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San Francisco Man Prevented from Turning His 'Historic Laundromat' Into Apartment Building Is Suing the City for $17 Million

Robert Tillman's attempts to build housing have been frustrated by an increasingly ridiculous set of objections.

Robert Tillman, the owner of San Francisco's most famous laundromat, is suing the city for repeatedly frustrating his attempts to build a code-compliant, 75-unit apartment building on land he owns in the housing-starved city.

Tillman has been trying to get approval for his project since 2014. He has faced always-heated, ever-shifting objections from local activists and allied politicians. At various times they have complained that he is not adding enough below-market rate units, that his laundromat is of historic significance, or—most recently—that it might cast shadow on the playground of a nearby school. (The playground is already shaded by trees.)

That last objection was accepted by the city's Board of Supervisors in June at the urging of Supervisor Hillary Ronen. Ronen represents the Mission District, where Tillman's laundromat is located; she is a close ally of the activists trying to kill Tillman's project; and she had demanded that a new shadow study (over and above the two already performed) needs to be conducted.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Tillman's lawyers say that neither state nor local law requires further study of shadow impacts. It is, they argue, a concocted pretext to prevent the potential housing from ever being built.

"In this case, a single Board member [Ronen] allied with special interest groups in the Mission district seeking to acquire the property at a below-market price, or otherwise to block it entirely, single-handedly killed the project after the Petitioner [Tillman] refused to sell the property to the activists at the discounted price demanded by those groups," his lawsuit reads.

San Francisco requires that shadow impacts be studied only when they have a chance of impacting a public park managed by the city's Parks Department. Staff at San Francisco's own Planning Department say the school does not fall into that definition, and the school itself has offered no objection to the possibility of shadow from Tillman's planned building.

Nevertheless, Ronan says the school's park could at some point be made available to the public and thus should be studied further. As Tillman's suit notes, if this logic were accepted, more than just his project would be at risk. "Over 250 schools are located in the City," the complaint states.

Tillman is suing on several counts, arguing that Ronen's explicit prejudice against his project has denied him a fair hearing, that the constant delays are a violation of his due process rights, and that the repeated use of these delays to pressure him to sell his land amounts to a taking under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Asked by Mission Local for comment, Ronen replied: "What can I say? I look forward to the court deciding which is more important: a developer's profits or children's access to sun on a playground."

Given that San Francisco is suffering from one of the most severe housing shortages in the country, and given that the park she is allegedly so concerned about is already shaded, I would hazard to say that perhaps just in this one instance, the profits Tillman might earn from building an apartment building may be more important than whether sunlight falls on certain small patches of land.

Bonus links: Read Reason's previous coverage of Tillman's case here and here.

Photo Credit: Tyler Olson/Dreamstime.com

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  • Rich||

    Ronan [or is it Ronen?] replied: "What can I say? I look forward to the court deciding which is more important: a developer's profits or children's access to sun on a playground."

    Why does Ronan want children to have skin cancer? WHY?!

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Everybody's got Aids, Aids Aids Aids.

  • darkflame||

    Something Positive is such a good webcomic.

  • perlchpr||

    "In this case, a single Board member [Ronen] allied with special interest groups in the Mission district seeking to acquire the property at a below-market price, or otherwise to block it entirely, single-handedly killed the project after the Petitioner [Tillman] refused to sell the property to the activists at the discounted price demanded by those groups," his lawsuit reads.

    Asked by Mission Local for comment, Ronen replied: "What can I say? I look forward to the court deciding which is more important: a developer's profits or children's access to sun on a playground."

    So, seriously. What do assassins cost these days?

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Note to self: Buy more stock in woodchipper manufacturing.

  • croaker||

    Certified Public Assassins are hard to find, but worth it.

  • See.More||

    I had to read that three times before I spotted the "L" in "Public"...

  • Robert||

    Cost? I'd pay for the privilege!

  • Robert||

    Just tie her down, provide rusty, dull knives, & sell each individual stab or slash. You'll make a mint for the charity of your choice.

  • Longtobefree||

    Ronan's real concern is that the children might realize that they could CHOOSE sun or shade, and begin to question the dictates of their betters.
    If individualism breaks out in San Francisco, the world will end.

  • perlchpr||

    [T]hey have complained that he is not adding enough below-market rate units

    I really think SF doesn't take this far enough.

    If building developers can be required to provide some portion of their output at below market rates, then everyone should be subject to those sorts of laws. Bars, restaurants, grocery stores, record shops, movie theaters, you name it. They should all be required to provide a portion of their product at below market rates.

    And it wouldn't be fair for those fat cat businessmen to maintain their evil profit margins by raising prices on everything else, so we'll need to set up a committee, to dictate the price of everything. It'll be like rent control, but for hamburgers.

  • Fancylad||

    A big hamburger committee, and the committee members should be well recompensed for their efforts, and there should be fact-finding trips to Dubai, and the Caribbean and Paris.

  • CE||

    Hey, Shake Shack had one of its first 3 stores in Dubai.

  • Brandybuck||

    Hookers. Just saying.

  • perlchpr||

    Rent control for hookers.

    And, of course, we can't have the supply dry up, so the government will have to ensure that these women remain hookers, no matter what price they are forced to accept.

    Then too, there's public accommodations laws to consider. We can't allow discrimination. The ADA will mandate that even AIDS patients be served. Hookers will have to take all comers (ha ha), at the government set price.

    That seems reasonable.

  • Brandybuck||

    Imagine the quality of hookers if they were supplied the same way public defenders were...

  • Tom Bombadil||

    That explains IHOB. Goddamn globalism.

  • BILKER||

    in the asshole of creation, san francisco, below average market rates would still be $3000 for a 1 bedroom.. friscoites keep the prices high so that their maids and gardeners can't live where they work. it's all a manufactured housing shortage. this is the same "city" that gave us feinstein, pelosi, newsome, harris and many more detriments to society.

