Is there a pattern? Maybe not — but building inspectors are finding a lot of problems

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White addresses the supervisors
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White addresses the supervisors

By Tim Redmond

MARCH 20, 2015 – We learned two interesting things at a hearing yesterday on all the fires that have been happening in the Mission:

  1. The Fire Department investigates arson, but doesn’t take into account the surrounding geopolitical circumstances – for example, the fact that landlords are desperately trying to get rid of rent-controlled tenants.
  2. The enforcement of building and fire codes is still overwhelmingly complaint-driven – which means that tenants who don’t know their rights, or have limited English proficiency, or are undocumented and afraid to complain, can wind up living in places with serious, even life-threatening fire-code problems and nobody will ever know about it. Until there’s a fire.

Sup. David Campos called the hearing at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee to look into the rash of recent fires in the Mission. We got the usual message from Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and her staff: We are doing everything we can to prevent fires. Then we heard the same from the Department of Building Inspection: We have a robust program to organize tenants and let them know their rights – and now that there have been a string of fires along the Mission Corridor, we are focusing added attention on the area.

The question I had, of course, is this: If everything is going so well, why were there so many problems at the site of the Mission Street fire that left one dead, six injured, and scores displaced?

Well, for one thing, as Rosemary Bosque, head of housing inspection for DBI, explained, there haven’t been that many random inspections of these sorts of apartment buildings. While highrises, schools, and hospitals have inspections every year or two years, private apartment buildings don’t tend to get a close look unless somebody calls in to complain.

“It’s a complaint-driven system,” Bosque said. “But when we saw a cluster of fires in the Mission area, we started a concentrated code-enforcement program.”

And over the past week, with those inspections, “we have found not just safety issues but some conditions that are life-threatening hazards.”

While fire and building codes require that buildings have adequate egress, there are no laws mandating sprinklers for all apartment buildings.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a housing-rights advocate, spoke to that point at the hearing, noting that sprinklers (unlike smoke alarms) actually prevent fires. “Sprinklers, sprinklers, sprinklers,” he said.

Warren Mar, vice-president of the Building Inspection Commission, noted that the department has for years based its work on complaints – and he’s been pushing for more regular inspections of residential buildings. In fact, one speaker suggested that landlords should have to pay an annual fee to cover the cost of inspections.

Campos asked the Fire Department staff whether anyone took into account the general climate of housing speculation and landlords trying to get rid of tenants during investigations of possible arson. The simple answer: No.

Captain John Darmann, head of the arson investigators, said his team looks at the facts on the ground – that is, the state of a burned building – and nothing else. It’s all a scientific process, he said, and considering outside factors might add a bias.

Which I get, of course. But when police investigators look into a series of murders that may be connected, they consider (or should consider) all the relevant factors, including the social and economic context that might tie the killings together. And that would seem to be something that arson sleuths might consider, too.

Darmann also offered some data that pointed to a general decline in the number of fires citywide and in District 9 over the past ten years. But the data also showed that the number of fires went up a bit between 2010 and 2012.

Darmann said that was due in part to more construction: People like to set portable toilets on fire, and the more construction, the more porta-potties. Still, the figures that show more fires as housing prices rise can’t be entirely irrelevant.

  • Jon Kozone

    Re: “The Fire Department investigates arson, but doesn’t take into account the surrounding geopolitical circumstances – for example, the fact that landlords are desperately trying to get rid of rent-controlled tenants.”
    Yes…these professional arson investigators are wasting their time looking at burn patterns and searching for chemical residues. Meanwhile the obvious explanation is that landlords are burning down their buildings to get rid of rent controlled tenants.
    Thanks Tim, for making as much sense as usual.

  • chompsky

    Campos is such a fucking asshole. People died and he’s trying to politicize it.

    • Jon Kozone

      I am just amazed. Does he have one iota of evidence suggesting that the fires were set by anyone??? Did he really just suggest that the landlords may have committed a hideous crime, killed people, without a shred of evidence?

      I mean, you expect that type of nonsense from Tim Redmond but Campos, an elected official, doing it really paints a clear picture of why this town will NEVER trust the progressives to govern (after the Agnos outlier/disaster).

      • MPetrelis

        I hear PG&E, in cahoots with Maximus and Ron Conway, have funneled money to Chief Hayes-White to suppress the arson evidence and hush up the dozens of firefighters who were on the scene during the blaze.

        Funds have quietly been deposited in Swiss bank accounts set up by the Koch brothers, so the arson investigators covering up the real cause of the fires can withdraw funds from those accounts.

        Thank goodness we have Supervisor Clouseau on the case and reporter Jayson Blair Redmond telling us the truth.

      • MisterEllis

        Tim does this all the time. He can effortlessly ignore all the science and technology that fire investigation experts employ, and replace it with an ideologically-driven web of evil that has been totally fabricated to suit his extremist political agenda.

      • medalist

        it’s just one name drop away from a slander suit…

    • sfrobink

      No he’s not. He called a hearing. That’s his right to do so. And the question can be asked, re arson. Doesn’t make it true, but it can be asked. Lay off.

      • MisterEllis

        The problem is that the meeting got hijacked by conspiracy theorists even thought there is not a shred of evidence of arson anywhere.

        • Jon Kozone

          You don’t need to ask the arson investigators if they have investigated arson.

          You do need to point out that greedy landlords could be burning down buildings to get rid of their tenants.

          I wish I could have been there when the investigators told him that they do scientific investigations, not witch hunts.

          Meanwhile, back on planet earth there has been no sign of arson detected yet in 3 fires and an electrical fire is suspected in one of them.

      • chompsky

        If there were any evidence at all I would agree with you. But to accuse someone of murdering a 13 year old girl and her father with no shred of evidence in unconscionable. This is why Campos has no credibility outside of his bubble, and why he is an asshole. If he was on the right he’d be screaming about Benghazi.

