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article imageLittle motel wins victory over zoning law to shut it down Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 26, 2012 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - The Beach Motel can rest easy now that victory has been won in the SF Board of Appeals decision to allow the small and modest hotel to remain in operation as a tourist/guest motel.
On August 22, the Board of Appeals granted the Patel family permission to continue in their simple and modest motel business which has been in operation for almost 30 years. Before this appeal, owner Bhazubhai ("Bob") Patel and his family had been embroiled in a dispute with City and County officials that dragged on for years.
Most of it had to do with a change of zoning laws that occurred more than 50 years ago, back in 1960 before the Patel family purchased the 20-unit motel on Judah Street, only a block away from Ocean Beach in San Francisco's outer-Sunset District. When the motel was originally built and permits obtained in 1957, there was no zoning law prohibiting the operation of a tourist motel.
When this reporter contacted the Board of Appeals and talked with Executive Director Cynthia Goldstein, she explained that in her research on this situation, there were many "twists and turns" in the records that did indicate that residents did live at the hotel for a while. Yet when Patel bought the hotel in 1983 it was strictly a guest facility.
Patel said that the troubles all began in the early 1990's "and then all was quiet for a while, but then it started all up again," he said. Patel was embroiled in a legal battle to prove that his motel did not violate the zoning ordinance of 1960, when the area was changed from a commercial to strictly residential zoning. Patel and his attorney Andrew Zacks of Zacks and Freedman continuously noted that because the motel had been built in 1957, the zoning law change did not apply to the Beach Motel.
Yet the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a coalition under the direction of founder and CEO Randy Shaw insisted the City had an obligation to enforce the zoning law and require the motel to comply. Which as Patel saw it, would have been to convert his guest motel into an SRO establishment. When this reporter talked to legal counsel for THC Steve Collier, he said that there was no malice in the litigation. "We simply want the City to enforce its legislation," Collier noted. Yet Collier would not respond to inquiries about this recent Aug. 22 decision by the Board of Appeals.
"THC was the entity that had originally requested the Letter of Determination that was under appeal," noted Goldstein, when she responded to this reporter's questions. With the overturning, the Beach Motel can now seek an extension to its lawful 'grandfathered' tourist motel status by submitting an application to the Planning Commission for a 'conditional use authorization' within 30 days," said Ryan J. Patterson, speaking on behalf of Zacks and Freedman in a statement released to the press.
"I am glad I stood up to Randy Shaw and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic," said Patel. Yes, it cost him dearly, not only in an out of court settlement of over $30,000.00, paid to the THC but in court fees, attorney fees and countless hours of sleepless nights.
When this reporter told Patel that Colllier and the housing advocacy coalition had not returned any phone calls, he smiled and said, "I don't think we will be hearing from them for a while."
"Randy Shaw might have wielded a lot of power at one time but he will not be bullying me anymore," said Patel. Both he and his attorney Zacks characterize Shaw and the THC as a Goliath playing the part of a bully, picking on small business and property owners to please his own political agenda.
Patel noted that had Shaw and the THC succeeded, he and his family would have lost their business and in effect, been homeless themselves. Patel questioned not only the logic in that type of strategy but also the justice and ethics of it on the part of Shaw and the THC.
Patel hopes his victory will be of benefit not only to his family but to the entire neighborhood which is trying to revitalize itself.
"This was a major victory," Patterson later said. "However, THC might oppose the Conditional Use application at the Planning Commission. It could be the biggest battle yet. Even if THC does not oppose it, we will need as much community support as possible – the Planning Commission could always deny the application if they think the community doesn’t like the motel," Patterson said.
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