Reynolds Rap

The vacancy preservationists: David Chiu and North Beach cartel still making it tough to do business

At a cafe in Mill Valley, Jordan Angle opens a large binder containing a business plan for Tryst, the high-end restaurant and lounge that he and his partners want to open at 493 Broadway Street in North Beach. The building is owned by Angle’s 88-year-old grandmother, Alyce Craft, and has been in the family for 150 years. Angle points to a menu of tasty dining options such as eggs Benedict with crab and bacon, as well as to numerous pie charts displaying the results of extensive research he and his partners have done on everything from demographics to competition. “They don’t care about any of this,” he says. “They tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing and they don’t trust me.”

The “they” Jordan is referring to is the incestuous neighborhood groups of North Beach — the Telegraph Hill Dwellers (THD), North Beach Business Association (NBBA), Southern Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association (SoTel), and Broadway Community Benefit District (BCBD) — and their allies, Kathleen Dooley of the Small Business Commission, former Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, and current Board of Supervisors president David Chiu.

“Peskin just joined the NBBA, where his friend Kathleen Dooley is now the president; Kathleen was appointed to the Small Business Commission by David Chiu, and she is also former president of THD,” Angle explains. “Aaron Peskin’s wife, Nancy Shanahan, is on the board of THD and she’s close friends with Stephanie Greenburg, who is president of both SoTel and the BCBD. The vice president of the BCBD is Joe Carouba, who owns all of the strip clubs in North Beach, and David Chiu helped to create the BCBD …”

If this tangled web sounds familiar, that’s because I wrote a story for the March issue of the Marina Times about Chiu and his cohorts trying to enact a liquor moratorium in North Beach. That plan has been put on hold, likely because the battle with fellow supervisor David Campos to represent California District 17 in the State Assembly is contentious, and Chiu doesn’t need any more controversy before the June 3 primary election. That’s also why, I assume, Chiu stomped all over the First Amendment after my article appeared.

“I’ve been trying to negotiate with David Chiu for two years,” Angle says, “and he’d pretty much cut me off — until your article came out. That’s when I got a call asking my attorney and me to come to his office. The first thing Chiu said was. ‘I’ll only negotiate with you if you stop talking to the press.’ I told him that was the only reason he was talking to me now. He said, ‘If you talk to the press again my door will shut.’ I told him that I would agree only if he would negotiate with me in good faith.”

As I mentioned last month in a story about Chiu’s attempts to regulate residential building owners with his Airbnb legislation, I don’t understand why the president of the Board of Supervisors has taken on the role of San Francisco property manager. Even more disturbing is the politics he plays, particularly with regard to his proposed liquor license moratorium.

“The Tosca Group is opening a bar in the old Lusty Lady, which is owned by Roger Forbes, co-owner of BSC Management with Joe Carouba. They’re getting a brand new type 48 liquor license, where they never had one before. The Future Bars group is opening another bar where [Jazz at] Pearl’s was and they’re getting a new 48 license, too, even though Pearl’s only had a 47, which is for restaurants,” Angle says. “These places are right by my grandmother’s building, which has always been a bar and has always had a 48 license, but Chiu won’t give us a 48 now. Chiu also wants our conditional use permit to state that we can never have entertainment, even though we’re located in an entertainment district.”

Both of those other projects are moving forward without a conditional use permit hearing before the planning commission, because zoning administrator Scott Sanchez says they received no complaints to trigger such a hearing. Back room deals are the Broadway Corridor’s dirty little secret. Donations and contributions benefiting key players have been known to make the difference between businesses that get what they want — and those that don’t. “I guess that’s how you play the game,” Angle says. “It truly is a cartel.”

Angle isn’t the only business owner in North Beach to come up against Chiu and his cronies — they kept the Pagoda Theater dark for years, forced the closure of the Piazza Market, and are now flexing their muscle with the family that owns Mama’s on Washington Square, who want to take over the long-vacant Piazza space; they’ve also managed to keep another watering hole, the Crowbar, empty for a decade despite the fact that it’s had a number of serious suitors.

And why are these neighborhood and business “advocates” such vacancy preservationists? “They want everything to stay the same,” Angle says. “They wanted the Pagoda to stay a theater, even though it closed and the owner had people ready to turn it into condos and a restaurant; they insisted the new owner of the Piazza Market keep selling groceries like the previous owner, even though they went out of business and he was opening a restaurant. He tried to accommodate them, but the concept of a cafe selling groceries didn’t work and he went under, too; now they want Mama’s to sell groceries there.”

Adding to the frustration for Angle and other Broadway corridor property owners is the BCBD assessment. “They charge building owners thousands of dollars per year, and then they oppose new projects that don’t fit with their political agendas,” says Angle. “So we are basically paying them to keep our buildings empty.”

That frustration came to a head when Angle sent an e-mail to his fellow building owners stating that he wanted to work together to disband the BCBD. Almost immediately, Angle got a call from Chiu’s office requesting a 9 a.m. meeting at his office. “When my attorney and I arrived, Chiu’s face was bright red and he was really angry. He was yelling about how helping to create the BCBD was five years of his work, and then he said, ‘I’ll only continue negotiating with you if you send another e-mail saying you don’t support disbanding the BCBD.’ Somehow he got his hands on my e-mail. I couldn’t believe it.” After contacting the other business owners by phone to explain why he was doing it, Angle reluctantly sent out the email Chiu wanted, making sure to copy Chiu, Chiu’s aides, and Greenburg, but negotiations regarding Tryst remain stalled.

If Chiu did all of this to generate support among the leaders of the North Beach cartel for his upcoming election, it hasn’t worked. “This all goes back to Nancy; she’s the key to all of it,” Angle says. “But now she and Aaron have turned on Chiu and are supporting Campos for State Assembly. I guess I would just ask voters one thing: If David Chiu lied to me in San Francisco, will he lie to them in Sacramento?”

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