        • MisterEllis

          This meeting was a Campos set-up. He didn’t want to put his name to conspiracy theory allegations of arson, so he held this meeting and ensured that the “usual suspects” like Tommi were there to make his insane allegations by proxy.

  • MPetrelis

    Sure, I’m all for supporting farmers and their unions, and the situations the workers suffer under is deplorable, but given that Gerawan Farm Workers is not based here, and the value of a resolution is negligible in any matter, why the hell was Campos using political oxygen for this matter at the BOS public safety committee hearing today?

    Reality to David “Disaster” Campos – there are freaking mounting housing crises and fears in District 9 and you continue to waste time. How unimportant was the Campos reso? Well, he says labor boss Tim Paulson couldn’t be there and not one union leader bothered to show up and lend support to Campos.

    Speculators and developers have no reason at all to fear or worry about _anything_ Campos may say or do regarding condos and housing in the Mission. He lack of focus and leadership is political dereliction that has many of us counting the days down for when he leaves City Hall.

    So, the Campos hearing was primarily about recent fires and fatalities in the Mission showing that it takes tragedies to get his butt to take action. KGO reported: “Quite frankly, there are a lot of suspicions on the part of some folks. Is there arson? Is there malfeasance?” San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said. (http://abc7news.com/news/recent-massive-mission-district-fires-raising-questions/565712/)

    Name these folks and show us the evidence that leads to the anonymous persons’ suspicions, if you have the deets, Campos. What else did ABC KGO report? >”Supervisor Campos is now considering drafting legislation making it easier for residents to report problems and making sure property owners verify safety inspections.”> item number two is a resolution supporting gerawan farm workers their right to be represented by the united farm workers and urging gerawan

    farming to implement the terms of the contract. >> supervisor campos.

    >> thank you very much Mr.

    Chairman and let me say that on a very personal note I am very

    proud to be introduced this

    resolution today. One of the

    highlights of my life was when

    in the early 90’s as a young

    stanford student I got to meet cesar chavez and that was sort

    of a life changing experience, and what we have here today is a

    resolution that follows and

    supports the legacy of cesar

    chavez because we’re dealing

    with something that began and

    was in fact the last major

    organizing effort under cesar

    chavez’s leadership at the

    united farm workers. I want to thank supervisor john avalos

    who

    has cosponsored this resolution

    and note that tim paulson the executive director of the library council he was trying

    to

    be here in his schedule but it

    became impossible but I know he

    wants me to let folks know that him and the labor council see

    this is as very important priority but the long and short of what we’re talking about

    today we have a resolution that would put san francisco on the

    record as the first city to come

    out in full support of the gerawan farm workers who have been fighting for the rights for

    a number of decades now. In

    1990 farm workers at gerawan farming voting for representation by the united

    farm workers and was a state

    conducted secret ballot election. The labor relations board at this point certified

    the united farm workers as the farm workers union representative for those workers

    and for almost a quarter of a century this company — gerawan,

    has been fighting the effort of these workers to simply

    exercise their rights. They have pulling

    all the stops to prevent implementation of the union contract. In fact things gotten

    so bad that the united farm workers invoked california’s

    mandatory mediation law in a state appointed mediator was

    actually imposed, and that

    mediator issued a three year

    contract which included retroactive wage increases,

    holiday compensation that was supposed to take immediate

    effect to protect those workers. This happened again in 2013. It

    is now 2015 and to date gerawan

    has failed to pay the workers the increased wages, and we know

    that they’re going to continue

    to ignore the law and ignore the

    fact that we are dealing with human beings here who have a

    right to a fair wage. The

    agricultural industry unfortunately has consistently

    taken an obstructionist stance

    towards workers efforts to

    organize and gerawan farms is

    currently using some of the worse anti-union, anti-worker

    tactic in the being boos. The

    company by the way has also

    employed right wing groups like glorrer norquist’s groups to

    launch a media campaign on

    behalf of gerawan farms and funded by the koch brothers seek

    to his this company as an example against workers organizing. They want to use

    this effort as a template to

    fight labor and future battles. It is amazing that this is

    happening in the year 2015.

    That it is happening here in california, and we know that if

    they can do that in california

    then there is no hope for

    workers anywhere else in this country. I therefore ask my colleagues for your support for

    this resolution which calls upon gerawan farms to accept and

    implement the terms of the ufw contract to ask gerawan farms to

    stop creating a hostile working environment for these workers,

    and to ask this company to

    respect the rights of these workers to fair compensation and

    equitable treatment. I want to thank the representatives, the united farm workers, and most

    importantly I want to thank the

    workers who are here today who

    have traveled far to be here, and I think — I am very proud

    of the fact they have chosen san

    francisco to be the first place

    where this resolution is introduced, and I want to make

    sure that we send a very strong message that san francisco will stand with these workers and

    will not allow this company to

    do what it’s doing.

    [Speaking spanish]

    Again I am very proud of this resolution. I want to thank tim paulson, mike casey of the san francisco labor council for the

    support they’re providing these

    workers and the hope here is

    once this resolution passes in san francisco that other jurisdictions will follow suit, and we have seen that happens in the past, so before I turn it over to public comment I want to give my league an opportunity if

    you want to say a few words.

    >> I just wanted to echo supervisor campos. Welcome and

    thank you for sharing your

    struggled with us in san francisco. My understanding is

    gerawan is the largest peach

    grower in the U.S., and to not

    follow a neutral mediator’s recommendations really is both some. Also to mention the

    right wing anti-worker organizations

    that seem to be behind the

    growers, so I am really happy that you’re here and more people

    learn about your struggle and

    how dignity for farm workers and

    others is critical for our community, not only san francisco and fresno but everywhere. >> supervisor. >> thank you very much. I

    would like the opportunity to open it up to public comment and

    I know some of the workers want

    to address the committee. [Speaking spanish] >> and I wanted to thank first

    vice President From the united

    farm workers for being here but especially the workers.

