Relationship Between Developer and Supervisor Raises Eyebrows

1601 Ocean Ave. is listed as TJ Development's office and was Norman Yee's campaign office. Alexander Mullaney/Ingleside-Excelsior Light

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At an April meeting introducing an Ocean Avenue development project to stakeholders, residents and business owners were surprised to learn the plans had been altered as a result of two private meetings with District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee.

Representatives of project owner TJ Development said they met with Yee and reconfigured their project to include three three-bedroom units and divided the commercial space differently based on his suggestions. But these meetings were not Yee’s first dealings with TJ Development.

Between May and November 2016, Yee rented 1601 Ocean Ave. for a campaign office from TJ Development, paying $1,071 per month in rent.

Ben Matranga, one of Yee’s opponents in the 2016 supervisors race, questioned Yee’s rental rate, telling the Light in October, “A discount of this magnitude raises serious questions about what special favors his developer landlord might expect.”

The location’s previous tenant paid the previous owner Willart, LLC $2,600 per month in 2012 and would have paid $3,000 per month in 2016 under the five-year lease, however the tenant skipped out on the lease in late 2013, a court filing shows.

TJ Development’s Chris Lim, attorney and Ocean Avenue property owner Howard Chung and Yee all said that the rental rate was appropriate for the 1,950-square foot and long-vacant space because only a third of the space was needed.

Chung worked as an attorney for Willart, LLC and TJ Development, for which he acted as a go-between for Yee and TJ Development.

After some negotiation over how much space was needed, Yee provided his budget — $7,500 for six months of rent — and TJ Development agreed, according to Yee.

Chung, who gave $500 to Yee in 2016 and rented 613 Faxon Ave. to Yee’s campaign for $2,200 per month in 2012, drafted the lease.

Facebook photographs of campaign events at 1601 Ocean Ave. show that at least five desks were used in the space while much of the space remained empty.

Lim said he did not want to spend money to divide the space and no other tenant was using the space at the time.

TJ Development’s website lists the address of its San Francisco office as “1601 Ocean Blvd.”  The company has an office upstairs, according to Lim.

Yee sought the City Attorney’s advice on whether renting the space would constitute a conflict of interest if the development went before the Board of Supervisors and did not consult the Ethics Commission.

Yee said his meetings with the development team were not out of the ordinary.

“I expressed to the developers of 1601 that my priorities include housing for families, maximizing the number of units that are inclusionary and retaining a small retail atmosphere along Ocean Avenue,” Yee said.

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