Common Cause

Because she owns an apartment via tenancy in common, Sue Hestor is the perfect spokeswoman for homeownership

Darryl Cox will always remember the date he signed his life away: Dec. 22, 1986. Darryl was hanging out with two friends, David and Sue, at Sue's place. Sue handed Darryl a small, rectangular box.

"I opened it and said, "What's this?'" Darryl recalls. "And she said, "It has closed.'"

"Closed," as in, "The deal has closed." The box contained keys to a three-unit apartment building on Highland Avenue adjacent to Holly Park in San Francisco's Bernal Heights. Darryl, Sue, and David had become friends during San Francisco's post-1960s progressive political battles, including the 1977 struggle to preserve district elections in San Francisco and the 1970s and '80s fights for Proposition M, which restricted the amount of office construction that could be undertaken each year in the city. Now they were partners in homeownership.

As Darryl recalls it, Sue had been looking to establish herself, to buy a building with some other people. "I was in grad school at Harvard. I came back, and she approached me, and I said, "I just got out of graduate school, I'm not sure I could do this,'" Darryl recalls. "But David's ex-wife made it possible for him and me to provide the down payment."

It was a heady time: Three young, progressive political activists were going to make mortgage payments, rather than pay rent. The money would go toward building equity. Though they weren't rich, they would build grubstakes. They would each establish an economic patrimony, putting themselves on more equal footing with the privileged.

Over the years, though, the friendships faded. Darryl got a job back east, as director of strategic planning and policy for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and rented out his San Francisco unit. David became a sometime political consultant and anti-growth activist. Sue gained renown as an anti-development attorney.

As they each found their own way in the world, the partners drifted apart ideologically. Darryl, for example, became increasingly irritated by the new focus of Sue's anti-development civic activism. In 1998 Sue was the sole individual signer of a paid ballot advertisement that blamed tenancies in common (TICs) for forcing S.F. residents from their homes: "In 1983, when condominium conversions became epidemic, the city passed a condo conversion law. Now speculators have found a way around the condo law -- tenancy-in-common condos," said the paid argument, written in support of a ballot measure aimed at limiting owners' ability to purchase and then to occupy TICs. "Exempt from the condo law for technical reasons, this new form of condo conversion relies on [owner move-in] evictions to bypass the condo law." (1)

Darryl saw Sue's stance as hypocritical. "She lives in a TIC, and why in the world she thinks other people shouldn't be entitled to that is beyond me," he says.

The one-time friends' business relationship became strained. Living across the country meant conducting business long distance, and Darryl found Sue's telephone manner bossy.

"She takes a very imperious tone," Darryl says. "I would be talking with her, long distance over the phone, and the way she would talk to me was as if I was dumb. And I said to her, "We're talking about my building. I can't tolerate this anymore. I'm not talking with you.' I sent her a letter that said, "Tell David what I need to know, and I'll talk with David.' I just couldn't stand that tone anymore. We're supposed to be colleagues. And colleagues don't talk to each other that way."

Things soured between Darryl and David, too. David tried to acquire Darryl's portion of the building. Darryl rebuffed him through an attorney. Most divisive, however, was the issue of the building's rotting steps. Nobody wanted to fix them, Darryl says.

"Last year I had to go to the city and get the inspectors to come out and declare that the rear steps were a hazard and had to be replaced," Darryl says. "They gave me one song and dance after another. I said, "These steps have to be fixed.' Finally, the mortgage holder, California Savings, sent all three of us a letter saying, "You're violating the terms of the contract. Replace the steps, or we have to foreclose.'"

Workers are now building new steps, but nothing, Darryl says, will repair the old friendships. "These relationships, as far as my involvement, are null," he laments. "There is no way to rebuild those relationships in any way, shape, or form."

Regular readers of this column may suspect that I'm recounting the saga of these troubled tenants in common because I take exception to the politics some of them profess. After all, I devoted last week's column to branding anti-growth attorney Sue Hestor -- part owner, along with Darryl Cox, of the building at 325-329 Highland Ave. -- as a political self-dealer. And it's also true that last year I dedicated more ink to criticizing the awful anti-growth Proposition L than any other subject, and Prop. L's intellectual author and campaign treasurer was David Looman, the third tenant-owner of 325-329 Highland Ave.

But I'm describing their travails for reasons unrelated to my political leanings. I'm telling the story of Darryl Cox, Sue Hestor, and David Looman because I feel their pain.

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