On the Outskirts, But Certainly Not ‘Sleepy’

The little neighborhood at the far end of Mission Street has its fair share of news-worthy drama.

Police investigate a homicide on Mission Street on Thursday, June 7, 2018.

The Excelsior is a neighborhood often described as being on the “outskirts” of San Francisco. Without a large music venue, a movie theater, a terrarium-filled boutique, or another hipster lure, the largely-residential neighborhood is not often frequented by people who don’t live there.

But if you assume it’s sleepy, you’re wrong. Some of the juiciest headlines from the past couple years have involved the Excelsior, from hidden gambling dens to dirty secrets hidden in the basement of a laundromat. Here are just a few of the controversial events that have gone down in the little boxes-full-of-ticky-tacky neighborhood during the past year.

Illegal gambling shacks

In between the Vietnamese eateries and hair salons sit a number of mysterious storefronts, with blacked-out windows and nothing but a street address on the door. Illegal gambling dens have long been a problem in the Excelsior, and after the cops raid them, they usually just pop up somewhere new. The most recently written-about spot was located at 4182 Mission St., Jhec of all Trades.

Cops busted it repeatedly, but security was lax enough to allow Joe Eskenazi, a Mission Local reporter, in. He called it “stiflingly unpleasant,” describing the scene as such: “Nearly everyone is surly and prodigiously tatted up; both men and women wear white undershirts and knit caps in this stuffy, cave-like series of rooms.”

The site has been plagued by a number of arrests over the years, ranging from methamphetamine sales to possession of stolen vehicles. After an October 2017 bust that resulted in the seizure of several slot machines, City Attorney Dennis Herrera declared that enough was enough. In March, five people, all owners or managers, were ordered to shutter the site for a year and pay tens of thousands of dollars in retribution.

Will it work? We’ll see. As Herrera put it, “This gambling den is like a weed. It has been cut down before. Now we’re pulling out the roots to ensure it doesn’t come back.”

Laundromat basement death trap

The gambling shacks weren’t the only time in the past year when Herrera had to step in to control a sketchy Excelsior situation. For years, a seemingly normal laundromat at 4680 Mission St. hid a secret in its basement: A series of dangerous makeshift rooms housed around 20 low-income people, including children and people with serious illnesses. Discovered on Christmas Day 2016, the city promptly shut it down, and last August Herrera filed a suit against owner Melissa Mendoza. It was settled just a few weeks ago; Mendoza will pay $620,000 in fines and will have any other properties she owned closely scrutinized for future violations. Ernesto Paredes, the master tenant, will have to shell out $20,000 to the city, too.

Cannabis dispensary debates

Excelsior Supervisor Ahsha Safai began his fight against marijuana dispensaries way back in 2016, when he was campaigning for his job. Last July, he attempted to make good on his promise, with an ordinance to limit cannabis dispensaries in the entirety of District 11 to three — which basically put a cap on new ones, as Mission Organic, Cookies SF, and The Green Cross are already there. The Board of Supervisors approved it, but in the end it was a pretty pointless measure, since citywide legalization launched Jan. 1, 2018.

Nevertheless, it was a barometer for how some of the more conservative neighborhoods in San Francisco feel about recreational marijuana.

“When you put so many in one area, it begins to have additional externalities,” Safai said last year. “It begins to degrade the quality of life.”

We’re going to take a bet that the battle to keep pot out of the Excelsior isn’t over yet.

Surprise Homicide

While fatal shootings certainly aren’t the norm in the Excelsior, we did happen to stumble across the scene of one when the SF Weekly team toured the neighborhood on a sunny afternoon. In this case, Robert Riley (aka Chui Chekele Riley), shot and killed his wife Vanessa Palma, 34, shortly after 11 a.m. on an otherwise normal Thursday morning. It’s the kind of thing that sadly could happen in any neighborhood in San Francisco, but dodging police tape and crowds of curious onlookers, it drove home that things do go down in the Excelsior, despite how “ever upward” its name implies.

Read more stories from SF Weekly‘s Excelsior issue:

X Marks the Excelsior
What’s the difference between the Excelsior, Outer Mission, and Crocker-Amazon? Here’s our spreadsheet cheat sheet to these borders.

A Thrilla at Manila
Manila Oriental Market, the pan-Asian grocery at the corner of Mission Street and I-280, is a treasure.

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget
Its main drag looks a lot like Queens, N.Y., which happens to be the most diverse place in the U.S.

Excelsior’s Princess Diaries House Keeps the Dream Alive
Anne Hathaway got her angst on in a historic Excelsior firehouse. Go there and relive your teenage dreams!

Head Banned
The neighborhood nicknamed ‘Dispensary Row’ has sparked, um, a  row over zoning that’s kept new marijuana businesses away from the family-dominated district.

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