A half-century of lies - Page 4

Thousands of Fillmore residents lost homes and businesses to redevelopment - and were promised a chance to return. 50 years later, Leola King is still waiting

Meanwhile, the Bird Cage's leftover furnishings - from oil paintings, rugs and curtains to an ice maker, wood shelving and an antique porcelain lamp - were destroyed when the agency amazingly chose to store them on an outdoor lot off Third Street during her move, a fact later confirmed by an agency employee in an affidavit.

"They moved it all out," King said, "all these antiques and stuff, into this field where the weather ate it up."

The agency's initial response was to determine how it could best avoid legal liability. Redevelopment officials finally offered her about $100,000, which she needed desperately to keep things moving with the Bird Cage's new location, but King insists today the materials were worth closer to $1 million.

As she was fighting to reopen her bar business, she attempted to redeem an earlier certificate of preference given to her when she'd lost a residential property on Webster Street to redevelopment. In 1983, she bought a condemned, 12-unit apartment building on Eddy Street hoping to rehabilitate it using a federally backed loan.

The deal only led to more trouble. The agency paid for its own roving security to patrol Western Addition properties it had purchased, and before 1431 Eddy St. was ever officially conveyed to King (as well as two other neighboring developers), thieves gutted the building of windows, doors, plumbing, light fixtures and other hardware. (Two buildings belonging to neighboring developers were also hit, and the agency addressed their losses the same way.)

Almost immediately, the agency told her she'd purchased the building "as is" and that they weren't responsible for the break-in. But according to an internal 1983 memo marked "confidential," later unearthed when friends of King submitted a records request to the agency, staffers clearly were concerned about the legal implications of offering one building for sale "as is" and actually providing another one on the date of delivery that had been thoroughly burglarized.

The memo shows that the possibility of a lawsuit was of greater concern to the agency than any obligation to compensate King for the lost hardware, regardless of whether proper security was the agency's responsibility. Records show they did discuss a settlement of little more than $2,000, but King considered the stolen goods to be worth thousands of dollars more.

She managed to eventually finish the rehabilitation of her Eddy Street property after several years of work, and while she lives there today, time and angst took their toll. Each step of the transition to what she hoped would someday become her new bar, Goldie's on Post Street, involved a seemingly endless round of yet more negotiations, letters, legal threats and bureaucratic backbiting before the agency would lift a finger and allocate money for contractors, necessary seismic upgrades, architects and equipment.

In 1997, then-Rep. Ron Dellums (now Oakland mayor) wrote a letter to top local HUD official Art Agnos (later a San Francisco mayor) on King's behalf.

"On August 26, Ms. King met with a member of my staff and detailed issues surrounding a 25-year dispute she has attempted to resolve with HUD and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency," Dellums wrote. "Your expeditious attention to this matter is [a] request, as Ms. King is elderly and experiencing health problems. The resolution to this issue would allow her to live the remainder of her life with some piece of mind."

It was too late. The federally backed loans she'd received from HUD to rehab her Eddy Street property, from which the Redevelopment Agency strictly enforced repayment, fell into default. Loans leveraged against her other remaining properties began to slip, too, all while she fought with the forces of redevelopment to recreate what she had once proudly possessed.

King's story may seem like an unfathomable streak of bad luck, but there's a paper trail for all of it.

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