Meth lab found at San Francisco hotel room used as city COVID-19 shelter

Police arrested two adults accused of operating a low level meth lab at a San Francisco hotel designated as a safe shelter for people on quarantine, at risk for COVID-19, or without housing.

The call came in about a strong chemical odor coming from a hotel room and officers responded to the Civic Center Motor Inn about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Police and residents had to wait for a hazmat team to determine the safety of the site.

"I was just like shocked," said one hotel guest named Samantha who says a police officer knocked on her hotel door. "He's like, there's a meth lab right above your room so we need you to evacuate cause it could explode at any time." 

Police say there was evidence of a meth lab in an upper floor room.

"Officers conducted an investigation and discovered chemicals in the room known to make narcotics," said Officer Robert Rueca, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman, "We believe this was isolated only to one guest room and two adults were taken into custody."

Both adults were registered guests of the hotel.

The hotel is one of the many businesses that are contracting with San Francisco's Shelter in Place program, which pays to provide rooms and meals for people who need to be quarantined, are at risk for COVID-19, or have no home.

The meth lab arrests raise questions about who qualifies for rooms, as many people remain out on the streets or on waiting lists for shelter.

"I would like for the government to have a bit more of monitoring of the space," said a man who wanted to be identified only as Sami and works at a nearby business.

"I do see that a place like this can be abused to be used for those kind of activities," said Sami, "If you are housing people that are not there with a security deposit or anything that makes them liable, liability is key."

He and others expressed concerns about safety.

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said in a statement that deputies had been doing regular checks of all sites since March, but had to end patrols on July first.

"The Sheriff’s Office provided patrol and response to calls for service at established SIP sites from March through June as part of our Safer Streets Program during the COVID shelter in place. Deputies responded to domestic disputes, overdoses, and persons in crisis and checked in on all sites every few hours. Patrols ended in July as we prepared for the lifting of health restrictions and the opening of the courts and regular services"

Sheriff Miyamoto says with San Francisco scaling back reopening, he hopes to have those deputies resume patrols under the Safe Streets program.

KTVU reached out to the Civic Center Motor Inn management, the city's Department of Homelessness and Mayor's office late Tuesday for their comments. This report will be updated with their replies.

This article was corrected on Wed, Aug. 5, 2020 to reflect that KTVU reached out to the Department of Homelessness (previous version said Dept. of Human Services). KTVU apologizes to the DHS for the error. The Dept. of Homelessness replied Wed, Aug. 5, 2020 and referred us to Dept. of Emergency Management. 

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana.