Iris Canada, the 100-year-old tenant of 670 Page, died nearly a year ago, but her story is still central to her former landlord and neighbors’ plans for condo conversion. On Thursday, the Planning Commission blanched at a condo-conversion application for the building, citing Canada’s eviction.
Building owner Peter Owens had applied to convert the six-unit, circa 1907 building near the corner of Steiner into condos, a project years in the making and previously delayed by Canada’s refusal to sign off on the deal.
After a protracted eviction fight throughout 2016—Owens claimed Canada had moved to Oakland and was no longer his tenant—Owens had the locks on the unit changed in February of last year. Canada died a month later.
But even that was not the end of the conflict. When the Page Street conversion came before the San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday, commissioners voted unanimously to reject it.
Speaking at the hearing, Owens repeated his longtime claim that Canada left the Page Street apartment voluntarily.
“There was no eviction. This unit has not been lived in for six years,” said Owens, calling the eviction “a giant lie” by family members and tenants activists that exposed Canada to “absolutely senseless distress.”
Anna Munoz, a 670 Page resident, agreed with Owens, telling commissioners, “Iris Canada was not evicted, she moved out.” Munoz also claimed she had been harassed for months by people angry on Canada’s behalf.
Dennis Zaragosa, Canada’s former attorney, disagreed, saying, “I can tell you from having visited her apartment that she lived there. Her furniture dates to World War II, and I know that because it matches my mother’s furniture.”
Iris Merriouns, Canada’s great-niece, argued that her absences from the unit were short-term visitations rather than relocation, saying, “My aunt was allowed to go anywhere she wanted anytime she wanted, she was not chained to her home.”
Prior to the vote, commission members seemed to regard Owens’ claims with suspicion.
“There was an eviction here,” said Commission Myrna Melgar. “Because there was an eviction filing made in court. You checked the box and said no evictions took place, but that is not true.”
Commission Vice President Dennis Richards said, “We’re seeing senior citizens evicted all the time, tenants being harassed. […] What’s going on in the city, it kind of makes me sick. This isn’t the city I moved to. I’ve even talked to my husband about leaving.”
Commissioner Christine Johnson faulted Planning Department staff for recommending the conversion without addressing the larger context of the eviction fight.
“We want condo conversions to be amicable and clean,” she said. “I feel very uncomfortable.”
In the end the vote was 6-0 (with Johnson missing the vote because she had to leave the hearing early) to send the application back to staff. The commission’s will wrestle with the building’s history again at its February 1 meeting.