You Don't Own Me

Touring the glamorous homes of the opponents of Prop. R, which would allow thousands of renters per year to buy their own apartments

You want fabulous? I'll show you fabulous: It's spending a sunny Bay Area Friday in the top-down convertible of realtor-to-the-S.F.-stars Kean Brewer; it's heading across the Bay Bridge toward the stunning six-bedroom, four-bath digs of San Francisco housing activist Randy Shaw, visiting the delightful Spanish Mediterranean West of Twin Peaks home of publisher Bruce Brugmann, or the lovely Haight-Ashbury duplex of growth-control advocate Calvin Welch; it's spending an entire morning soaking in the comforting realization that, for all the grousing and moaning and negativity regarding how impossible it is for all but the richest to become established in the city, there's one class of San Franciscan that's doing quite well.

Welcome to Lifestyles of S.F. Politicos Who Don't Think the Rest of Us Should Own Homes, a special SF Weeklyreal estate supplement dedicated to the fabulous architecture, friendly neighborhoods, and patrimony-padding property values of houses owned by opponents of Proposition R, a ballot measure that would allow about 3,400 additional renters per year to buy their apartment units. The current condo-conversion limit is 400 apartments per year. Under the new measure, building residents not wishing to buy would be given lifetime leases similar to rent control.

By allowing thousands of units to be converted to condos, Prop. R could theoretically sink the purchase price of a two-bedroom apartment into the $300,000 range, meaning thousands of San Franciscans would be able to buy their own places. This, several homeowning S.F. politicos say, would be a bad thing.

We were anxious to see how the anti-homeownership homeowner half lived. So we asked realtor Kean Brewer, an elegant-dressing, gourmet-cooking, seven-year veteran of the San Francisco real estate scene, if he might take us for a cruise of Prop. R opponent-owned properties. Beneath the tingly Bay Area sunshine we witnessed champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

Luxury Has Its Price

Randy Shaw's Tenderloin Housing Clinic has for years fought with great success to preserve fleabag hotels. For this, he has earned the title "housing activist."

According to the dictionary of San Francisco politics, this means he opposes Prop. R.

"We want people to be able to buy housing," Shaw said in an interview. "But the people in those houses can't afford to buy those units."

Shaw and his wife, Elaine Feingold, certainly understand the subject of unaffordable housing. Their beautiful six-bedroom mansion in the Berkeley hills had a 2001 assessed value of just over half a million dollars. But real estate agent Brewer says homes this huge, in this neighborhood, could easily top a million dollars.

"You would find well-established old families that would live here, upper-middle-class families to wealthy families," Brewer says. "Typically, when you find a property in this neighborhood, they can pretty much go to the top of what the market will bear, because they don't turn over too often. These are rare little jewels to find."

Proprietary Hippie Chic

Calvin Welch has earned his "housing activist" credentials by aggressively advocating growth controls. Welch signed off on a ballot argument opposing Prop. R. And in a column written for the online San Francisco Sentinel, Welch said the measure would perniciously expand homeownership.

"Just as San Francisco has traditionally thought of itself as other than America and revels in its dreams of being other than American, home ownership in San Francisco has never, ever, been anything San Franciscans have dreamed much about until recently," Welch wrote.

Welch, for one, doesn't need to dream of homeownership. He already owns 519-521 Ashbury St., a beautiful duplex just a couple of doors down from the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Tax records show the duplex was last sold in 1976, and is assessed at $57,010 under the rules of Proposition 13, which froze home values for tax purposes at 1976 levels, to change only when a building is resold. During the past few months, similar buildings in Welch's neighborhood have gone for between $840,000 and $1,207,000, with a median price of a cool $1 million.

According to Brewer, Welch's building affords him urban cachet few properties could match.

"This is an ideal home -- two units right in the heart of Haight-Ashbury," Brewer says. "It's just a beautiful neighborhood. This is a world-famous neighborhood, and it certainly lends itself to people who were growing up in the '60s and '70s, who enjoyed the Grateful Dead kind of culture."

Spanish Mediterranean Living -- For Me, Not You

Bruce Brugmann, owner of a political pamphlet and a lovely hillside home in the West of Twin Peaks neighborhood, is a man who knows how to live. He also apparently knows how the rest of us ought not to live: His San Francisco Bay Guardianhas run at least a dozen articles, including a cover story, voicing opposition to Prop. R.

Brewer says the big man's fortunate to have been a strong proponent of homeownership for himself.

According to tax records, thanks to Prop. 13 Brugmann's house is assessed at only $66,736. And records of recent sales in Brugmann's neighborhood say the publisher's digs are now worth something like $630,000. Brugmann appears to have built himself a tidy real estate nest egg, while avoiding a mountain in taxes.

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