Preschool supporters say investor cut shady deal with Catholic Church

Last December, SF Weekly reported that the Children's Village Child Development Center — a SOMA preschool that has benefited from roughly $1.3 million in government grants — was being evicted by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, its landlord. With the eviction deadline looming in August, parents have mounted a full-blown P.R. campaign hoping to postpone their school's move or find a new site. But the target of their ire is no longer just the Catholic Church. They're now claiming that they've also been screwed by a real estate agent they approached to help them.

In mid-May, according to Kathryn Shantz, who has a 2-year-old daughter at Children's Village, a representative of the school approached Chris Harney of HC&M Properties, a San Francisco real estate agency, about a potential new site in Potrero Hill. "She unwittingly told him our story and our situation," Shantz said. Within weeks, parents learned that Harney had turned around, found a group of investors, and struck a deal to buy the land occupied by Children's Village from the archdiocese — effectively hastening the school's demise. Rafael Parra, another parent, says Harney "took the information and bought the place out from under us," adding that Harney "turned out to be a real schmuck."

Dan Dillon, a lobbyist with the San Francisco firm Platinum Advisors who is serving as spokesman for Harney and his fellow investors, says this version of events is bogus. Dillon says the parents were unable to make a competitive offer for the land in the first place. "It's a $5 million purchase," he says. "If they say we were going to buy the property out from under them, that insinuates they were somehow going to buy the property, and that is just horseshit."

Moreover, Dillon says, Harney had known the property was for sale long before he was approached by the parents' group. "Everybody knows this property's been for sale for years," he says. Shantz counters that she was told by Catholic Charities CYO, the arm of the archdiocese that runs Children's Village, that no potential investors were on the horizon just before information on the school's troubles was given to Harney.

Archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy did not return calls for comment on how, exactly, Harney learned the Children's Village site was for sale or when he finalized the purchase with church officials. Gabrielle Slanina, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities CYO, said she could not comment on the details of the archdiocese's efforts to sell the property.

This much, at present, seems certain: In less than two months, neither the Catholic church nor the real estate investors who will be inheriting the preschool site will be suffering this particular group of children anymore.

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