  • Overt||

    I do not understand why the Reason team doesn't do an article explicitly investigating this:

    "single-handedly killed the project after the Petitioner [Tillman] refused to sell the property to the activists at the discounted price demanded by those groups"

    This is the third article I have seen where a development is blocked, and some activist group is discussed shopping for the property. Why are they doing this? Is it really activism, or is some other developer behind it? What are their goals?

    There is so much possibly at the core of this, from basic cronyism to possible extortion, bribery and other corruption.

  • Cathy L||

    It's almost routine in San Francisco. It's your basic NIMBYism. People who already own homes in the neighborhood don't want more housing built.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    My thought as well; build some in someone else's back yard, just not here.

    And a historic laundromat? How is that even possible?

  • CE||

    And yet they pretend to care that housing is expensive.

  • LarryA||

    NIMBY is alive and well, but the simplest explanation is socialism.

    The activists want government-funded housing, with them controlling it "for the good of the people" instead of for a profit. That way the housing can be "free," and people will have no alternative in where or how to live.

  • CE||

    They want low income housing, so artists and eccentrics can continue to live there, and not be displaced by productive engineers taking their Google/Apple/Facebook buses to Silicon Valley.

  • Brandybuck||

    It should be noted that economic development in California is not centered in San Fransisco, but rather to the south in Silicon Valley. A few companies are located there, but they tend to be web pages more interested in ephemeral design than innovation.

    San Fransisco does not want housing, does not want jobs, does not want economic growth. They are the quintessential conservatives: they hate change. They forget that they are a cultural center only because they used to be different than they are now. And that cultural center is dissolving into hate filled SJWism that abhors economic sanity.

    There's a reason tech labor is bused out of San Fransisco, and not into it.

  • Robert||

    What did 'F'risco contribute to culture? Dashiel Hammett, Rice-a-Roni,...?

  • ||

    Dirty Harry

  • albo||

    Mayor: I don't want any more trouble like you had last year in the Fillmore District. Understand? That's my policy.
    Insp. Harry Callahan: Yeah, well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard; that's my policy.
    Mayor: Intent? How did you establish that?
    Insp. Harry Callahan: When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross.
    Mayor: [after Callahan has left] I think he's got a point

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    Chinatown

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    Chinatown

  • Dillinger||

    Bullitt, dude ... dang

  • No Longer Amused||

    Please remember to pay your bribes before being asked for them.

  • H. Farnham||

    So... did Jesus wash the Shroud of Turin at this place? How the hell does a laundromat get historic status?

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Ancient Chinese Secret.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Just glanced at the referenced 137 page historical study document, and for life of me I cannot find when it started as a laundromat. It is not on the national, state, or municipal registry of historic places. It might, however, have been used by a non profit coalition of some sort in the 1970's or 80's.

  • Brandybuck||

    Jerry Garcia washed his socks there. Once.

  • Dillinger||

    fake news. Jerry didn't wear socks.

  • John I||

    ""Asked by Mission Local for comment, Ronen replied: "What can I say? I look forward to the court deciding which is more important: a developer's profits or children's access to sun on a playground."""

    No one tell those kids how much a few hours of sunlight in their childhoods will cost them when they grow up and can't afford housing

  • John I||

    The shade from this apartment building will protect those children from harmful UV rays. Why does Hillary Rosen want our children to be prematurely wrinkled and riddled with skin cancer?

  • Dillinger||

    >>>a developer's profits or children's access to sun on a playground

    none of the kids would live in the apartments?

  • Jeff_H||

    On the other hand, a new park will provide space to add portable toilets for the people who won't live in the apartments.

    I guess that it evens out.

  • albo||

    The blue city model--rich liberal white people stopping further apartment construction while dodging vagrant turdpiles on their way to their bullshit knowledge industry job.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Well said; that is damn near bumper sticker worthy

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Historic Laundromat was my nickname in high school.

  • Historic Laundromat||

    Deconstructed Potato was my nickname in high school.

    These days I self-identify as a privately-owned apartment building, but the government doesn't recognize that and won't let me live my life the way I choose.

  • Galane||

    The jist of it is that Ronen is attempting to user her position in city government to steal the property from Tillman so *she* can make big money from building apartments.

    It's purely greed, corruption, and graft - and she needs to at the least be booted from her government job and forever barred from any government job, appointment, or election in the city.

  • CE||

    Jail time would be good too.

  • WillPaine||

    If a laundromat was installed, the building is really, no longer historic; and if it was historic, a laundromat should never have been put in it. The pic looks like about Deco; and shade is nice. Have him build 1/3 lower income homes/condos/apts., perhaps. Last I hear, being done in places. Places where hard working people can have some affordable shelter, no?, perhaps. Works well, last I heard...peace

  • CE||

    Or just let more developers build more apartments throughout the city, so rents start to come down for everyone.

  • DrZ||

    Laundromat into 75 units? At best this is a wash.

  • CE||

    The city council put the owner through the ringer, then hung him out to dry.

  • tommhan||

    Just more dirty politics.

  • John C. Randolph||

    They'll keep making him jump through these stupid hoops until and unless he starts paying off politicians like all the other developers in San Francisco. Duh..

    -jcr

  • Jerry B.||

    Part of my elementary school playground was shaded by the elementary school building. How could DeKalb County have let this happen? Who knows what developmental problems this caused me? Who can I sue? It's been over 50 years, but someone must be held responsible.

  • Bob Armstrong||

    Google Earth shows the playground to be very small and totally tree covered .

    But I keep looking for how tall the apartment building would be . How many stories for 75 units ? Would it be the biggest structure for miles around ?

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