Building Inspection Commission - February 13, 2020 - Minutes

Meeting Date: 
February 13, 2020 - 1:00pm

PDF icon BIC Special Minutes 02-13-20.pdf


Department of Building Inspection (DBI)




Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 1:00 p.m.

City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 408

Aired Live on SFGTV Channel 78


ADOPTED July 15, 2020



The regular meeting of the Building Inspection Commission was called to order at 1:10 p.m.


1. Call to Order and Roll Call - Roll call was taken and a quorum was certified.


Angus McCarthy, President

Kevin Clinch, Commissioner

Sam Moss, Commissioner

Alysabeth Alexander-Tut, Commissioner

Sonya Harris, Secretary


Tom Hui, Director

Taras Madison, Chief Financial Officer



Robb Kapla, Deputy City Attorney

Jon Jacobo, Commissioner

Frank Lee, Commissioner

Jason Tam, Commissioner


2. Discussion and possible action on the proposed budget of the Department of Building Inspection for fiscal years 2020/2021, and 2021/2022.


Deputy Director of Finance Services, Taras Madison, gave her second presentation on the proposed budget of the Department of Building Inspection for fiscal years 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 and discussed the following points:

Attached is the department's Proposed FY 21 and FY 22 Budget. As discussed at the January 29th Budget Meeting, the department continues to review revenues and expenditures and make updates.

Attachment A and B include revised revenues and expenses. Both revenues and expenditures have increased.

Revenues (Attachment A)

Proposed FY 21 and FY 22 revenues equal $74M, and have increased due to the following:

• Increase of $1.5M in Interest.

• Increase of $1.5M in Plan Check based on prior year collections and anticipated earnings.

• Increase of $800K in Building Permits based on prior year collections, and anticipated eammgs.


Although these revenue sources have increased, they remain lower than prior year actuals.


Expenditures (Attachment B)


Proposed FY 21 and FY 22 expenditures equal $89.6M respectively. The increase is due to lowering of attrition to provide additional staff funding.

Based on these revenue and expenditure changes, the fund balance required to balance the budget equals $15.7M.

Changes in Revenues:

• Building and Plan Checking permits are DBI's major revenues.

• Increased budget for Plan Checking permits from $27M to $28.5M ($I.5M)

• Increased interest to $2.5M


Changes in Expenditures:

•DBI has an attrition rate where some positions have been kept vacant, so the department has proposed to reduce attrition to allow for another 10 positions to keep ahead of the Mayor's Directive on Housing.

Over the past few weeks Building Inspection Services, Code Enforcement Services, and Housing Inspection Services have hired new people.

•Housing Inspection Services has hired 3 new people, and pending on background checks they will be starting in March.

•Ms. Madison followed up on the question about Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs), and determined it would be handled on a citywide level when DBI received further budget instructions.


A Commissioner previously asked a question about permit fees, which is separate from the budget, so she had some caveats. Regarding 100% affordable projects, most are new projects so they have not gone to full completion so it is hard to get an accurate amount of what the final fees would be.


Most of these permits are in the filing or issuance stage, but she asked MIS to run a sample report of some projects in the system and do some ranges of what the permit fees are. Ms. Madison displayed a handout, which included fees collected from different departments, such as DBI, Planning, DPW, etc. Based on valuation. Of all of the fees currently in the PTS, this represented the sum of all of the fees in the system. Represents average of 40 plus project in various stages.


Commissioner Alexander-Tut thanked Ms. Madison for her detailed presentation, and asked for clarification regarding the (Full Time Equivalent) FTEs. She asked if there were 7 FTEs and 1 supervisor. Ms. Madison said that there were 8 Permit Technicians in Housing Inspection Services (HIS). Commissioner Alexander-Tut asked how many were filled? Ms. Madison said there were currently 3 vacancies that were recently filled.


Chief Housing Inspector, Jamie Sanbonmatsu, joined in the response and stated that current Housing Inspection Services has two Permit Technicians, plus one supervisor. Chief Sanbonmatsu said that HIS used to have eight Permit Techs, plus a supervisor. They are hiring three, and he appreciates those which would be a total of five with one person on leave, so that would be six.



Ms. Madison said that she would have to review the information, but she thought that filling the three would be fully staffed.


Commissioner Moss said that the city is building more housing now than they ever have in the history of San Francisco, so he asked why some Permit Tech positions were lost?


