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With construction boom, S.F.'s building department has money to help improve, report says

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A building boom in San Francisco could give the Department of Building Inspection funds to make improvements, according to a recent civil grand jury report. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • A building boom in San Francisco could give the Department of Building Inspection funds to make improvements, according to a recent civil grand jury report.

With The City in the midst of a construction boom, San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection is in the perfect situation to undergo important reforms, including ones that could better protect residents, according to a recent civil grand jury report.

The department is The City's enforcer of living standards for tenants, such as proper heat or air-conditioning quality, and planning code compliance, such as making sure no unauthorized work like demolition or renovation is done without proper permits. In fiscal year 2011-12, the Department of Building Inspection issued 55,442 permits, collected nearly $55.7 million in revenue and performed 125,243 inspections.

With the construction going on in The City now, the department is seeing a revenue surge that could be used as an investment to "emerge from an era of revolving leadership, thwarted efforts at reform, funding deficiencies, staff layoffs, and apparent general resistance to change," the report said. The report noted that the department already has "come a long way since the days of FBI raids, ethics scandals and the recession induced layoffs" of the early 2000s.

The report found that "inconsistent and lax enforcement leaves unsafe structures and blighted and abandoned buildings unabated for years, providing vulnerable citizens with little redress."

The grand jury examined the outcomes of 4,400 notices of violation issued by the department in one year and found 56 percent were resolved within the same year as issued, and 22 percent were closed out in the second year. About 11 percent are never closed out, the report said. The report found a backlog of 6,000 cases.

One recommendation is to create a standard for resolving code violations, ensuring nearly all of them are closed within one year from the issuance date.

The report said the current practices "are rife with opportunities for delay, and DBI gives property owners leeway as long as they believe the owner ultimately will abate the violation. This allows savvy owners to 'game' the system in order to delay repairing their property."

The report also found that the department has not consistently assessed or collected fees, depriving it of due revenue that could in turn fund increased enforcement.

The report made 11 findings and recommendations for improvement and will be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors and the department, which must respond.