Five things you should know about Steve Moss

Pub date September 14, 2010
WriterSarah Phelan

In August 2010, Steve Moss, who is running for District 10 supervisor, took out an ad in the Potrero View, which he owns, titled “Five things you need to know about Steve Moss.”

The ad, paid for by Moss’ political campaign, stated that Moss “edits and publishes this very paper (but got its endorsement on his own merits).” A year earlier, when Moss filed for the D–10 race, he promised in the View that “the paper will not endorse any of the contenders.” Reached by phone, Moss said that part of the ad was intended as a joke.

The other four bullet points seemed to be factual statements about Moss’ accomplishments. But Moss’ misleading ad got the Guardian taking a closer look, and, along the way, we found a lot of other things you probably didn’t know about Moss.

As far as we know, none of these things are illegal, and Moss can certainly argue that none of them are wrong. But since this is a progressive district, we thought voters would want to know a little more before the November election.

1. He’s a carpetbagger

Moss portrays himself as a District 10 resident who spent the last decade raising his family on Potrero Hill. In fact, during 2008 and 2009, Moss wasn’t living on Potrero Hill at all. When he filed his intent to run in the D–10 race in 2009, he was living near Dolores Park in a four-floor, four-unit, $1.6 million apartment building he owns. And shortly before he filed his intent to seek office, Moss’ wife told friends that the family was only moving to District 10 so Moss could run for supervisor, and that if he lost, they would be moving back to the Dolores Park area.

In his declaration of intent to run, a legal document he signed under penalty of perjury Aug. 4, 2009, Moss listed his address as 2325 Third St. That address is where the View; Moss’ nonprofit San Francisco Community Power; and M.Cubed, Moss’ private consulting company, share space. It’s also where where the Moss campaign asked supporters to send checks. It’s not where Moss was living with his family.

Indeed, evidence that came to light in a lawsuit between Moss and his wife, Debbie Findling, and a couple who co-own the property where Moss used to reside on Kansas Street, indicate that he moved out of D-10 in November 2007 and was living at 296 Liberty Street, in District 8, until February 2010.

In a July 8, 2009 e-mail to friends, filed in court in this lawsuit, Moss’ wife noted: “Steven has decided to run for city supervisor in District 10!!! (Sophie Maxwell’s term ends in November 2010) so we’ll be moving back to the hill in early spring! If you hear of any lovely rentals let us know. Or — I know it’s a crazy idea — but if you’re interested in swapping houses with us for a year as an even trade, you can move into our place on Dolores Park! (We’re hedging our bets in case he doesn’t win, we’d be moving back to Dolores Park after the elections. If he does win, we’ll find a long-term place to live … ).”

Reached by phone, Moss told us that it was only his candidate intention statement — a form that allows a candidate to start to raise money — that he filed while living at Liberty Street in 2009, not his official declaration of candidacy form. The language on the two forms is slightly different; the intent form only asks for a “street address” while the actual declaration of candidacy asks for a “residence” address.

Moss said he filed his declaration of candidacy a few days before the deadline, this summer. That form requires candidates to have resided in the district for not less than 30 days immediately preceding the date they file.

Moss insisted that he currently lives in a rental house at 2145 18th Street. “I’m planning to win,” Moss told us. “And we’re very much enjoying the house on Potrero Hill and hoping to stay there.”

2. He managed to avoid the condo lottery.

Moss and his wife bought a two-unit house on Kansas Street in May 2000 for $648,000 and filed for a condo conversion permit in 2002. San Francisco only allows only 200 condo conversions a year. It’s tough to get a permit, it’s very lucrative if you do, and most applicants — including two-unit buildings with a single owner — have to enter a lottery. But thanks to a strange short-term loophole in the law, Moss managed to get away without doing that.

The application, which got tentative approval in March 2004, notes that Moss and his wife — single owners of a two-unit building — did not win the lottery or qualify for a bypass. Asked how he managed this, Moss pointed to a loophole in legislation that former Sup. Jake McGoldrick passed in 2001. “The McGoldrick clause allowed us to directly convert it,” Moss said.

McGoldrick’s law tightened the conversion rules, but allowed two-unit buildings that, like Moss’, had only one owner-occupant, to slip through. The odd thing is that Andrew Zacks, a lawyer who represents landlords, and the Small Property Owners of San Francisco sued to overturn the McGoldrick legislation (not because of the loophole but because of the new restrictions) and the Superior Court ruled in January 2003 that the law was “unconstitutional on its face” and ordered that the city “shall not enforce this ordinance.” That should have ended the loophole, too.

