Thursday, June 25, 2009

Budget Cuts Incite Agency Action

(The BEFORE image)

Now that budget cuts threaten all municipal agencies, they are starting to come out of the woodwork.

As a property manager in San Francisco, I have had several occasions to deal with various agencies: Rent Arbitration Board, Building Inspection, and Fire Inspection to name a few.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from a real estate agent who is selling one of the properties I manage in The Mission District, to tell me that The City had posted a notice. I went by the property and found a notice from The Department of Public Works to abate graffiti. I examined the front of the property and found an area of about 12 x 24" where someone had spray painted a name. Now I have managed this property for over 8 years, and to my recollection this had been there for a VERY long time.

I returned in a day with materials to clean up the offending script and found yet ANOTHER notice from a second inspector taped over the top of the real estate agent's flier box!

Same complaint. Different inspector.
Three days after the first notice with the same complaint number!

After arriving at my office to call per the instructions to announce that the problem had been resolved, I found a notice from the Tax Assessors office for the same property announcing that the property had been damaged in a disaster and that I might be entitled to tax relief???? Could the disaster have been the graffiti?

I also looked up the DPW site and the only reference to graffiti were two links to a program they have for cleaning up graffiti on PUBLIC property and nothing about the regulation regarding private citations to property owners who are victims of graffiti.

Well I called The City on the graffiti issue and the woman who answered was a generic call center and she sounded rather incredulous about the graffiti notice as though she had never heard such a thing. But she gave me an abatement report number. This process took about a half hour.

I then called the Assessor's office about the "disaster damage" and was was confidently informed that the property had indeed sustained over $20,000 in fire damage on May 22 according to a report sent to them from the Fire Inspector's office.

Oh really? And exactly where was this damage?

Well after spending the next hour calling different fire department numbers, I got what I can only assume from the message was the correct office with only a voice mail option. I left a message and did not get a return call over the past week.

In the interim, I called one of the tenants to ask about this fire. It had occurred over 4 houses and 1 parking lot away from the property. There were 6 fire engines that showed up for the fire, most of which hung around and watched.

I can only surmise from this sudden visibility of City inspectors, that everyone is suddenly scrambling to try and justify their existence and their budgets. In eight years I have not seen such busy activity from inspectors I never knew existed!

This recalled another event from four years back where a building inspector signed off on a job on the same building, and approved it "pending approval from the fire inspector". The fire inspector came the next day and signed off.

Done, yes?


I found out 3 years later, that the same inspector who had signed off pending fire approval, had to come out yet again to sign off that the fire department had signed off! (According to my understanding of the English language, if something is approved contingent upon another individual's approval, once that second individual gives their "ok" the matter is over.)

Why would an inspector have to come back two days later to sign off on the same project he had already seen? Yet because of this they deemed the permit unfinished.

As a result, I had to open a NEW permit, to get the same inspector to come out 3 years after everyone else had signed off, to sign off again, to show the matter had closed.

Aside from the first inspector on the graffiti issue, which I can understand to some degree (except for their absence for many years and sudden appearance of not one but TWO inspectors within days of each other), consider the expenses:

An unnecessary report from the fire inspector, paperwork involving 2 city agencies, and the support staff and resources to handle my inquiries I speculate conservatively cost The City over $200. The additional graffiti police trip and report and subsequent paperwork, support staff, handling my calls and abatement: $140. The additional permit to close the first permit, special trip for the inspector to spend 30 seconds initially a job card, gas, paperwork, computer clerical support etc. for the re-inspection of what had just been inspected $340.

So just by cutting these redundant or unnecessary reports, inspections, filings, etc. would have saved The City at LEAST $680. Now imagine multiplying that by the many actions by these many employees during the typical day, and even if only one incident occurred per day it translates to about $17,000/year.

I can only surmise that there is a sudden flurry of activity for departments to justify their budgets, their existence and their level of staffing.

Oh Mr. Newsom! Mr. Scwartzenegger! I think I found you some money for your emergency services!

(Oh, and sometime ask me about The City and the parking lot management incident.)

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

San Francisco: Chinatown? Definitely! Japantown? Sure. Greektown????

San Francisco neighborhoods were greatly influenced by the influx of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As certain groups settled in certain areas, appropriate businesses opened to serve their needs, and it started a trend.

Most have since dissipated over the decades as members of a certain community became more affluent, were less reliant on connect with those who spoke their native tongue, and moved out into the general population and into other neighborhoods.

The Inner Mission is perhaps the best contemporary example with its strong ties to Central and South America and the Spanish language.

The most famous ethnic neighborhood in San Francisco, of course, is Chinatown. When it was originally founded it was actually the waterfront before land fill created the financial district area between Kearny and the Bay. Originally, the members of the Chinese community primarily worked to build the railroads and in shipping, import and export. That community is still there over 200 years later.

But what of other ethnic groups in San Francisco?

Japantown has Japan Center as a focal point for their community with its shops and restaurants, Korea town has cropped up on the fringes of The Tenderloin and Civic Center.

There was second wave of Russian immigrants into the outer Richmond over the past two decades and the community centers around the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church on Geary. But even a half a century ago the nexus of the Russian community was on Potrero Hill with its Russian Orthodox, Molokon, and Baptist churches.

A few of the communities that have diffused throughout or beyond The City have included: Irish and Scandanavians primarily populated The Castro and Eureka Valley, Greeks who populated the area now referred to as Mission Rock corridor of 3rd Street. Greektown originally set up shops on the 7th and Mission corridor as well and arranged for the first San Francisco Greek Orthodox church to be build on 7th Street between Harrison & Folsom. It's gold dome can still be seen from the freeway and it is now a Ukranian Orthodox Church. The Greek congregation, Hagia Triatha, had a newer Byzantine-styled edifice built on Brotherood Way in the 1970's.

It was that community that gave San Francisco one of its more famous mayors: George Christopher.

And of course the North Beach area, was and still is, an Italian enclave that also gave us Joseph Alioto and his family political dynasty and the likes of Joe DiMaggio.

But San Francisco has also given rise to other trends and communities parsed by economics, beliefs or other community factors over the centuries.

A few of these were the Beat Generation which evolved in the coffee houses and bookstores in North Beach around Broadway.

African American communities of the Western Edition, BayView District and Hunter's Point.

The Hippies of course claimed the Haight-Ashbury area around Golden Gate Park which still shows that influence, and the fledgling Gay community originally settled the Polk Street corridor in the 70's before they outgrew the area (as comedienne Margaret Cho talks about in her standup routines) and migrated to The Castro which became the international heart and soul of Gaydom second only to possibly Greenwich Village because of the presence of the iconic Stonewall Inn and the history it represents.

Affluence also had its districts: South Park, and Nob Hill passed their heyday and then it became Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, The Lake Street area and Seacliff district. Even somewhat in St. Francis Wood and Forest Hill areas which were pretty much sand dunes until the mid twentieth century.

The Chinese community outgrew the Chinatown area as well, and migrated into the Marina, Inner Richmond and Sunset Districts forming collections of Asian businesses along the Clement, Judah, Irving, Taraval, and Noriega business corridors. But none of those satellite areas has the significance or image of the parent community around Grant Avenue.

It is the strength and vitality of these communities that lends San Francisco its charm, it vibrancy and exemplify its long history of acceptance and welcoming of the new, the foreign and the vanguard of social and cultural evolution, until those tags are washed away in the eclectic currents and eddies of the San Francisco cultural mainstream.

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