    >> thank you members of the committee. Especially to you supervisor campos for introducing this resolution and being our champion here along

    with john avalos and others. I am the first vice President With the united farm workers and

    started in 1975. We just completed a hearing at the arlb, the longest in history where 120 workers testified to some of the things I’m going to be

    mentioning here. As you

    mentioned supervisor mar ground

    farming has 5,000 workers and does peaches and plums and

    apricots and one of the table growers under the peopla label.

    We won an election 24 years ago.

    At that time gerawan illegally fired crews of workers and

    closed down six of its labor

    camps in violation of the law completely destroying the workers support there. After

    numerous attempts over the years to try to negotiate a contract

    we passed a law that gray davis signed and jerry brown

    strengthened that said if they

    don’t negotiate a mediator will

    write the agreement. In this case gerawan picked the mediator. We felt the person

    was fair. We accepted that

    choice. 80% of the workers are undocumented. The contract was written with no medical plan. We accepted it. It was a

    start. Gerawan refused to implement the agreement. If I have to say six

    words that summarize this whole 20 year struggle it would be o

    boy r bay the law and implement the contract. For example, when

    we trying to negotiate wage initiations and seniority and just cause they would not do

    that. This contract was

    finalized in 2013 but they still refused to implement the agreement. It’s coming before

    the appeals court in April, but

    we can’t wait for endless

    appeals, so we’re asking your support. One of the big features that affect us is if the workers would have had a

    contract the 30% of the workers who work for farm labor contractors who are still

    getting $9 an hour would be getting $11 an hour for doing

    the same work so they’re losing

    $2 an hour, over a thousand workers, in human terms so I wanted to thank you. We’re going to washington, D.C. After this and new york after this, so we truly appreciate your support and consideration. San francisco has always lead the way and we very much look forward to working with you on

    this. Thank you so much.

    >> thank you.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >>

    [Speaking spanish]

    >>

    [Speaking spanish]

    >>

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> good afternoon. I am santos. I came from california and thank you very much for your support. We’re here again to ask you for your support for

    this company which I work for for gerawan farming to implement

    our contract.

    >>

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> I would like to share my story about myself because I

    don’t want my coworkers to face

    this situation. I got injured.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> okay. I was picking grapes

    I injured my knee and the company in eight days did not

    listen to me and did not treat

    me with medical.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> they kept me working picking grapes and in the trays

    and still not listening to me.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> I have nothing help in the six months since my injury and

    my family depends on me so that means they’re want receiving

    any

    economic help.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> my wife and myself were

    suffering in this situation and

    also our children.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> because of this stressful

    situation my wife had a stroke

    — brain stroke.

    [Speaking spanish] >> and that’s why we’re here

    so the company understands our situation but most important

    and

    implement the contract.

    [Speaking spanish] >> and that’s why I would like

    to invite you to March 31 to celebrate cesar chavez March here in san francisco. Thank you. >> thank you.

    [Speaking spanish]

    Next speaker.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> [Speaking spanish]

    >> my name is ramone. I came from [Inaudible] California and

    I am a farm worker for gerawan

    farm as well.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> I have been worked in

    gerawan farming for four years

    picking peaches, neck reins. [Speaking spanish]

    >>

    >> I join my coworker and represent my other workers to

    ask for support so the company

    implements our contract and the law. [Speaking spanish]

    >> I don’t want to for me to

    be in this situation of my

    coworker.

    [Speaking spanish]

    >> and I also would like to invite everyone to the event of cesar chavez on March 31. Thank you.

    >> thank you very much. Is there any other member of the public who would like to speak on this item? I don’t think there is anymore public comment. >> thank you. So we will close public comment. [Gavel] Supervisor.

    >> thank you. Again I want to

    thank united farm workers, the leadership, the incredible leadership of this union, but more importantly the workers

    for

    being here. [Speaking spanish]

    Thank you for translating. [Speaking spanish] I think it’s important that san

    francisco send a very clear

    message and so colleagues I

    would respectfully ask for your

    support. [Speaking spanish] Thank you. >> thank you. So we have a motion in support of the gerawan farm workers from supervisor

    campos. Can we do this without objection? Thank you. [Gavel]

    . Thank you for coming out. >> thank you. >> Mr. Evans let’s see I am trying to remember so we have a hearing coming up and we don’t need to call three and four

    together but we will do them separately. Call item 3.

  • MPetrelis

    Have you considered submitting PR bills to Campos, Tim? You do so much mouthpiecing work for him he should pay you. The hardest part about trying to kick Campos butt is getting your tongue away from it. Will you _ever_ ask the Supervisor what his time line is for drafting the moratorium legislation?

    • Sainte Apple

      Why is having an opinion such a shocking thing?

  • wcw

    more fires as housing prices rise can’t be entirely irrelevant

    Yes, it can be.

    • chompsky

      More fires as ocean temperatures rise can’t be entirely irrelevant. Or, how about, more fires as pork belly futures rise can’t be entirely irrelevant. Maybe it was the price of lemons…or, I know, Uber! It’s all Uber’s fault! An uber car was idling out side the building which caused it to go up in flames!!!

      • MisterEllis

        A city with a lot of wooden buildings and we’re having a hot, dry drought.

        Far more likely a factor than arson

        • Greg

          I seem to recall many of the same people arguing that if rent control continues, it would lead to landlords just taking matters into their own hands and burning down their buildings. But now that we’re seeing what may be actual cases of that happening, the same people are so quick to come out and say, “nope, not us.” I think the defenders of landlords are starting to realize that incidents like this don’t help the landlord cause.

          • wcw

            The Gartland in 1975 was landlord arson in the Mission. There has been no evidence of arson by any party in these fires.

