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Actor Who's Lived In San Francisco For Decades Evicted From North Beach Apartment

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Sam Hiona, the 86-year old film actor and entertainer, a well-known character in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, is being forced to leave his home through an Ellis Act eviction.

He is retired now and spends most of his time at the Columbus Cafe, but Hiona was once a local star. Hina was an actor in movie and television roles, including a short turn on the show "Kung Fu" as David Carradine's martial arts teacher.

He later traveled to Thailand to be in a film with Jim Kelly and spent some time in Vancouver for a Sidney Poitier movie. He has also been a surfer and a singer. Hiona has spent most of his 86 years in San Francisco.

But that could soon change because he is getting evicted from the small apartment in North Beach where he has lived since 1965.

"They just want to get rid of me," Hiona said. "I pay a low rent. They're trying to get rid of low rent people so they can raise rent."

His wife Cathleen Thompson said a realtor named Janice Lee bought the property and told the couple they had to leave in 2017. It was an Ellis Act eviction.

"They say they are going to move in, we haven't seen that," Thompson said. "They're saying their intent with the Ellis Act eviction is to get out of the rental business. We don't think that's true."

But Lee's attorney, Scott Freedman, told KPIX 5 it is absolutely true that Janice Lee and her husband plan to move into the property they bought.

"They selected the property because they wanted a place for their parents," Freedman said, adding that Lee's elderly parents plan to move in next door, as do some other immediate family members. Freedman said Lee came to the U.S. as a child from Hong Kong with her single mother escaping "less than favorable conditions."

Freedman says they have offered the Hionas more money than the law requires, and yet the renters are fighting it in court and it's costing Lee's family tens of thousands of dollars.

"These folks have been put through the wringer," Freedman added.

The judge has already decided the case in favor of the property owners, but Hiona and his wife are making one last appeal in court at 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

The Hionas are asking for a stay for the duration of time it takes for the appeal to work its way through the courts, but they worry the judge will deny the stay and they will be thrown out for good after more than 50 years in the same apartment.

"The shame is San Francisco is changing," said Thompson. "And people like my husband will no longer be living in the city and it's just not the same."

San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin said he will attend the hearing Wednesday.

"I will be appearing in court to let the judge know that 'this is an unjust illegal eviction,'" he said.

Peskin is also organizing a neighborhood event on Thursday at 11 a.m. for nearby Caffe Sappore, whose owner has also been notified by his landlord that he is getting evicted.

The supervisor said his colleagues in local government have tried to pass ordinances to help prevent evictions, but he is growing frustrated at the rate of evictions due to state laws.

"We are losing the tenants and special characters who make San Francisco the envy of the world," Peskin said.

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