Ms. Madison reiterated that she did not believe that was the case. She also said that she would research it to see the actual Full Time Equivalent (FTE) that was available in 1999. In 2008/09 the economy recovered, and there were some changes in staff. Ms. Madison said that some of the conversation was a little uncomfortable for her, because some of this should actually be addressed by Human Resources, and she wanted to make sure that the discussion was sticking to information at a very high level.


Commissioner's & Staff Question & Answer Discussion:

• What work was slipping for not having the eight that HIS had before - Could there be a summary of this?

• Commissioner Alexander- Tut said since this is a personnel issue, perhaps the Commission could get the information another time, so there would be a clear understanding. Mr. Sanbonmatsu just wants to make sure the level of service is there, since Housing does so much. She wants to make sure the public is being served, and that the department is not going backwards.


Ms. Madison said that the budget would be submitted to the Mayor and Budget office on February 21. It would be submitted with some of the other two-year enterprise departments, and there may be revisions. As DBI gets updates on the budget, she would keep the BIC apprised of any changes.


Secretary Harris called for public comment. There was extensive public comment regarding the budget, and following is a summary of the comments.


Ms. Pratibha Tekkey of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) said that she was present to reiterate that all of the clerical positions affect their work. THC staff calls in for help from the clerks, so they support the rest of the budget for eight people total.


Ms. Deanna Suarez said that one of the things aside from advocating for the procurement of clerks, everyone has to remember as Commissioner Sam Moss pointed out, the quality of service depends on the quantity of work that people have to do on a daily basis. Just because the division is fully staffed capacity, does not mean it is at capacity. The clerks are the first stop for complaints, and are also key to the follow up and the Director's Hearings. Their job is to make sure that folks are finding remedies, and finding solutions through the department and without properly staffing up or thinking through what kind of staffing is needed. Running programs, the FTEs, what job is planned for them - All that matters, but she thinks it is appropriate to hear when tenant advocates on the ground are asked to resolve backlogs or to expedite the process, that the BIC hears the fact that more clerks are needed.



Ms. Aileen Mejia said that she is a community organizer for the Code Enforcement Outreach Program (CEOP). Her program helps a lot of tenants who have severe habitability issues, and a lot of landlords are not particularly responsive to them, so it helps having the Housing department. It helps speed up the process, so CEOP is for having more HIS clerks for DBI.


Ms. Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer of the Housing Rights Committee (HRC) said that she was present to talk about two issues: The first was to support being really staffed up on clerks. It messes up the whole system if there are not enough positions, and it is really important to the enforcement. It is one thing for an Inspector to come out, but all of the steps in the process need to be done. The second item was the Code Enforcement Outreach Program (CEOP). They do outreach to various communities, whether that has to do with special language skills, cultural competency, their Inspectors are amazing, but there are real reasons why some of the communities do not trust the city offices or just do not even know how to access them. CEOP knocks on doors and talks to people, and they do it all over the city in lots of neighborhoods, in very high risk communities. They see people's ceilings collapsing in on them all the time, because of their housing situation.


Ms. Sherburn-Zimmer said that she wanted to advocate that they get a real cost of doing business increase this year, and would like a 5% increase. Most of the CEOP staff could qualify for affordable housing in San Francisco, because it is really expensive to live in the city and they would also like the Commission to look at the wages on a bigger level. The increases have been small, compared to their costs and over the last ten years the code enforcement specialists have really specialized training. It is hard to recruit and even harder to train at these wages. She thanked the BIC for listening to them.


Ms. Dani Johnson of the Housing Rights Committee stated that she was a public Housing Advocate who works with low-income tenants living in public housing who are experiencing living in unsanitary and deplorable conditions. She goes to properties and mediates between property managers and landlords, and advocates for repairs and healthy environments for tenants.


Ms. Johnson also lives in the community, and doing her job and being able to have CEOP behind her, and it has also allowed her to sustain living in San Francisco. It is important for them to have this organization behind them, and further assist communities that have been left with a sense of hopelessness.


Ms. Daisy Fang of the Housing Rights Committee said that they serve communities out in the west side, and CEOP has allowed them to do the work that they do, and meet the cultural competence in the San Francisco area.


Ms. Leticia Absen said that she is a lead Housing Coordinator with part of the housing outreach program, and she provides counseling to tenants around their rights. They also echo the request of the 5% COLA increase. There is a shortage of Housing Clerks in the department, and they are crucial community resources. They help tenants file complaints and actually answer the phones, and talk with folks to answer questions. Clerks are instrumental in moving forward the complaints when landlords are not in compliance. There are many repair cases that they support, which do not require tenants to file complaints with DBI, but more recently they have been having to file them. The community needs the department to be fully staffed to support with these code violations, and make sure that everyone is living in safe and dignified housing.


