DBI Refers Plumbers Union’s Civic Center Hotel for City Attorney Prosecution

by Emma Gerould on October 4, 2005

This week the Department of Building Inspection sent the earthquake retrofit violation for the Civic Center Hotel to the City Attorney, who will begin to litigate on behalf of the city. DBI had a director’s hearing April 26th citing the Plumbers’ Union, which owns the Civic Center, for a lack of compliance with the earthquake retrofit. In this hearing the Plumbers’ Union announced their plans to demolish the Civic Center’s 156 residential hotel units, all considered affordable housing, instead of completing the seismic retrofit. DBI requires that the earthquake retrofit be completed by February 2006. However, the Plumbers’ Union has not applied for a permit for the seismic retrofit nor have they applied for a permit to demolish except a faulty application filled out in 2003. The Plumbers’ Union seems to be in denial about their responsibility to the tenants keep them safe in case of an earthquake.

The Civic Center residents recently formed the Civic Center Hotel Tenants Association (CCHTA) to save their homes from demolition and bring the building up to code. CCHTA is made up of low-income, long-term, mentally ill, people of color, families, senior and disabled residents. They have picketed twice in front of the Plumbers Union and signed a petition of over 100 residents opposing the demolition and the lack of compliance of the earthquake retrofit. The city attorney picking up the case is good news for the Civic Center Hotel residences, who are tired of being in an unsafe building under threat demolition.

The case has taken on additional importance after the unfortunate events of Hurricane Katrina, which left San Franciscans asking if we’re prepared for an earthquake. In the case of the Civic Center Hotel, not only are they unprepared, but the building is a Level 4 unenforced masonry building. This means that if a major earthquake occurred, it would demolish the whole building. This put the residents’ lives at great risk but also it shows the lack of concern of the Plumbers’ Union for their residents.

“Given the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, we hope all parties will make all attempts to avoid the kind of managerial class negligence which can lead to similarly tragic failure to plan for disaster, in particular, the seismic events that San Francisco has and will experience,” said an excerpt from a letter drafted by the CCHTA given to DBI, Mayor Newsom, Larry Mazzola and the Board of Supervisors. “We don’t want our homes and our lives demolished either by the Union or by an earthquake ”

It seems apparent class differences are responsible in part for the lack preparedness and response for Hurricane Katrina and the lack of the compliance of the Plumbers’ Union to complete the earthquake retrofit is stark. The Civic Center Hotel is made up of low-income tenants similar that of New Orleans population that was affected by the Hurricane. There was a lack of preparedness even though there was knowledge that New Orleans could be under water if the proper precautions were not taken. In San Francisco, its not a matter of if there will be an earthquake – it’s a matter of when, leaving the tenants of Civic Center Hotel very vulnerable.

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