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Neighbors call the area “The Dip.” Euclid and Logan avenues drop down and converge in a major intersection in Lincoln Park that’s home to a strip mall rife with problems for the thousands of people who live nearby in rows of dense apartment complexes.
For a short time in 2014, Mayor Kevin Faulconer had his campaign office located in the strip mall. But community members said the property has since fallen into disrepair, allowing criminal activity to fester.
The city has intervened by filing criminal charges, citing code violations and proposing fixes, yet community members and former tenants of the strip mall said the city’s involvement hasn’t resulted in any noticeable improvements. Some said things have only gotten worse.
Police were called 42 times to the strip mall between October 2017 and July 2018. In a recent 48-hour period, the Family Dollar store there got robbed, and a taco shop was covered in graffiti.
But crime isn’t the property’s only problem.
A large, messy recycling center has been operating there illegally for years, according to city records. People have been living in some of the commercial units illegally, too. There’s also a long list of illegal construction and dangerous city code violations at the property that stretches from 5065-5083 Logan Avenue.
“It’s just nasty down there,” said Brenda Dickey, who’s lived more than 20 years in an apartment building down the street from the shopping center. “They had homeless people living there in the recycling center. It’s just an eyesore to the community.”
Things got so bad that, in 2016, the city attorney’s office stepped in. In January 2017, the city charged the landowners, Salam Razuki and his brother Haith Razuki, with 25 misdemeanor criminal offenses.
Razuki pleaded guilty to a single count and the city dropped the charges against his brother. He was fined $1,000, and is now on court-ordered probation. Razuki and his brother run Razuki Investments LLC, and own other commercial properties across the region. To meet the terms of his probation, Razuki must quickly fix all the problems on his property and check in regularly with the court. At his most recent court date on Aug. 17, the judge found him to be in compliance with the terms of his probation.
If Razuki doesn’t continue fixing all the issues, he could face further civil or criminal prosecution, and the city could eventually seize his property.
Razuki did not respond to requests for comments. But Jessica C. McElfresh, the lawyer representing him in the case, said he plans on meeting all of the court’s requirements, has applied for the necessary city permits and is preparing to begin construction to bring the property up to code in coming months.
“I’m happy that the plans have been approved and that repairs are supposed to begin,” McElfresh said. “I hope they will go quickly and smoothly and the whole situation will continue to improve.”
The community is less optimistic.
The Community Craves Change it Says Will Never Come
David Casillas worked for Razuki as a security guard at the strip mall for a short time.
“It’s so bad out there,” Casillas said. “I’ve been in the security industry for 15 years and never seen anything like it. I’ve seen it all on that property – all sorts of drugs, people shooting up. When I was out there, I had the police pretty much babysit me to help clean up the area.”
Razuki has requested a letter of agency with the San Diego Police Department. It’s a move that property owners often make when crime problems – including transient activity, drug activity, prostitution, graffiti or trespassing – have spun out of control.
David Sanchez, a former tenant at the strip mall, said he worries a fire will break out at the property. Sanchez’s screen-printing business Optik Designs was located at the strip mall between early 2017 and March 2018. Sanchez said he and other tenants would complain about serious problems and never hear back from the property manager, Ninus Malan. When Sanchez and a few other tenants got together and asked the Malan and Razuki to help clear out crowds of people who were loitering in the parking lot, he said they didn’t get a response.
“We lost a lot of customers because they were too scared to come to the shop,” Sanchez said. “It was dangerous and always really dirty.”
Sanchez said his biggest concern, though, was shoddy electrical wiring. He said after his electricity bill shot up unexpectedly, he called an electrician who discovered a power cord running from his shop to the shop next door.
“Someone had hooked up a cable to my fuse box,” Sanchez said. “So someone there was using my electricity to power their business. I texted the property manager and they didn’t do anything about it.”
He said when his business was at the strip mall, he used to drive by after-hours to make sure his shop was safe.
