Sunday, July 31, 2016
The two agencies tasked with ensuring San Francisco’s residential buildings are safe from fires are doing a poor job of getting building owners to correct safety violations, according to a new report from the city’s civil grand jury.
The Department of Building Inspection and the Fire Department barely coordinate on code enforcement and take too long to complete inspections of multi-unit residential buildings, the report released Thursday found.
“If they’re not able to, on their own, complete all inspections and have timely code enforcement, they must find a way to work together in order to deal with this problem,” civil grand jury foreperson Alison Ileen Scott said in an interview Thursday.
“We found that fire safety hazards that go undetected or take too long to correct unnecessarily contribute to the risk that our housing stock and its residents will suffer from catastrophic fires that take lives, damage property, and displace tenants,” the report stated.
The study was prompted by three large fires in the city’s Mission District in late 2014 and early 2015 that killed three people, displaced scores of others, shuttered dozens of businesses and caused more than $11 million in damage.
In September 2014, a five-alarm fire injured five people and damaged six buildings, including one that housed Big House Inc., a large retail store on Mission Street between 22nd and 23rd streets. In January of the following year, a four-alarm blaze killed one man in a three-story commercial and residential building at Mission and 22nd streets. Two months later, a blaze killed two members of a family at 24th Street and Treat Avenue.
The civil grand jury noted that all three buildings had been repeatedly cited for city code violations and pointed out that the structure at Mission and 22nd streets may have had uncorrected code violations when the fire started.
Documentation of that building’s code compliance was so unclear that members of the civil grand jury asked Fire Department officials to help decipher it. During a meeting last spring, department representatives were unable to answer the jury’s questions about the building, Scott said.
“No one could tell us for certain whether or not the code violations that were cited before the fire were actually resolved before the fire happened,” Scott said.
The Fire Department has not moved fast enough to force building owners to fix violations the agency considers “urgent,” like problems with fire alarms, sprinklers and blocked exits, according to the report.
California’s health and safety code mandates that the Fire Department annually inspect residential buildings with three or more units. But, according to the civil grand jury, the department inspects less than half — 4,000 of the city’s 9,000 buildings with at least three units.
A Fire Department spokesman says the two agencies have already improved collaboration.
“We’ve been working with DBI on this for over a year,” Jonathan Baxter said. The two departments are holding monthly meetings and communicate daily, he said.
The Fire Department requested more funding for its inspection and prevention division in the most recent budget cycle, a request Mayor Ed Lee granted, Baxter said. The department is still reviewing the report and is expected to comment further next week.
Around 20 percent of the notices of violation that the Department of Building Inspection issued between 2013 and 2015 took more than a year to correct, the report found.
A Department of Building Inspection spokesman said the agency disputes the grand jury finding that housing inspectors failed to inspect a third of the multi-unit residential buildings in parts of the Mission, Chinatown and Tenderloin neighborhoods.
“The reality is DBI has one of the most robust code enforcement processes in the nation in terms of responding to tenant complaints tied to habitability and fire-safety issues,” Bill Strawn said. “We tried to make this clear to members of the grand jury and will continue to work to increase awareness about the successful efforts we make with owners and tenants.”
DBI recently released data showing how aggressive its inspectors were in getting building owners to correct housing code violations in the Mission and the rest of the city. According to the agency, 88 percent of more than 36,000 violations were corrected over the past three years.
The Mission fires prompted city officials to look harder at how older apartment buildings are inspected and how fires are investigated.
Several supervisors, including the Mission’s David Campos, have proposed tighter rules on inspections and enforcement — among other changes to the city’s building, housing and fire codes — after a safety task force was set up to offer recommendations.
But none of those proposals included changes to the city’s sprinkler requirements, which upset at least one leading tenant advocate.
On Thursday, Campos announced plans to formally request that the board’s budget and legislative analyst study the feasibility of requiring more of the city’s residential buildings to have sprinkler systems.
Landlords of older apartment buildings that are not required to have sprinklers have said retrofitting the structures with the devices would cost too much and could displace tenants during installation.
“We are committed to making sprinklers happen not only in the Mission but throughout the city,” Campos said at a City Hall news conference. “We want to do so in a way that protects rent-controlled housing, that protects tenants and that at the end of the day, makes sure that we prevent these fires.”
Campos wants the analyst to look into ways the city could reduce the costs of sprinkler installations.
He also wants the Fire Department and the Department of Building Inspection to form a working group to consult with tenants, landlords, contractors and other city agencies and develop a set of sprinkler recommendations.
“Supervisor Campos made it clear that he wants to get this done before the end of the year, and I think the political support for passage is there,” said Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who has pushed for a sprinkler ordinance.
Meantime, several fire safety reforms authored by Campos were approved by the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Thursday. One measure would require that landlords upgrade their fire-alarm systems and file paperwork with the city every two years, proving that the devices work. Another would require owners of apartment buildings damaged by fire to quickly provide the city with a timeline for how they plan to make repairs.
