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article imageHousing advocates seek to penalize tourist motel with litigation Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Apr 28, 2012 in Business
San Francisco - For more than 15 years The Beach Motel near Ocean Beach has been entangled in a dispute with San Francisco City officials over its official and legal status as a guest hotel facility.
Owner Bobby Patel told this reporter that he has suffered "many sleepless nights" worrying about the future of his family-owned business which he has operated on Judah Street near 48th Ave since 1983.
This past April the Beach Motel was granted a "re-hearing" to examine more closely the Beach Motel's status. Randy Shaw, of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic insists that the Beach Motel is operating illegally and is asking City officials to force Patel to comply with current zoning code laws.
Shaw points to the fact that the motel is operating illegally as a tourist accommodation in a residential zoned area. But here is where the situation gets complicated. The motel was built in 1957 and when the zoning code changed in 1960 to residential, the 20-unit facility continued to operate as a guest motel with some of the units used as residential. Patel said that when he purchased the place in 1983 it was a guest motel and since that time he has operated strictly as a guest motel, catering to tourists and visitors, no renters.
Shaw who is the founder of Tenderloin Housing Clinic disagrees saying that Patel has no proof that the Beach Motel was always a guest accommodation. Shaw wants the City through the Board of Appeals to force Patel to comply.
THC provides affordable supportive housing in San Francisco to over 1,500 formerly homeless tenants in 16 master leased properties residing in the Tenderloin, Mission, Union Square, and South of Market (SOMA) neighborhoods. Additionally, THC owns and operates the Galvin Apartments, a building in SOMA, designed for tenants transitioning out of Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs). With over 150 employees, the Property Management Department is the largest department at THC, and is dedicated to providing high quality property management services within the supportive housing model.
Patel's lawyer, Andrew Zacks of Zacks and Freedman talked with this reporter and said that "the Beach Motel has always been a motel and yes, there is proof." He also said "Mr. Patel even paid over $30,0000 as a settlement to THC just to leave him alone." Zacks said that the status has already been proved. "Look at the certificate on the wall that was issued by the City in 2002," said Zacks. Patel proudly displays the official certificate in the lobby. Zacks believes THC is the force that is driving this case and sees THC's actions as pure vindictiveness.
Steve Collier who serves on the legal staff at THC says it is the Board of Appeals that is pushing the case along, not THC. "We just want the City to honor its current zoning code laws." "This is not about Mr. Patel personally, no vindictiveness," said Collier. "We would take the same position with anyone else," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Board of Appeals, Cynthia Goldstein told this reporter by phone that while the City did issue a certificate clarifying The Beach Motel as a tourist-guest facility, but "that was issued by a different City Dept." she said. "The Building Inspector issued the certificate and not the Planning Dept. She noted, "it must be certain that they coordinated in conjunction," she said.
Goldstein who serves as Executive Director of The Board of Appeals said, "I have been trying to clean up stagnant cases," she said. "This has to be investigated further, it has "lots of wrinkles, such as change of ownership and so forth, this case has "lots of twists and turns," said Goldstein.
Also to make things more complicated the City enacted its residential hotel anti-conversion ordinance of 1981 and must comply with the Ellis Act of 1985 enacted by the State of California. Does the Beach Motel have the right to be 'grandfathered into the current zoning code regulations? This is what the Board of Appeals must discern. Goldstein also said that amid all the paperwork and records, "it looks like when the original contractors built the facility back in 1957, they had intended it to be an apartment complex but then changed their minds and turned it into a motel."
Patel fears that if the appeal is not granted then he will be forced to become a Single Residency Occupied hotel or convert all 20 units into apartments. "That will put me out of business," he said. Shaw noted that such fears, especially expressed by residents and other merchants are unfounded and false. Zacks pointed out that THC as a non-profit organization has a budget of 20 million and that he believes "THC wants to use this complicated zoning law situation to force Mr. Patel to convert to an SRO or force him to quit," Zacks said.
Collier insisted such a tactic is not so. "Our goal is not to take over Mr. Patel's hotel," he said. THC only wants to ensure that the City enforces fair and just housing laws, especially for the poor and low-income population. Zacks questions the ethics and motives, "what do they (THC) hope to gain by doing this?"
"Mr. Patel has a 'mom and pop' type of establishment, he raised his family there," said Zacks. "This to me is a 'David versus Goliath' situation. THC is a big bully," said Zacks. As Shaw sees it, "THC is involved solely to make sure that a residential hotel under applicable zoning operates according to the law - something hundreds of property owners do without question or controversy. The re-hearing by the Board of Appeals is scheduled for June 20 at City Hall.
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