(Ms. Absen interpreted for Aracelli) Aracelli said that she is a Tenant's Rights Counselor and organizer with Causa Justa (Just Cause) who has worked there several years. She is in support of the request for an increase in the Department of Building Inspection's budget, because this would support better service to the community. Tenants need to be listened to when they request repairs, and they need support from DBI since the landlords do not do the repairs. This leads to tenants almost being self-evicted or forced out, because of the lack of repairs.


Ms. Diana Alonzo of the Community Housing Program, said they support the budget to include eight Housing Clerks and a Supervisor. Maybe there were eight in 1999, but it is 2020 and their people need help. They work with some of the most vulnerable populations, tenants that live in SROs. There are consistently violations in the hotels which need to be cited by DBL Tenants call in the complaints themselves, so they need Clerks to handle the process whether it is the penalty process or making the complaint. There have been lots of cases when there is no traction, and a lot of work that happens behind the scenes is done by the Clerks to make sure that it gets to a hearing. Tenants depend on those cases moving along, and Clerks help with this. SROs are only eight by ten, and when there is no heat or only one burner working on the stove, that is when they need their group to fight for them to get the repairs done. Tenants are using the phone line and making complaints, so more Clerks are definitely needed.


Commissioner Jacobo said that he echoed the public comment that the Commission needs to make sure that staffing is taken care of on all levels. He has seen how hard the current staff works, and it is very much appreciated, but he thinks things could be done better.


Commissioner Moss said that he heard the passion and commitment for what the community groups do on the ground level, and he commended them for their work and for attending the meeting.


President McCarthy thanked the community members for coming to the meeting and speaking their truth for the work that they do. He said the question he had is what is actually the right number of Clerks, and how the department could get to that. He mentioned that the department could look into what the right number is, so that the community is not underserved. The BIC and DBI staff have discussed how difficult it is to hire people at times who do good work, and as a Commission they have to make that nexus - What is the data? Why does the division need eight? He asked if the Chief Housing Inspector could be more precise as to why the request is being made. Obviously a wage increase is something that most departments see all the time. He questioned if it is 5% or 6% or what was the going rate. President McCarthy suggested that Chief Sanbonmatsu come back to the BIC and talk about it, so there is a better understanding of what is the service level that is needed.


Commissioner Jacobo mentioned that he understood the request for more Clerks, but there needed to be supporting justification for the positions as well.


Commissioner Alexander-Tut inquired about making a motion or amendment to the budget. She said that her proposed amendment would be to increase the FTEs in the Housing Permit Technicians to eight, plus a Supervisor. It does not mean they are filled immediately; it is just the possibilities (the line item).



Deputy City Attorney Robb Kapla said that would go into the fiscal regulations, and he would have to bring up Ms. Madison to see if that would be possible from a fiscal perspective. The budget is a lot of things beyond the Housing Inspection Services, and the Commission can approve or consider the budget as is, and then entertain another discussion about the specific item as a future item.


Commissioner Alexander- Tut stated that she was not sure about what could or could not be added to the budget. If there is a request to increase the number of FTEs by one or two maybe the BIC needs to speak with the Deputy Director of Finance.


Deputy Director Madison said that she did not know what the rules are when the BIC can or cannot amend this, but if that is something that was going to be given to the department by the BIC then she would go in and make the change.


Deputy City Attorney Kapla said that he was aware, but not familiar with the requirements about adding FTEs, and some of the limitations that DBI had so he would want to make sure that the BIC was in compliance before he gets the proper motion.


Ms. Madison said that there have been instructions from the Mayor's Office that departments are not to increase their FTEs, so that is what Commissioner Alexander-Tut was referring to. She is not entirely sure what the restrictions would be, regarding the Mayor's Office request. Deputy Director Madison stated that she did not know if this was something the BI C would want to consider as a full item, so she asked if she could make a request for time to follow up to see what this means based on the budget instructions, and then they could follow up on that later. Although the Commission is approving the budget, it will change multiple times because it is going to the Mayor's Office. This is not the final, but very close to having it approved by the BIC and she could follow up by finding out the increase and how it would be done. The department could propose an amendment or change to the budget down the line. The budget as proposed should be heard twice as it is currently formulated.


Commissioner Jacobo stated that this was his first "rodeo", so he was getting to know all of the things that the BIC does. After the Commission approves the budget, can the BIC make a motion to change the budget and that would actually change it and they vote on it?