Records show that Moss’ condo application was signed Feb. 10, 2003 by Planning’s Larry Badiner and received tentative mapping approval March 2004.

Department of Public Works Surveyor Bruce Storrs told us he thinks Moss’ case fell through the cracks. “It doesn’t say it was a McTIC,” Storrs said, using the nickname for McGoldrick’s condo conversion loophole, as he reviewed Moss’ file. “But it’s the only thing that makes any sense.”

There’s no indication that Moss did anything wrong, but he sure got a sweet deal. Records show that after he got his conversion permit, he sold the upper unit of Kansas Street in 2007 for more than he paid for the entire building in 2000.

3. He has the support of some very anti-tenant folks.

Attorney Zacks, who specializes in evictions and TICs, gave Moss $500, and the candidate claimed it was because his wife knows Zacks from the playground of the school where their kids both go. Pressed, Moss confirmed that Zacks is his attorney in a court case against the co-owners of the Kansas Street property and in another action he filed against a tenant in his Liberty Steet building in May 2009.

Moss also has the support of the Small Property Owners group, which opposes almost all tenants rights and is among the most conservative, pro-property rights groups in the city. He told us he made a mistake in seeking that endorsement.

And on Aug. 24, conservative campaign finance consultant Jim Sutton, who typically represents big business interests, filed papers representingThe Alliance For Jobs And Sustainable Growth,” which is financing three independent expenditure committees, one supporting Moss; another supporting Scott Weiner in D-8; and the third supporting Theresa Sparks in D–6.

4. He’s involved in a nasty lawsuit with his former neighbor.

Records show that after Moss and Findling subdivided their property on Kansas Street, they sold the upper unit to Edward Penrose and Heather Gibbons in 2007 and moved near Dolores Park.

Court filings suggest the couples remained friendly until March 2010, when Moss and Findling tried to sell the Kansas Street lower unit for $600,000 and ran into problems.

After the deal fell through, Moss and Findling turned around and sued Penrose and Gibbons, claiming that their behavior “constitutes a nuisance.”

In their complaint, Moss and Findling claim they suffered emotional distress, loss of sale, and diminution of the value of their lower unit on Kansas Street “due to the need, going forward, to disclose to buyers that [Penrose and Gibbons] have a propensity to engage in malicious and antisocial behavior.”

On July 30, Gibbons and Penrose countersued. They claim that when they offered to purchase 673 Kansas Street, Moss and Findling never disclosed that there was a boundary line dispute or prior instances of flooding, drainage, and grading problems that had damaged an abutting property.

Now Penrose and Gibbons are asking the court to rescind the purchase agreement whereby they obtained ownership of their Kansas Street condo.

Findling and Moss responded Aug. 31, claiming that “cross-complainants have unclean hands in that, beginning in the spring of 2010, they undertook efforts to interfere with the sale of the lower unit 673 1/2 Kansas] by making unfounded noise complaints and did discourage the buyer from consummating the transaction.”

Asked about this messy legal dispute, Moss said, “We were unhappy with the outcome of a sale in escrow that they disturbed.”

5. His nonprofit pays a bunch of money to his private consulting firm.

In 2001, Moss and two partners founded a private consulting company called M.Cubed. A few months later, Moss and his partners also founded SF Community Power, a nonprofit that started using M.Cubed as a consultant. “M.Cubed was subsequently awarded a contract from SF Community Power. I’m paid directly from SF Community Power, and I’m paid a consulting fee at M.Cubed, depending how much I work,” Moss told us.

Records show that as SFCP’s director, Moss made $48,000 in 2009 and $50,000 in 2008. But more than $1 million has moved from Moss’ nonprofit into Moss’ private consulting firm since 2001.

Moss confirms that SF Power has received $350,000, some of it from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. through the California Public Utilities Commission in 2010; $440,000 in 2009; and $500,000 in 2008 — and that some of those dollars went to M.Cubed.

“I intervene in regulatory cases on behalf of SF Community Power,” Moss said, “And then, if you win a case, you get compensation after the case.”

The Potrero View shares office space with the nonprofit and the consulting firm. Last year, SFCP paid $22,000 in rent, and the View paid SFCP $5,000 toward that rent.

Alhough Moss’ campaign asked supporters to mail contributions to the office that all three of Moss’ business entities share, his campaign finance records show that as of June 30, he had paid no rent for campaign headquarters. “I haven’t had a campaign headquarters,” Moss said. “It’s pretty much been at my house.”