My first month in San Francisco, just trying to fit in. Obviously I hadn’t made it to Vidal Sassoon yet.
The false hope of January ended in nothing getting accomplished. Three weeks of thinking I had representation only to find out I didn’t had me bingeing on 30 Rock episodes and eating brown rice. The eviction clock was ticking and I had no idea what to do.
I finally accepted that I was going to have to negotiate with Vince Young’s attorney myself. And I thought of a last-ditch trip to the Tenants Union even though no agency or attorney seemed willing to help me.
I first visited the Tenants Union earlier in October when we had inklings that the building was to be sold. The woman who was the counselor that day assured me that I was protected by my senior status. I thanked her and told her I felt better about the situation. She said she understood. She lived in a 16 unit building herself and even though she knew she was protected she still worried about eviction. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of legal certitude.
The day I decided to return I thought I should at least talk to the landlord’s attorney .i felt I should get a better feel for his intentions before I met with the counselor. But I didn’t want to do it. I hated the idea of confrontation and had no skills at negotiating. I procrastinated on making the call as I made my way to the Tenants Union.
I stopped on Fern Alley off Polk Street and pulled out my phone. There were too many hustlers and meth heads hanging out. I walked on to City Hall thinking that would be the appropriate spot. The Bacon Bacon truck was parked in the plaza, I would be too distracted. I kept going until it dawned on me “The Mission.” It’s the oldest building in the City, it’s where it all began.
The first place I lived was around the corner on 17th Street, a railroad flat I shared with 6 other people. We overlooked the cemetery from the back landing. For historical purposes alone this is where I should place the call.
I’m not a spiritual or religious person so prayer wasn’t the reason I was there. But there is no harm in making a wish or going through the motions of seeking divine intervention. It’s a lifetime practice for Catholics. I entered through the gift shop and let the elderly woman at the register explain the highlights to me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d been there many times.
I walked into the adobe church and looked at the red and gold chevrons painted on the cross beams. I always liked them because they were the same colors as the 49ers. I just hoped that the Niners got the idea from the friars and not vice versa. The other colors that interested me were the fauvist amber stained glass windows in the basilica. Their moodiness seemed to imply doubt and uncertainty, issues you usually didn’t raise with the congregation.
I exited the basilica and walked into the graveyard where Hitchcock had filmed Vertigo. I wasn’t going to find a quieter place than this. I braced myself, dialed and waited. It went to voicemail. Deflated, I left a message to call me back but gave no other details. The odyssey continued on to the Tenants Union.
The Eviction Story
My eviction made no sense. A person over 62 who had lived in a unit for 10 years was supposedly protected. An owner couldn’t move in if there were other unprotected units available in the building. But the new owners, Vince Young and the Young Family Trust, said they needed my unit for his elderly father. I called Jim to commiserate. Then I a bottle of bordeaux.
I got the name of the leading eviction defense attorney in the City and contacted her immediately. She emailed back with a brush off advising me to contact the Legal Assistance for the Elderly adding, “let me know if this doesn’t work out.”
I called the LAE and started wrangling with the receptionist. I told her I had been referred. She asked if I was a client. I repeated that I was a referral. We kept going vack and forth until she snapped: “Are you a client or aren’t you?”
She eventually relented, told me to come by Thursday morning.
I checked in that morning and sat in the one waiting room chair. I soaked it all in, much like their carpet had done with every possible stain. It was one of those old Sam Spade 1940’s office buildings with marble floors, frosted glass doors, and an internal stairwell you could gaze, or jump, down. They tried to modernize the exterior with colored panels but there was no mistaking the Maltese Falcon interiors. The furniture was a hodge podge of free clinic hand me downs. I sat there listening to the surly receptionist venting frustration with every caller.
I felt like I didn’t belong. I was squandering resources that were intended for 86 year old women in the Tenderloin living on welfare amongst mountains of newspapers and 32 cats. I was willing to hire an attorney but eviction defense was not an attractive or lucrative practice for most members of the bar. Since the leading local expert recommended this agency I rationalized the LAE knew what they were doing.
The intake paralegal came into the room, introduced himself and read my eviction notice. His first reaction was that we had to act quickly. I had 30 days to notify them of my status or I would waive it. The response needed to be in their hands by the next day.
I told him they already knew I was a senior from the realtor’s form. It didn’t matter, they were conveniently ignoring the facts as a trick. The burden would be on me to prove them wrong if a response was not filed. He disappeared for 20 minutes then came back with a letter for me to sign and hand deliver by Friday’s deadline. He said he also spoke to the attorney on staff and they would take my case.
Vince Young had retained Denise Leadbetter who I read was one of the City’s leading “eviction profiteers.” I walked over to Montgomery Street and gave the letter to her receptionist. Deadline met, I felt secure that I wouldn’t be facing the process alone.
I was wrong. For the next three weeks the agency never called and would not answer my messages. My first clue should have been hearing the attorney’s voice mail recording: “I will try to call you back but I might not.” This lack of concern seemed pretty extreme to me.
As the deadline neared, I scrambled for backup solution at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. The receptionist said no one could see me but gave me a number to call. I did, twice. No response. I called a friend who was a pro bono attorney. She was sympathetic and said she would ask around but added there wasn’t a lot that could be done. She told me to just cut my losses.
Finally, the LAE attorney called and said he couldn’t take my case. I asked why he hadn’t told me earlier. He said I should have known. Then he started a rant on what I should do: go see where the father lives and talk to him, try to negotiate; find out the owner’s financial holdings; hire a private detective to follow him. Then he launched a series of “what if’s” and conspiracy scenarios that got so weird I abruptly thanked him and ended the call.
I contacted the star attorney to inform her things hadn’t worked out. I never heard back. It was January 29th, a week until the eviction process would begin. I was frustrated that everyone I contacted had different interpretations on the law. And that they were so nonchalant in refusing to help. The only thing they agreed on was I didn’t stand a chance.
The Eviction Story