Planned foster youth home caught in the crossfire

In the Marina district’s seedier stretch of Lombard Street between the Golden Gate Bridge and Van Ness Avenue, residents and businesses that have fought to clean up the area find themselves caught between two motels, one new and one old.

Lombard Street is better known for its flowered curvy section, but the high-traffic area near the bridge is populated by tourists and flanked by motel after motel.

It’s in this area where police have been fighting prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves who have frequented a few problem motels. The City Attorney’s Office sued the owners of the Bridge Motel for running a public nuisance. New owners have made improvements and police have announced a deal with the proprietors to stop taking in people who just got out of prison.

But, other motels continue to be targeted by police. Capt. Al Casciato, who oversees the department’s vice crime unit, has trained hotel managers to spot and report suspicious activity.

A change would be a relief for city officials who see the area as being at a crossroads. While neighbors complain of crime, others are looking to establish a place for young, at-risk tenants to call home.

Across the street from the Bridge Motel, the Community Housing Partnership just bought the Edward II Hotel in an effort to build a home for disadvantaged young adults who are coming out of foster care. Executive Director Gail Gilman said the entire project would cost about $9 million, $4.4 million of which is being funded by the Mayor’s Office of Housing through grants.

The plan has met stiff opposition from neighborhood groups for a number of reasons. Groups such as the Marina Community Association say the Community Housing Partnership and the Mayor’s Office didn’t call for public input on the project. They say it’s not accessible to the disabled and it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

Residents and merchants in the neighborhood have also expressed outrage at the location chosen for the housing project.

Some worry crime will pick up and that including affordable housing in the pricey neighborhood could affect property values.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier appears to have sided with the neighbors. In a June letter to the Mayor’s Office, she urged Mayor Gavin Newsom to hold off on signing for the grant that would fund the housing project.

“Police officers who walk the beat in this area believe that locating youth at the Edward II right next to the Bridge Motel would endanger the safety of residents and youth who may move into this site,” Alioto-Pier wrote. “Ensuring neighborhood safety is a critical issue that must be resolved.”

Gilman said young adults between 18 and 24 years old need to be in a safe atmosphere where they can find work, and that their new property would be just that. The nonprofit has 800 units of housing throughout The City on 11 properties in areas such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

“From our perspective, The City has embraced supportive housing as the best solution to homelessness,” Gilman said. “We believe that housing should be in every neighborhood. It makes for a more diverse city.”

By next year, Gilman said she hopes to be through the arduous planning process, which is set to begin in October.

Hotel seeks turnaround after hitting rock bottom

As a police crackdown on crime focused on a few problem motels, the center of the controversy was the Bridge Motel at 2524 Lombard St., a place where a troubled history could be turning into a success story.

In October, the City Attorney’s Office sued the owners for running a public nuisance. Among other complaints, the hotel had 91 calls to police in less than four months, including complaints of burglary, drug use and parole violations. The latter charges were the most numerous because the motel frequently took in parolees just released from jail.

Since the complaint was filed, however, the motel has undergone significant changes. Management has changed. Crime is down.

Last week, Northern Police Station Capt. Ann Maddix announced that police had worked out a deal with the owners to stop taking in people who just got out of prison.

Richard Stratton, an attorney for the owners of the Bridge Motel, called the turnaround a bright spot in the area. 

“The quality of the place has gone way up by getting rid of a number of the really bad tenants who had been a major problem and who were problems for everyone, to the other tenants, to the managers, to the neighbors and police,” Stratton said.

While the lawsuit is moving forward, according to city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey, the Bridge Motel’s new management has made progress addressing habitability and crime issues, and it has produced letters from neighbors who attest to improved conditions.

“That doesn’t mean we’re ready to dismiss the case,” Dorsey said. “But, we generally prefer that people we sue stop doing what we’re suing them for.”

Major crimes

The Northern Police Station encompasses the Marina, but also parts of the Western Addition and Tenderloin. Except for robberies, crime has dropped significantly districtwide.

Robbery
2009: 225
2010: 246

Assault
2009: 262
2010: 206

Burglary

2009: 577
2010: 559

Auto theft
2009: 367
2010: 254

Auto break-in
2009: 1,502
2010: 820

Arson
2009: 4
2010: 10

Other theft

2009: 1,006
2010: 8861

Source: SFPD CompStat

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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