Those measures will go before the full board next week.
July 22, 2016
By Ted Goldberg
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report recommending a district attorney investigation that might lead to the auditor-controller being removed from office.
An investigation by the state attorney general’s office into allegations regarding the conduct of El Dorado County’s auditor-controller, Joe Harn, has concluded with no charges filed, according to El Dorado County officials.
The county issued a brief news release Thursday announcing the conclusion of the investigation that stemmed from allegations in a 2014-15 county grand jury report regarding Harn’s conduct.
The grand jury recommended that the district attorney investigate the allegations and findings in the report to determine whether Harn should be removed from office. It also recommended that the district attorney consider impaneling a criminal grand jury for that purpose.
“Out of an abundance of caution and in order to avoid the appearance of any conflict, the District Attorney referred the matter to the state Attorney General to conduct the investigation,” Creighton Avila, a county spokesman, said in an email. “The Attorney General has concluded their investigation and will take no further action.”
Avila said the attorney general’s office did not provide a written report of its findings but rather informed the county via email that it had concluded the investigation and no charges would be filed. He said the specific allegations are confidential and declined to say whether the investigation involved allegations other than those in the grand jury report.
The grand jury report alleged that the auditor-controller:
▪ Failed to submit a complete and correct cost allocation plan to the state of California, resulting in a loss of more than $1 million in federal reimbursement for fiscal year 2013-14 and additional losses in succeeding years.
▪ Is more focused on placing blame on others for problems than working with them to resolve problems.
▪ Delays or refuses payments for political or personal reasons.
▪ Refused to release an audit of the Public Guardian when the findings did not support his criticism of that office.
▪ Fails to comply with reporting requirements.
▪ Fails to adhere to basic principles of human resources management.
▪ Is guilty of bullying others.
The county retained the law firm of Prentice, Long & Epperson to provide investigative services on an as-requested basis, with the amount of the contract not to exceed $60,000, Avila said, adding that services under that contract have concluded.
July 21, 2016
The Sacramento Bee
By Cathy Locke
San Francisco Civil Grand Jury: Investigations of SFPD officer-involved shootings must be more timely and transparent
San Francisco – The 2015-2016 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) calls upon City and County agencies investigating officer-involved shootings (OIS) by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to complete their investigations more quickly and to make the entire process more transparent.
For its report, “Into the Open: Opportunities for More Timely and Transparent Investigations of Fatal San Francisco Police Department Officer-Involved Shootings,” the CGJ tracked the investigations related to the 18 fatal SFPD OIS incidents since 2011 and reached three main conclusions:
• Investigations of fatal OIS incidents take too long.
• The public lacks access to information about the process by which OIS incidents are investigated.
• City and county agencies share too little information with the public about individual fatal OIS investigations.
“The citizens of San Francisco don’t get enough information to determine whether the current OIS investigation process works properly or whether the results of these investigations are fair and just,” said Civil Grand Juror Eric Vanderpool. “We have made a number of recommendations directed at each of the City agencies involved that would remedy this problem.” The agencies involved include the SFPD, the DA’s Office, the Police Commission and the Office of Citizens Complaints.
In its boldest recommendation, the CGJ challenges the City to create an oversight task force to mitigate the perception of bias in fatal OIS investigations and to ensure that fatal OIS investigations are completed quickly and transparently. Currently, the SFPD takes the lead in investigating shootings by its own officers, with the District Attorney (DA) conducting a parallel criminal investigation and the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) conducting an administrative one.
The CGJ also urges the SFPD and the DA’s Office to streamline and prioritize OIS investigations so that they are completed more quickly. The CGJ also recommends that each City agency involved in OIS investigations create a webpage to educate the public about that agency’s role in the investigations and to keep the public informed about each OIS investigation.
Because the CGJ found that none of the agencies fundamental to OIS investigations has done an adequate job of informing the citizens of San Francisco how the process works, the CGJ report includes an outline and timeline of how OIS incidents are investigated based on department policies.
The CGJ report also contains summaries of each of the 18 fatal SFPD OIS incidents. “The Jury felt that it was important to remember that the ultimate result in every one of these fatal officer-involved shootings is the loss of a life,” Vanderpool added, “regardless of whether one thinks the actions of the police were proper or not. To acknowledge that, we identify all 18 individuals in our report and provide a synopsis of events leading to their deaths.”
The Superior Court selects 19 San Franciscans to serve year-long terms as Civil Grand Jurors. The Jury has the authority to investigate City and County government by reviewing documents and interviewing public officials and private individuals. At the end of its investigations, the Jury issues reports outlining findings and recommendations. County agencies identified in the report receive copies and must respond to these findings and recommendations. The Board of Supervisors conducts a public hearing on each CGJ report.
July 21, 2016
San Francisco Bay View