            Even if there were another landlord arson, it would happen despite the rent ordinance, not because of it. The rent ordinance requires owners to offer units back to tenants at the original rent upon repair. An arson would cost the landlord money: costs not borne by insurance, plus foregone rent. It would not benefit a landlord, since all original tenants would be expected to return.

          • MisterEllis

            wcw, in practice few tenants return to fire-damaged buildings because of the time lapse. it can take 2 to 5 years to fully rebuild a rental building, and by then most tenants have gone elsewhere.

            Not that I think any of these cases are done for that reason. But a fire can work out well for an owner anyway.

          • wcw

            Really? That surprises me. A newly rebuilt apartment at some fraction of market rent would seem almost irresistible.

          • MisterEllis

            wcw, If you’re going to engage in baseless speculation then you are no better than Tim here.

            It’s profitable for you to rob a bank, but that doesn’t eman you would do it.

          • wcw

            Sam, thanks for the datum.

            How is it ‘baseless’ to express surprise that substantially all tenants do not take advantage of rebuilt units at low rents?

            Capital improvement passthroughs after fire shouldn’t add much to rent, except where the property was uninsured. Only unreimbursed CI spending may be passed through.

          • MisterEllis

            wcw, yes, sorry, the “baseless allegation” refers to allegations that landlords are arsonists.

            I don’t have a figure for the percentage of tenants who choose not to return in these situations, and I doubt that anyone else does either. But I’d bet it is well under 50% for the reasons stated.

          • Meat Bikini

            Is this anecdotal or evidence based?

          • MisterEllis

            Greg, you are very happy to use “blackmail arguments” on other threads e.g. we should throw money at blacks or there will be more crime, or we should throw more money at healthcare or we’ll all be infected by diseased aliens.

            But when a class of people you disagree with apply a similar arguments, you are appalled.

          • Greg

            Your words. Not mine.

          • MisterEllis

            Your words, Greg:

            “Fine then, do it out of selfishness. Infectious disease doesn’t care if you’re a citizen. To be fine with your own kids getting sick, just because you want the kids of undocumented folks to stay sick -that’s not just heartless. It’s stupid. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

            My words, Greg:

            “Fine then, do it out of selfishness. fires don’t care if you’re a renter. To be fine with your own kids getting burned, just because you want a lifestyle you can’t afford – that’s not just heartless. It’s stupid. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

            You “threaten” me with getting sick if I don’t pay for healthcare for your beloved illegals. I “threaten” you with a firey death if you don’t agree to repeal rent control.

            Exact same argument. Do what I want to you will hurt.

          • Greg

            Uh, no. Getting sick isn’t something people do on purpose. Arson, on the other hand, is. It’s a crime.

          • MisterEllis

            As always, Greg, you miss the point. I wasn’t saying LL’s are arsonists any more than illegals deliberately infect people. I am saying that arguments threatening that are all in the same miserable category, whether it is you using them or someone else

          • Greg

            And as always, Sam, you miss the point. The point is that when people get sick, you take care of them. You can’t stop people from getting sick, so you might as well do the decent thing and take care of them. When people commit arson, you put them in jail.

          • MisterEllis

            We could put people in jail who illegally come here. Or better, extradite them. back to a place where they are entitled to healthcare.

            You want to punish some criminals but reward others.

            But again, I’m not talking about the deed but rather the employment of that kind of blackmail argument.

          • Charlain

            Where is your proof?

            Forget the city, all these buildings have insurance, and insurance companies HATE to pay out claims (they make their money by NOT paying out claims). Any fire on an insured property is very aggressively investigated by an insurance adjuster with a strong financial motive to find a reason NOT to have to pay out on a claim.

            If there were any signs of arson, the insurance fire investigators would have found these signs.

            So, are you claiming you have special knowledge that both the fire department and the insurance companies do not have? If you are withholding evidence of arson on building fire where people died, then you are accessory to murder, and you should be arrested and tried.

            In reality, what you have is the second most densely populated city in the nation that is full of old and often poorly maintained wood buildings. This is why you have seen fires occurring, not as a result of arson. Even the article points up that the real reason these buildings burned down was due to the age and neglect of the property and lack of modern fire suppression equipment, like sprinklers. Mystery solved.

            Take off your tin foil hat, or if you truly have evidence of arson, turn it over to the police before you end up behind bars as an accessory to murder.

    • RealFakeSanFranciscan

      Clearly, densely populated buildings that haven’t been kept up to code for decades, often containing food services and lots of wood, could never be the source of fires outside of an economic boom.

  • MisterEllis

    Suppose, just for a moment, that some landlords would rather burn down their building than deal with the city’s rent laws any more. (There is zero evidence for that, of course, but humor me for a moment here).

    What does that say about the housing policies that you have advocated for the last 35 years that that would become a rational and profitable act to consider? Doesn’t that show the abject failure of the policies you support even more than the fact that so many rental units are converted to owner-occupation or rented only short-term?

    Your polices ensure only one thing – ever fewer rental homes and ever higher rents. Congratulations.

    PS: A sprinkler system is currently only required if a building has more than four floors. They cost upwards of $50,000 to install. That cost can be passed onto tenants as a pass-through. Are you happy for tenants to bear those extra costs because you believe that it would make them safer?

    • GarySFBCN

      “What does that say about the housing policies that you have advocated for the last 35 years that that would become a rational and profitable act to consider? ”

      It says nothing about the policy, but it SCREAMS about the landlord’s lack of morals and how they are using San Francisco as an ATM. It yells that the landlords do not care one iota about San Francisco and therefore should have no say in policy.

      • chompsky

        Except that landlords AREN”T burning their buildings down. But it does show the mindset of Redmond et al in that they know they’re pulling off a huge scam on the rest of us.

