SFPD clears squatters illegally occupying church

May 15, 2013 5:21:31 PM PDT
Several people are under arrest after San Francisco police swept out dozens of squatters who were occupying an empty building in the Oceanview neighborhood Wednesday. The squatters had been living in the vacant property for months, preventing the owners from demolishing it to make way for a new multi-use building.

A large contingent of police descended on the building in the early morning operation. SWAT team members and officers from Taraval Station assembled at 7 a.m. at 200 Broad Street. A police sergeant using a bullhorn ordered the occupiers to leave or else they would be arrested. One by one, the squatters appeared at the doorway where officers escorted them off the property. Two people were arrested -- one for resisting officers' commands and the other for a parole violation.

Deputy Chief Mike Biel summed up the operation saying, "We came here. We allowed everyone inside at least five minutes to get their property and leave if they chose to. We had 28 people who chose to leave."

Police say various groups of trespassers had been living at the vacant commercial building for about eight months. Last week, several of the squatters told ABC7 News they wanted to create a community center and a safe place for people in the neighborhood.

The former church was bought by two families who want to demolish it and build a three-story multi-use facility. The families' lawyer, Dan Bacon, told ABC7 News the owners chose to invest in the district as part of the Mayor Ed Lee's "Invest in Neighborhoods" initiative. The Oceanview neighborhood was designated as one of 25 districts in the mayor's program to help economically-depressed areas of the city.

Bacon says the raid should have come sooner. "This family has not had any proper response from the police," Lawyer Dan Bacon told ABC7 News. He says the owners contacted police half a dozen times since early April when they filed a police report saying people had occupied their building.

Police say at the time, the owners declined to press charges and that officers on the scene advised them on the eviction process which would be carried out by the sheriff. Regarding the owner's complaint, police say there were important legal considerations which they passed along to the city attorney's office. They say that took time. First of all, trespassing is a misdemeanor, but was this a civil case or not? In the end, they determined it to be a criminal case so they went in Wednesday morning and removed the trespassers.

The owners of the building said they were glad police removed the trespassers but at the same time, they believe police acted too slowly in getting them out.


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