In SF, any old slum is a hot property 

click to enlarge The Civic Center Hotel, on 12th Street west of South Van Ness Avenue, could fetch tens of millions of dollars if purchased by a developer. It allegedly is infested with rats. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • The Civic Center Hotel, on 12th Street west of South Van Ness Avenue, could fetch tens of millions of dollars if purchased by a developer. It allegedly is infested with rats.

San Francisco is so desirable a place to live these days, it seems any property will fetch a high price.

The Civic Center Hotel is a rat-infested slum known for violence and harboring drug dealers. But since this is The City in 2015, the single-room-occupancy property is also prime real estate, worth potentially tens of millions of dollars.

Situated on 12th Street just west of South Van Ness Avenue, the five-story, 100-year-old hotel is a reminder of the days when the mid-Market Street area was a seedy strip and not the current center of The City's tech-industry boom. Yet just a few blocks away from the headquarters of tech giants Uber and Twitter, people congregate outside on the sidewalk at all hours drinking and using drugs.

Police were called to the hotel 51 times from July to the beginning of the year, according to police data. That made it the busiest address in a half-mile radius.

And at least two homicides have been recorded at the hotel since 2009.

"It's a holdover from a different time," said Donald Savoie, executive director of the Civic Center Community Benefit District, which keeps the area clean -- a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the hotel is a "magnet" for trouble.

"It's an attraction," Savoie said. "And it's a bad attraction."

The behavior at the hotel has gone on for years despite a lawsuit filed against the owners and managers by a former resident and another one filed in May by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Both lawsuits allege vermin infestations and bad plumbing among longstanding building and health code violations.

The Civic Center Hotel receives subsidies from the Department of Public Health to house formerly homeless residents, and complaints from some of those residents led to more housing code violations last fall, according to Department of Building Inspection records.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood around the hotel is rapidly changing, creating an island of urban blight in an ocean of skyrocketing real estate prices.

Just across 12th Street, where people can be seen sleeping in cars day and night, a developer is slated to turn the longtime San Francisco Honda dealership into a 400-foot-tall condominium tower.

Across Market Street toward South Van Ness Avenue, developers want to replace a doughnut shop with a 307-unit condo building.

The hotel is owned by the politically connected Plumbers Union United Association Local 38, whose headquarters is located across a parking lot from the hotel. The plumbers are also reportedly entertaining offers from developers for that two-story headquarters.

Union business agent Larry Mazzola Jr. -- whose father, Larry Mazzola Sr., was recently sworn in for a sixth term on The City's Airport Commission by Mayor Ed Lee -- did not respond to calls for comment.

Attorney Kurt D. Bridgman -- counsel for the plumbers union and Balswin Thakor, who manages the hotel -- declined to comment for this story.

Interest in the building is buoyed in part by favorable zoning that allows for high-rise construction, a coveted rarity in San Francisco that apparently outweighs any concern about the neighborhood eyesore.

"I didn't think it was going to happen this fast," said Savoie, who added that a plan to close off a nearby alley off 12th Street and build a community garden was kyboshed so as to not put off future developers. "It changed quicker than we thought."

It's not certain what could happen to the hotel itself. If the property were to be redeveloped, city law would require the low-income residents to be housed elsewhere in San Francisco at a cost to the potential developer.

If that happens, few appear ready to cry "gentrification" and pine for the bad old days. Even longtime hotel patrons who call the block home hope that the development boom sweeps up the hotel.

"It's not quite the Tenderloin," said Tony Robinson, 50, a former occupant of the hotel who added that he is currently homeless. "But it's bad. Roaches, mice. ... It's always been messed up."

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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