      • MisterEllis

        IF it were true (which it isnt) it is a damning indictment of the policies that have made that a rational choice.

        Who in their right mind would destroy their own business unless it has been made unviable?

    • Meat Bikini

      “Your polices ensure only one thing – ever fewer rental homes and ever higher rents. Congratulations.”

      Who’s policies? This makes no sense.

      • MisterEllis

        I think you meant “whose polices” and of course I meant the policies that Tim supports, which deter property owners from offering their properties as long-term rentals.

        • Sainte Apple

          So you are angry because Tim doesn’t agree with you?

          • MisterEllis

            Why do you think I’m angry?

  • GarySFBCN

    OT: He’s at it again. Like the vulture capital firms that swoop in, buy out a profitable business, shift and liquidate assets for a tidy profit and the close the business, leaving hundreds unemployed, these scumbag property owners are just as immoral.

    “Mass Ellis evictions hit Mission”

    http://www.beyondchron.org/new-mass-ellis-evictions-hit-mission/

    • wcw

      ‘Mass’? Marsh keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means: twelve units is 0.02% of the units in the Castro/Mission PUMA.

      The best way to prevent Ellis Act eviction is to take the money out of it. The best way to take the money out of it is to build enough housing for people.

      • GarySFBCN

        “The best way to take the money out of it is to build enough housing for people.”

        Are you being willfully ignorant? That is never going to happen. There isn’t enough space and nobody wants to see SF turn into all highrise developments. So we acknowledge that and then decide if we want SF to be an enclave only for the wealthy or do we wants an economic-class diverse SF, and then decide the best approach to achieve that goal.

        • wcw

          There is plenty of room in San Francisco. At NYC density it would have 1.2m people, and NYC has some very large boroughs that aren’t particularly dense. Bringing SF to relatively moderate density need not involve exclusively high rises.

          It is correct that there is a choice between making the city an utterly unaffordable enclave, like Mayfair in London, or a merely expensive city with a little space for everyone.

          To rail against density is to select the first option.

          • GarySFBCN

            I’m not railing against density and I believe we can accommodate 1.5 million people without a lot of highrises. There are a lot of development opportunities to replace low-rise with mid-rise, especially in areas not currently considered for development.

            The problem is that there is no will to do this. And making it worse is the idea the Nema-like developments are the answer. Take a look at the 1 and 2 star reviews on Yelp for Nema or any of the Trinity-owned apartment complexes and you can see that they are awful.

          • wcw

            Interesting. If we can accommodate 1.5m people, how is building enough housing for people never going to happen? It seems like there is enough space, after all.

          • GarySFBCN

            First, even with double the housing capacity, I don’t believe that the poor and middle class are going to have it any better than now. Look at all the office/workspace development in SOMA, MIssion Bay etc. Where are all those new workers going to live?

            But I don’t see the political or investor will to support large-scale development of mid-rise buildings in areas ripe for development – such as the Alemany corridor. I think the real money for developers and investors is in high-rise buildings.

            Regardless, in order to regulate scale and have some architectural diversity, I’d also limit buildings to 40 units.

          • wcw

            In the ‘and a pony!’ world that builds Ed Lee’s 30,000 units and makes them mostly modest and unappealing to high earners, the poor and working class absolutely have it better.

            In a zero-interest-rate world, if you make mid-rise development profitable, there will be investor appetite for it. The political side is something else; neighborhood resistance can be stiff.

            Rather than impose caps, change incentives. If there are unpriced externalities to high rise development, assess and tax them. Markets and investors respond to the bottom line.

          • GarySFBCN

            While we mostly agree, I don’t have as much faith in ‘the marketplace’ as you do. There are dozens of example of failure, the most glaring being that ‘the marketplace’ didn’t respond with non-smoking restaurants for non-smokers, even when more than 70% of the California population didn’t smoke. Government had to legislate this.

            So I’d say we need both caps and incentives. Regardless, thank you for this discussion of solutions. I have learned some things from what you have posted the last few days.

          • wcw

            Ah, the smoking ban. I was shocked at how much more pleasant going out became literally overnight. So good.

            Markets are just tools, they’re anything but perfect. The list of market failure is long. If, like smoking in public places, high rise development really does leave almost everyone worse off, ban it.

            What’s the reasoning for a complete ban, and why base on units and not on height, volume or both?

          • GarySFBCN

            I wasn’t clear in what I wrote. I think the FiDi, Van Ness and maybe a few other places can handle more highrises. And they really lost an opportunity in Misson Bay – there really needs to be wide streets for highrise buildings, so I don’t advocate for a complete ban. And I would be good with a volume or other limitations. Almost every one of the 100+ unit developments creates some type of unpleasant wall that ripe for a large homeless encampments, crack dens, piss walls, etc.

          • Greg

            One thing the advocates of building our way out of the housing crisis consistently neglect, is the externalities. The fact that it simply won’t work is on thing -there is simply too much demand for housing in SF. Even if you did fit 1.2 or 1.5 million into SF, it would be a drop in the bucket in terms of demand. But let’s set that aside for a minute.
            The other issue is what you would do to the quality of life in the city in the process of jamming in 1.5 million people. Last time I was in New York, I was heading to Newark Airport out of Manhattan, and there was a line of cars into Manhattan the likes of which I had never seen before. It was 3PM, on a Wednesday. The cab driver told me this was typical. He said it’s often a 3 hour wait.
            In the last few years, I’ve seen a horrific increase in traffic over the Bay Bridge. I figure there are about 20% more cars now than 3-4 years ago. About 10% more people are employed now, and there are about 10% more people living here, and there you go. But an extra 20-25% more cars does NOT equal 20-25% more time. This is important. 25% more cars could well double the time it takes to cross the Bridge, or more, because the traffic is dramatically slowed for everyone. If we increase the population from 800K to 1.5million, San Francisco will become impossible to get around.
            Nor will never leaving the city save you, because any commute that has to cross Market Street has also become impossible. Besides, it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone who lives here will work here, or vice versa. Nor will BART save you. Already, you can’t get a seat on BART in the morning going into the city. At 1.5 million, BART will make the Tokyo metro seem downright pleasant.
            The extra traffic will add to pollution, deaths from collisions with bikes and pedestrians -it will turn the city from a very pleasant place into an utter hellhole.
            The other issue is the unique architectural character of SF, the very conditions that fuel our most profitable industry -tourism. Manhattan was made with skyscrapers in mind, but in San Francisco we will ruin exactly what it is that makes this city great. It’s a disastrous idea for many reasons.

