Mike Koozmin/The S.f. ExaminerA Raymond Avenue community center

Chinese-frequented senior center saved, just before election

Visitacion Valley is getting a timely gift.

As is the local supervisor, less than two weeks ahead of her bid for re-election.

A community center left in limbo after the nonprofit that ran senior services there dissolved and a property developer bought the building at a foreclosure auction has been gifted to The City, officials announced Thursday at a community event laced with serious political overtones.

The Visitacion Valley Community Center's senior center was still frequented by Cantonese-speaking seniors after the nonprofit that ran it closed, leaving them to play daily games of mahjong in the dark after the power and water to the building were shut off.

But now the building at 66 Raymond Ave. will be fixed up and reopened under city control, said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the area.

Marin County property developer Joseph Giraudo, who bought the 102-year-old structure that once housed classes and meetings at foreclosure a year ago for $222,504, was urged to gift the building to The City by Cohen and Mayor Ed Lee.

Lee said Giraudo was convinced to give the property over after seeing how important it was to the community.

However, Giraudo was also one of five real estate investors indicted on federal charges for rigging foreclosure auctions Wednesday — exactly one year to the day since he bought the community center, records show.

The paperwork on the transfer has yet to be completed and the gift will eventually have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

There's no timeline as to when the rehabbed center will reopen, and the final bill that The City will have to pay for significant building upgrades — all the kitchen equipment has been removed and wheelchair-compliant upgrades need to be done — is likewise not yet known.

However, after “a romantic story of tragedy and loss,” Cohen said, “today we can celebrate victory.”

And if Cohen celebrates a re-election victory to a second term as District 10 supervisor on Election Day a week from Tuesday, the salvation of the senior center may play a role.

Any politician wishing to represent the southeastern part of San Francisco needs support from the sizable Chinese community in the area.

That also happens to be the base for community activist Marlene Tran. Tran, who taught English as a second language classes at the senior center, stood by during Thursday's announcement as Lee, who is hugely popular with San Francisco's sizable Asian community, spoke with residents in Cantonese.

Tran and Potrero Hill activist Tony Kelly, both runners-up to Cohen in the 2010 election, are both challenging Cohen for the seat again this year and have criticized her handling of the the community center closure and purchase.

In response, Cohen says that her office was involved with negotiations with Wells Fargo in order to save the building prior to the foreclosure sale.

As for the good fortune of the election-friendly timing — 12 days before Tran, Kelly, and other southeast activists will try to unseat Cohen — that's mostly coincidental, city officials said

By gifting the property to The City, Giraudo is eligible for a sizable tax deduction. It wasn't immediately clear how Wednesday's criminal indictment factored into his decision.

The announcement Thursday did briefly take the shape of a political event.

A group of Chinese seniors on hand — some of whom were still wearing red shirts emblazoned with anti-soda tax messages in Chinese — had donned yellow fluorescent stickers given to them by a Cohen aide bearing the names of the mayor and Cohen and the message “I saved 66 Raymond” before Tran intervened and the seniors removed the stickers.

Tran and some of the seniors also objected that Cohen did not provide a Cantonese translator for the event, leaving Lee and other Cantonese speakers to fill them in.

“We're left in the dark, again,” said Tran, who said that the last time Cohen told the Chinese community anything about the senior center before Thursday was in February. “Today, it was the same old thing.”

croberts@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsMalia CohenPoliticsVis ValleyVisitacion Valley

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