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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

Wednesday, Oct 16 2002
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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 Weekly real 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 Guardian has 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.

"You've got these beautiful views -- you have city hill views. It's a lovely, quiet, well-established neighborhood," Brewer says. "People are very house-proud out here."

Leafy Comfort, Near Shopping, Sans Homeowners' Associations

Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano is one of 26 signers of an anti- Prop. R ballot argument that seems to suggest the measure is anti-gay: "The rare few who can buy will find that instead of one landlord, they have many -- their Condo Homeowners Association. A majority vote can ban dogs, rainbow flags -- or restrict overnight or long-term guests."

Ammiano certainly puts his money where his mouth is: No condo owner himself, Ammiano is the proud deed-holder to a lovely home in that dreamy, shaded, restaurant-packed area where Bernal Hill butts up against Mission Street.

With the last sale recorded in 1974, Ammiano's house has a recorded Prop. 13 assessed value of $39,074. Recent sales data from Ammiano's neighborhood, meanwhile, suggest his house is now worth $382,500. And it's a bargain even at that price, Brewer believes.

"This is a charming little neighborhood right off of Mission. The beautiful thing about this location is that you've got ambient light everywhere. This is always the sunny Mission. [In a] neighborhood like this you have lots of old, charming architecture: You have a mixture of Victorian as well as some Spanish Mediterranean, and this is a classic example," Brewer says. "You've got great shopping access. You've got wonderful light, and usually the yards in this area do very well for foliage. If you're the type who likes a landscaped back yard, and if you like to have the summer barbecues, this is an ideal location."

My Location, Location, Location -- Not Yours

Before he became a supervisor, Aaron Peskin was known as the king of North Beach, thanks to his tireless activism toward protecting the neighborhood where he now owns a lovely two-bedroom, 1912 home. Peskin bought his house before becoming supervisor, according to tax records. Recent neighborhood sales suggest it's worth around $803,000. Sounds like a great idea for the rest of us, no?

Well, no. At least not according to Peskin's anti-Prop. R ballot argument, paid for by the San Francisco Tenants Union.

"Vote NO to preserve neighborhood character and save affordable housing," Peskin wrote.

Peskin ought to know: His Filbert Street neighborhood is filled with character.

"It's a nice area, a lot like Telegraph Hill," says Brewer. "You're near the waterfront. You're within walking distance to the tourist areas, North Beach, all these landmarks. It's very desirable -- we just sold a condo in that area for $725,000, a two-bedroom, about five months ago. And, mind you, that was a lower-level condo. So it's a really lovely area."

Gritty, Exclusive Charm

One of the city's newest homeowners, Supervisor Chris Daly, ran into a bit of embarrassment last year when allies of his archenemy, Mayor Willie Brown, touted public records showing he had recently bought a $435,000, two-bedroom SOMA condominium with the help of an $85,000 bank account.

In a ballot argument also paid for by the San Francisco Tenants Union, Daly said Prop. R is bad because the measure's sponsors are bad.

"Don't trust your home to untrustworthy people. Vote NO on Prop. R," Daly's statement read.

Speaking of trust, Daly has entrusted his own financial future to a real estate investment that will remain sound -- as long as Prop. R doesn't suddenly make condominiums more affordable.

"As an investment, it's probably a solid one," Brewer says. "With any investment, whether it's real estate or the stock market, it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. If you worry about it day to day, you'll give yourself an ulcer. Five to seven years, you could almost certainly make a profit. Your income tax credit for your mortgage deduction is a tremendous savings over time, versus what you would end up paying in rent, which you don't get any tax breaks from. You're always ahead when you buy. Someone with a home of their own is always at an advantage over someone who rents."

About The Author

Matt Smith

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