          • Greg

            As an aside… I wish the smoking ban hadn’t been mentioned, because I think that actually detracts from the argument. The smoking situation was one place where the market actually did work. There actually were some non-smoking restaurants, and just about every restaurant had a non-smoking section. As a non-smoker, that was totally fine with me. I think it’s terrible that people can’t even go into a bar now and have a beer and cigarette. You can easily accommodate smokers as well as non-smokers like me without banning smoking entirely.
            This is why I’m not a fan of fundamentalism on either side. Market fundamentalists are currently much more powerful and thus much more dangerous, but it is possible to be a fundamentalist on the other side. I prefer to look at what makes sense. Sometimes markets work. And sometimes, like with city planning, they result in complete disaster.

          • GarySFBCN

            Barbara Boxer said it best: Having a smoking section in a restaurant is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool.

            More than 70% of the population didn’t smoke and yet maybe a handful of restaurants prohibited smoking.

          • Greg

            The mistake that you guys are making is that you’re lumping all non-smokers together. Don’t lump me with the 70%. Put me in with the 30% who smoke. Because although I do not, I don’t get all freaked out about it. And quite a few non-smokers are just like me. That’s why you see a market failure where I do not. Take the 30% who smoked, and a huge chunk of the 70% who didn’t, but didn’t see it as their god given right to impose their lifestyle on others, and you probably had a majority.

            What I do hate, is having to sit next to screaming children while I dine. I wish there were child-free restaurants, but they don’t even have the courtesy to have children’s and non-children’s sections. I could look at this as a market failure that needs government regulation. Or maybe, the majority just doesn’t feel the same way I do.

            As far as city planning, this is where the market is broken. Particularly here. Sure, there are boom-bust cycles. In the booms, they overbuild, and then prices go down in the busts. But the damage is already done to the neighborhoods. And in the next boom, things skyrocket again.

            If we had the infrastructure for 1.5 million people, sure, maybe then we could do it. (and again, that’s if you don’t give a damn about destroying the character of the neighborhoods). But those who want to put the 1.5 million in first, and then hope that infrastructure will magically take care of itself -no way! Go experiment on someone else’s city.

            And raising the tolls is one of those solutions that only a capitalist economist could love. Sure, it looks good on paper, but it creates human devastation in its wake.

          • MisterEllis

            Having to move to Oakland isn’t “human devastation”. It’s an inconvenience.

            And those 1.5 million are coming whether we wish for it or not.

          • Greg

            Raising tolls to the point where it becomes prohibitively expensive for people to cross the bridge, just to lighten the traffic, is a “solution” that only a diehard capitalist fundamentalist could come up with.

          • MisterEllis

            That already happens with housing. Real estate inflation is what keeps SF population down to bearable levels. More people move here but we also have outward migration, as those who fiscally struggle with SF relocate somewhere that better suits their wallet and earning ability.

            You want to ration by regulation and I want to ration by price. We’re not that different.

          • Greg

            Actually we’re very different. And this speaks to the essence of that difference. You’re right that both ways are methods of dealing with scarcity. But the effect is different. I take human needs into account, you only take the interests of money into account. I care about this quaint notion called fairness. You don’t give a damn about what’s fair; whoever can pay the most should get something, regardless of need, according to you.

            It’s the same amorality that leads you to make an equivalency between arsonists, and people risking their lives to migrate just so they can feed their families. To you, both are breaking the law, so both should be dealt with the same way. In fact, it sounds like you have more sympathy for the landlord arsonist… perhaps because they’re doing it out of greed, which you seem to regard as a virtue. Maybe if the undocumented immigrant found a way to exploit and kill a few people along the way, as well as making a few million, perhaps you’d have more sympathy for their plight then.

          • MisterEllis

            No, there are two important differences.

            First, I only want to ration SF by price. Not everyone who works in SF needs to live in SF. So SF doesn’t lose a worker just because he can no longer afford SF.

            Second, I don’t judge by income or net worth, but I do judge by economic contribution. Someone who earns a lot, pays a lot of taxes, and consumes fewer services IS worth more to this city than someone who is a net consumer of resources and services, and pays little or not tax.

            As for the other, you are really advocating a form of terrorism. I must do what you say or else there will be terror attacks, infectious epidemics, a massive wave of non-white crime, and so on. It’s that form of “blackmail masquerading as political debate” that I am criticizing. And it is as ugly when (if) landlords do it as when class warriors like you do it.

            One question though, since you work in healthcare. If an illegal walks into your clinic (office, store, whatever) and says he has no money or insurance, do you treat him anyway?

          • wcw

            Raising tolls so that only people who absolutely have to drive get in their cars, and the rest take BART or telecommute or take a Lyft or take the ferry or move closer to work so they don’t have to drive any more or take a carpool doesn’t seem so bad.

            What is the social good served by subsidizing automobile traffic to the exclusion of all other transit?

          • Greg

            And as for the 1.5 million, why not 5 million? Why have any human input in planning at all. Why not let the magical invisible hand take care of everything? Because I think 5 or 6 million is what it will actually take to reduce the demand to the point housing prices decrease in the city. And not for the reasons you think, but because there will just come a point where quality of life will be so degraded that San Francisco isn’t going to be a worthwhile place to live anymore.