Deputy City Attorney Kapla said that the budget process is complicated, but he believed the BIC could recommend a change to the budget. Of course at the end, it is the BIC's recommendation that goes to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors for approval. The Commission could recommend changes to the budget going forward.


Commissioner Moss thanked the CEOP folks for coming to the meeting. As full disclosure, he worked with CEO P about fifteen or twenty years ago. He knows the work, and is grateful for all the work that they are doing. His understanding was that the cost of doing business could be invoked in the current budget line, which is why he was not going to calendar that as a budget item in itself, but just wanted to say on the record that he agreed with the 5% request and that he asked if that could be noted, but he was not going to recommend an increase on the line item at this time for that reason.



President McCarthy made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Moss, to approve the fiscal year 20-21 and 21-22 budget.


Secretary Harris called for a roll call vote:

President McCarthy YES Commissioner Clinch YES

Commissioner Jacobo YES Commissioner Lee YES

Commissioner Moss YES Commissioner Tam YES

Commissioner Alexander-Tut YES


The motion carried unanimously.




3. Discussion and possible action regarding a proposed ordinance amending the Building Code to extend for the time for existing buildings with a place of public accommodation to comply with the requirement to have all primary entries and paths of travel into the building accessible to persons with disabilities or to receive a City determination of equivalent facilitation, in addition to other requirements.


Mr. Tom Fessler, Senior Building Inspector of the Technical Services Division, stated that the presentation would be to extend the deadlines to September 1, 2020. Regarding the Accessible Business Entry (ABE) program, the Department has not quite gotten the compliance they anticipated. There are approximately 11K total properties that potentially need to meet the ABE ordinance, and the department has received 4,600 so there is still an outstanding number of about 6,500 properties. DBI does not want to go into the code enforcement status, and send out 6,500 Notices of Violation (NOVs). DBI has done a lot of outreach and unfortunately a lot of people got confused where different people said different deadlines, and everybody seemed to go to the final deadline that was last December 1st. The department is asking for more outreach and to be able to process the applications that are received.


Secretary Harris called for public comment, and there was none.


President McCarthy said based on the extended timeline, when does DBI anticipate issuing NOVs. Mr. Fessler stated that the last compliance would be September 21, 2021 where the department starts writing NOVs. DBI is trying to drive that number down, and does not want to go into the code enforcement actions. The purpose of the ordinance was to let people know their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the California Building Code, and to make San Francisco more accessible. The ordinance was not coordinated to enforcement actions.


President McCarthy said that if September comes around, and they do not comply and DBI starts issuing NOVs, do they start accruing penalties. Are there remedies for these "mom and pop" small businesses that might have to go through some other steps to comply?



Mr. Fessler said that there are resources through the Office of Small Business that have programs to help small businesses get grants for architects, and help pay for power door operators and some types of things. There is not a penalty in this ordinance, so if DBI goes into code enforcement, they would write an NOV saying the customer was not complying with the ABE program. There is no fine associated with that, and it would give them more time to respond to that. If they did not respond to the NOV, then it would go to a final notice and then go to code enforcement. After that the department would start tracking for its time, and that is the only fee that they would incur. There would be a monthly monitoring fee until they came into compliance. When customers come in for compliance, it still takes a while to get it done and it still takes six months to get the work done.


President McCarthy asked if DBI was still seeing them, even though they have not come in or does the clock stop.


Mr. Fessler said that was a good question, and he generally did not work in code enforcement, so he was not sure whether DBI would suspend the fees. He reiterated that the department was looking for good faith, so there is a potential that the department would stop the fees once they see that the person was trying to comply.


President McCarthy stated that he thought the system was set up well to guide customers through it. It was very helpful to him, and he turned out being compliant when he thought he was not. This is a good program and he said extending it out further is demonstrating that DBI sees the difficulty, particularly with the small businesses, and it would give staff a little bit more time to get it done.


Commissioner Tam made a motion, seconded by President McCarthy, to extend for the time for existing buildings with a place of public accommodation to comply with the ABE program.


Secretary Harris called for a roll call vote:


President McCarthy YES Commissioner Clinch YES

Commissioner Jacobo YES Commissioner Lee YES

Commissioner Moss YES Commissioner Tam YES

Commissioner Alexander-Tut YES


The motion carried unanimously.




Secretary Harris said that the Regular meeting would be on February 19th, and all Commissioners would be taking photos.


4. Adjournment.


Commissioner Clinch made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Lee, to adjourn the meeting.

The motion carried unanimously.





The meeting was adjourned at 1:57 p.m.


Respectfully submitted ,

Sonya Harris,  BIC Secretary