“I had to make sure everything was OK and nothing was on fire,” he said.
Razuki’s probation terms require him to get electrical wiring permitted and up to par. He has also since hired a new property manager.
Charles Alexander, a community activist who lives near the strip mall, said the city attorney’s case has only made things worse. It led to a black church getting evicted from the strip mall, he said.
Razuki asked his tenant, Promise Land Ministry, to leave after the city attorney charged him because the church didn’t have the right city permits to operate in the space, McElfresh said. She was not sure why the Alano Club, which holds large group meetings and likely requires the same permit a church does, has not yet been asked to leave. The city attorney’s office said Razuki is ultimately responsible for ensuring tenants have all the required permits.
In July, Alexander and a small group of community activists staged a protest at the strip mall. They stood in front of a smoke shop there holding signs with slogans like “How dare you shut down a black church” and “Shame on the city attorney for letting Razuki get away with this.”
Alexander said when the church was at the strip mall, the loitering wasn’t as bad as it is now. The smoke shop that has since moved into the shopping center attracts large crowds of people who hang out and smoke in front of it, he said. He doesn’t like that the smoke shop sells candy and ice cream alongside pipes, other smoking accessories and large knives, attracting kids into the store.
“We as a community, we’re not asking the city to do nothing to Mr. Razuki that they wouldn’t do to nobody else,” Alexander said. “We just want Mr. Razuki to clean up that property.”
Brian Buggs, the pastor of the church that was evicted from the property, said he feels like the city isn’t doing enough to force Razuki to improve the building.
“I think the city attorney should enforce this, but it doesn’t seem like they are doing a very good job,” he said. “It feels like Salam can do whatever he wants to do.”
The changes at the property might not be very visible yet, but the city attorney’s office said the case forcing gradual safety upgrades at the buildings. Gerry Braun, the city attorney’s chief of staff, said the office is also trying to push Razuki to be a better steward of his property. But he acknowledged that Razuki could be giving the city the runaround.
“It’s only when we can prove that nothing the landowner says is going to happen that we can then move to a different plan,” Braun said. “But we don’t have the ability to clean their property for them, absent taking away their property.”
Seizing private property, though, is a power the city has only in drastic situations.
On July 18, city attorney staffers met with Razuki and McElfresh to discuss strategies to stop the nuisance and criminal activity that continues on the property. According to an Aug. 1 letter from the city attorney’s office to McElfresh, at the meeting, Razuki agreed to implement corrective measures, including attending community meetings and hiring a security guard to patrol the strip mall 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Landlord’s Legal Battles
Razuki has run into troubles with the city before. In 2014, the city attorney’s office filed a lawsuit against Razuki for owning property that hosted an illegal cannabis dispensary in Mount Hope. Now he’s also being accused of improperly taking over a legal cannabis dispensary in Kearny Mesa.
He also has a history of illegal construction on the Logan Avenue property. In 2014, city code enforcement officers cited Razuki for letting people illegally live inside a commercial unit that had been turned into living quarters. In that case, Razuki was able to bring the building back into compliance, said Scott Robinson, a spokesman for the city’s code enforcement arm.
Razuki is also currently locked in a handful of other legal battles. Malan, his former property manager who also owns a taco shop at the Logan Avenue strip mall, recently filed a restraining order against Razuki, citing harassment. Another one of the tenants at Logan Avenue, the owner of a laundromat, also won a lawsuit against Razuki, who has been ordered to pay more than $200,000 for failing to meet building improvement requirements laid out in the lease.
Alexander, the neighborhood activist, said Razuki at one point reached out to him and asked how he could improve the property and be a better neighbor. Alexander said the two eventually settled on Razuki giving a good deal on rent to a local nonprofit and turning one of the vacant units into a community center. But Alexander said Razuki never followed through on that promise, and instead the smoke shop opened in its place.
“I told Razuki, we turned a cheek about all the violations that have been going on at this property for years, but we’re not going to turn the cheek anymore,” Alexander said.