          • MisterEllis

            Greg, but you are the one saying we should not plan for it. We should just somehow magically stop them coming.

            I am saying that we should plan for it, because they are coming anyway.

            I don’t think we will get to 5 million in our lifetimes, although the Bay Area as a whole can probably take 10-15 million. It’s about 100 square miles so easily achievable in the same way that LA is already there. SF isn’t all that important in that context – it’s more the downtown than the place that has to house all the people.

          • wcw

            Greg, the market failure was in bars and music venues. Going out at night meant returning smelling like an ashtray and cleaning all your clothes to get rid of the awful stench. There were no nonsmoking options, except to stay home. It was good for 30% of the people, and bad for everyone else. A century of trying found no way to accommodate smokers without hurting everyone else — and a decade of the indoor smoking ban shows that we now, with outdoor patios, manage to.

          • GarySFBCN

            I spend a few months in Barcelona each year. At the nadir of their fiscal crisis their transit system was vastly superior to ours.
            I believe that all infrastructure needs to be improved ahead of development. Remember that big fire that destroyed the 200+ apartment complex being built near ATT park? The fire department complained that they lacked high pressure lines and that impeded their efforts. What wasn’t that high-pressure line a condition of permitting? Why didn’t the developers have to chip-in to pay for those lines? Does it mean that the potential residents there are going to have inferior fire support if there is another fire?

            I also believe that what we have now for public transit is laughable. We need a leader who can envision and communicate what the city could be, and then make it happen.
            My fear is that if we San Franciscans don’t cultivate that vision and leadership, we will get more of the same episodic variance development that erodes our quality of life, guts the character and culture of San Francisco and will transform the city into a boring enclave for the wealthy, all in the name of making a lot of money for a handful of people.

          • wcw

            If there is too much demand for housing here, what happened between 2002 and 2006? Rents dropped after inflation. What happened to this mooted, insatiable demand?

            There is no way to have 1960s freeway traffic with 1960s freeways and current population. You could build more and more freeways, but that’s a terrible waste of resources. Alternately, you could build better transit infrastructure. If you really want less traffic as well, you can start charging tolls. Set the tolls high enough and traffic will melt away. A three-hour wait to enter Manhattan just tells you its tolls are too low.

            There are plenty of cities in Europe with many more than 1.5m people that are not impossible to get around. If they can do it, we can, too.

            Since when is tourism the city’s most profitable industry? There are 2.2 million jobs in the Bay Area. Only 0.3m of them are in leisure and hospitality.

            How will adding people to San Francisco ruin what makes the city great? The city was 11% of California by population in 1920, and that didn’t ‘ruin’ it.

          • CallsignTangoXray

            Of course, the “mid-rise corridor” most fertile for higher density development is Mission Street itself. But I’m sure Gary will come up with plenty of reasons why that’s a bad idea.

          • GarySFBCN

            Great idea. Assuming that the number of residential units will double on each parcel, 1) guarantee all existing rent-controlled tenants units in the same parcel for the same rent and under rent control, 2) allow 1/3 of the ground-level retail businesses to return under a form of rent control, 3) build buildings with design that enhance the neighborhood.

          • CallsignTangoXray

            Ah yes. So put in place the kind of restrictions and caveats that ensure such construction will never, ever happen. Just as expected…

  • Dave1021

    Well. looks like the attempt to control the trolls is a big failure.

    Really, this is a great site – the reporting is top-notch and needed.

    The “comments” sections are a complete waste of time. Start purging,. The paid trolls will whine. Who gives a shit?

    • MisterEllis

      Depends how you define “troll”. The new policy has gotten rid of marcos, apparently. And I thought Greg before he re-emerged today, seemingly less concerned with his privacy.

      The main effect has been to deter casual posting. So we are seeing less posting, which might concern Tim if it hits his ad numbers. But those who are the energetic beating heart of the discussion here are still contributing.

      Sounds like what you really want is censorship and the ruthless suppression of free speec

      • Dave1021

        Blow it out your ass, troll.

      • Ragazzu

        It’s not your content to which numerous readers have objected, it’s your incessant posting. Don’t be a parasite. Time to create your own forum.

        • MisterEllis

          Ragazzu, it is trivially easy to ignore any post or poster whose content you do not enjoy. Please try and post on the topic and not make personal attacks here, as per Tim’s posting guidelines.

    • GarySFBCN

      I agree. Sam (aka MisterEllis) is a troll. He needs his own blog. He is compelled to respond to almost every comment I make because he cannot be still among those whose opinions differ than his own.

      • MisterEllis

        Since casual posting here has declined, the percentage of posts by the regulars inevitably increases.

        you have been posting a lot recently, for instance. So has wcw. Are you both trolls as well?

        • GarySFBCN

          “Since casual posting here has declined, the percentage of posts by the regulars inevitably increases.”

          LOL! Even before the change to Disqus, you dominated almost every thread with 30-60% of all posts and that has not changed. But what’s stunning is your logic in the above statement.

          • MisterEllis

            It would be very odd if Tim didn’t not value and cherish his most active users which, currently, appears to be you, me and wcw.

            And this would be a VERY quiet place if the three of us went away.

            But give the new system more time. It’s only been a week or so

          • Dave1021

            The sooner assholes like you vanish, the better.

          • MisterEllis

            I think I’ll stay instead. Sorry.

          • Meat Bikini

            That is a very entitled viewpoint. You assume activity adds value.

          • MisterEllis

            If Tim agreed with you, my account could now be easily blocked.

            As you can see, it has not been.

          • Sainte Apple

            That’s a very precious and entitled viewpoint.

            Why would you assume the author/publisher cares?

            As you’ve already declared “your viewpoint is important.”

