expenditures,” Breed’s campaign spokesperson Tara Moriarty said in an email. (Yes, the same Moriarty formerly of KTVU).

If you’re wondering if Supervisor Jane Kim’s mayoral campaign HQ is also problematic, her landlord is the Arik Corporation, owner of Arik’s, the clothing shop on Mission Street. If you turn your nose up at Ben Davis shirts and Dickies pants, then you’ve got beef with Jane.

Angela Alioto told me her “Eastside HQ” is at her law firm at 700 Montgomery St.

Last, but certainly not least, is Sheehy. The Mayor Ed Lee appointee, who is running a June race against Rafael Mandelman to represent the Castro and Noe Valley neighborhoods, among others, is renting his campaign HQ at 541 Castro St. from the notorious Les Natali.

Natali has been called the “Castro’s most hated man” by the ever-present, irascible gadfly Michael Petrelis, who runs a blog called “The Petrelis Files.”

Signs hang inside Supervisor Jeff Sheehy’s campaign office on Tuesday in San Francisco’s Castro District. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Sheehy’s landlord irked the Castro by leaving a number of properties vacant for years. His bar, Badlands, came under scrutiny in 2004 for allegedly discriminating against black patrons, asking for multiple forms of ID and “failing to serve them at the bar,” according to sfgayhistory.com and numerous news reports from the time.

The state bureau of Alcohol and Beverage Control investigated Natali and found no wrongdoing, according to the Bay Area Reporter, but that didn’t stop word from spreading across the neighborhood.

“It’s hard,” Sheehy told me. “People say no one can do business with Les, but we don’t want Les to have empty storefronts. How do you reconcile that?”

Sheehy said he began his career in activism just down the street from his current campaign HQ and that the $2,000-a-month space lets him campaign from the heart of the Castro, where he can help homeless youth nearby.

“I really want to show solidarity in the Castro with trends we’re trying to reverse,” he said.

As for Natali, it’s not like he hasn’t shown love to other candidates over the years. Records from the Ethics Commission show he donated to Tom Ammiano’s 2002 mayoral campaign and Bevan Dufty’s supervisor campaigns, as well as state Sen. Scott Wiener’s supervisor re-election campaign.

And, going right back to where we started, Natali also donated $500 toward Leno’s mayoral campaign in June.

It really is a small town, isn’t it?

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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