Market Economics

The shadiest aspect of this whole saga involves Bill Rojas' secretive and heated campaign to sell the ground under the Shopping Centre. It's worth pointing out that throughout Rojas' attempt to dispose of one of the school district's most valuable assets, S.F. Associates managed to remain a vague nonentity, and the names of potential buyers never managed to surface. Even now, Jonathan Bass tiptoes when asked about S.F. Associates' interest in owning the site. "Look at it this way," he says. "I think my client is a natural buyer of the ground under the building they own. And I think the school district is aware of our interest."

But Meade himself told me: "I had some discussions with a guy named Tim Tronson [the school district's head of facilities development and management], and frankly, we had agreed, between he and I, in order to settle all this, we were just gonna buy the damn thing. And we agreed to a very healthy price."

The price was $22 million. Meade figures this price was healthy on the basis of the rent he currently pays ($1.3 million). Other observers estimate the value of that lot at "easily" $45 million. By law, the district is bound to put the land out to auction, so an outside buyer could have bid up the price or even snatched the lease rights from under S.F. Associates' feet; but the sense I get from nosing around on this issue is that neither the school district under Rojas nor Dickie Meade wanted to let that happen.

To be absolutely fair about this, Bill Rojas wasn't stupid enough to sell the district's most glamorous perpetual asset for a mere 17 years' worth of ground rent. He wanted to apply for state matching funds to bring in a total of $80 million.

Still, at best, the saga of the San Francisco Shopping Centre is a dingy, business-as-usual tale about some investors protecting their bottom line by outwitting some fairly witless school district negotiators. At worst, Rojas' campaign last year to sell the land was underhanded and nefarious, and it raises real questions about the way in which the school district has handled two lawsuits over Shopping Centre rent.

In the sluggish late '80s, as Meade and friends argue, it may have been a pioneering risk to put up a mall on the unfashionable side of Market. But I don't see any reason, now, to cushion S.F. Associates from the consequences of an unexpected boom that the rest of us have to deal with every day.

Michael Scott Moore ( can be reached atSF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco, CA 94107.

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