          • MisterEllis

            I didn’t assume that the author cares, although he may. I assumed only that he doesn’t approve of my comments to the level of seeking to remove them or block my access, unlike with Dave/Dabston whose abusive comment below has been removed.

            Nor did I say my viewpoint is important, although you evidently thought it important enough to warrant responding to it.

          • Meat Bikini

            Sure. Whatever.

            I don’t think you understand how disqus works or exposes your comment history, ip, email address, edit history etc

          • MisterEllis

            I understand perfectly, but thanks for your concern.

            If my email and IP is exposed, you’d be able to prove it by revealing them, and you havent.

          • Sainte Apple

            I think you’ve explained it to me.

            You may or may not want to work on that passive aggressiveness.

      • Jon Kozone

        >”So far he has 11 out of 30 posts on this thread. ”
        Yes. You only have 5 of the 30, much more reasonable.

  • Janine Aiello

    Did you ever try to get help from SFDBI? It is a caucophony of fools and they are there only to aid/help Lanlords harass tenants out of the City. I filed a complaint for services/renovations and after one month, without repairs or needed maintenance, the Landlord was only required to pay a $65 penalty fee, and had no further notice from DBI to get this work done which means they could feasibly pay only $65 per month to harass a tenant with not complying with DBI’s Notice of Violation (NOV), no other penalties incurred or questions asked. The problem with this methodolgy, aside from the ridiculously small penalty fees, is that when a tenant calls a landlord out to DBI and they instate a NOV, this NOV gives the Landlord a legal right to issue a 24-hour entry notice to make necessary repairs regarding the NOV issued. This could go on for over a year, and DBI has had many cases on record and holds no accountability for Landlord NOV’s, unless you call them repeatedly, and the Police and SFFD, to investigate fire hazards or dangers inside their units. This is the reason why tenants do not like to call SFDBI, they will face an indefinite threat of a 24-hour notice to enter their units. I have them on film in my apartment, and DBI aids and abets and is the most corrupt City Public Pension Entourage in the City. I had three men from DBI to inspect my unit and they were afraid to open an old lead painted cabinet in my kitchen that was painted shut, so three City inspectors watched me, a 55 year old woman up on a ladder trying to open this cabinet. They were obstinent and condescending and complicated everything. In all fairness, Inspector Ed Greene in Plumbling Inspection was very good and even criticized his co-workers for their lack of support to resolve my apartment problems/issues. It was a quagmire of fools, and led up to 2-5 men in my tiny bathroom, at a time, for between 2-3 years before this constant water leak was resolved. And to add insult to injury the landlord left a gaping hole, ceiling open, directly above bathtub, which led to privacy concerns. I also had to involve SFFD because water kept collecting in my light fixture globe, the hands in the picture are that of a fireman, and they were very attentive to my concerns over a potential fire hazard in this building; electricity and water do not mix well and this I learned in primary school. The Landlord was well aware of this constant and annoying water leak for years and did not care and used City workers and sub-contractors only to further their cause make me live in unsafe conditions and drive me out the City. SFDBI seems like a corrupt organization and run by City workers who are constantly on vacation, or lie and say they are, to avoid work because they are too busy rennovating and fixing up their own Buildings and Rental Properties. This will change since today’s City worker salaries will not afford them their own properties, and then, perhaps they will work for “us” as required by their Employer until this generational shift occurs we will all be living in unsafe conditions in older unrennovated units. They also tried to tar-smoked me out, outside my bedroom and living area, while putting on a new roof, no protection shield from fumes and left a dirty tar bucket and mop directly next to my bedroom window for an entire weekend, when the landlord knew DBI was closed, anothe SFFD visit to my home. SFFD, the property Manager, and Landlord refused to take it down, and I had to smell tar fumes for the entire weekend, I reported this immediately, on Friday at 4:00 p.m. and Amore Real Estake did not take my calls and did not consider this an after hours emergency. Look at my photos and this is an example of what you may experience if you call DBI; if anyone is interested, I have several movies and pictures and occurances of DBI and the Landlord’s workers stalling and prolonging repairs, and email correspondence galore…no wonder tenants do not call Landlords for repairs, because if you do, you are in for a wild ride of nonsense. This is real, and I have so much more correspondence and photos…

  • vratrm

    One thing not mentioned above is that the recent number and intensity of fires, city-wide, is inline with historical data which, which shows a gentle, but long term downward trend.

    In much the same way that a cluster of well published murders can give the impression that SF is becoming more violent, when in fact the reverse is true, so can the same kind of media sensationalization in an environment of social anxiety affect the perception of the frequency and destructiveness of fires.

    There has been nothing so far to indicate that any of the recent spate of destructive fires were caused by anything other than landlord (and/or tenant) negligence. As someone who lives in an older apartment building myself, I would love to see more building inspections city wide, but in terms of priorities, a far more pressing issue is the still huge number of buildings that are not adequately retrofitted to withstand substantial earthquakes. These building not only threaten their own residents’ safety but also those of their neighbors and ultimately the whole city. As we all know the primary destructive force of the 1906 earthquake was not the shock itself, but fires that raged afterward. http://sfpublicpress.org/news/2015-02/sfs-list-of-quake-vulnerable-homes-continues-to-grow

  • Circumvent the problem lack of effort “Ed Lee” to hire and investigate so called fires? 25th Mission next price of profits Vida condo appraised how much to discuss between $25 or 33 million ideal corner lot. Former tenants displace man, died 12 units where is justice Ed, instead building permit of gentrification Dave Campos is there resolution annoyed the bureaucracy whom ignoring us!

  • Well Ed recommendation hired new “fire inspectors nothing else majority fires “rent controlled”
    neighborhoods if you could or would. Build anticipated housing…awaiting 30,000 units “BMR” below market rate those displace getting laugh in faces “Ellis Act”

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