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Home Improvements 

Renovation tricks from our slippery, deadbeat mayor

Wednesday, Jul 26 1995
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If you're lucky enough to have a roof over your head, you already know that fixing the place up can be expensive. Heck, just plain painting means buckets of bucks. So imagine if you were adding gold leaf, slab marble, hand-painted murals, and real old-fashioned plaster to turn an old Vic into some kind of streetside Princess Di. Money matters might get you in a mess.

For example, you might not pay all of your contractors, or you might not tell the Assessor's Office about the new construction until a newspaper columnist wrote a story about your unforthcomingness in that regard, or you might think about getting some friends to fork over for part of the job.

Or, if you're Mayor Frank Jordan, you might do all of the above.
More than a year and a half after the commencement of the mayor's home-improvement project, Jordan is facing a dizzying array of conflicts and bad feelings, as well as a boosted property assessment. Plus there are the pissed-off contractors, who say they have not been paid.

Don Pizziconi, for one.
Pizziconi is the Missouri Street millworker who made the cabinets and doors for the mayor's mansion at 2529 Fillmore. He says the Jordans still owe him $3,303 for his work on the house.

"It just basically killed me," Pizziconi says. "Between the mayor and his wife they make a half a million dollars a year. That's what really gripes me. Here I am, just a poor working stiff."

Actually, Frank and Wendy Jordan don't make a half a million dollars a year. According to their most recent tax return, the combined income of San Francisco's first couple is just $436,492.

A query to Mayor Jordan's press office about the renovation brought this response from Assistant Press Secretary Staci Walters: "I talked to Wendy, and she said all the contractors had been paid. She said the one who hadn't been paid they had problems with his work."

That would be David Bastidas, of Union Bay Painting, who says the Jordans owe him $9,902.50 for his work on the job. Bastidas says he painted three floors of the house and was asked to paint the outside before anybody mentioned any problems with his work, and that the Jordans started complaining about quality only after asking him to hire Frank Jordan Jr., which would have been a violation of union rules.

Bastidas filed a construction lien for the money he says he's owed against the mayor, but did not do the proper paperwork, which rendered the lien unenforceable. He has not been paid.

Another contractor who filed a lien against Jordan was John Quackenbush, who did the plaster and the drywall on the job.

"It was just an ugly scene," Quackenbush says. He did the proper paperwork on his lien, which was for $6,287.50, and after he filed the lien he contacted an attorney. That's when Wendy Paskin Jordan gave Quackenbush a check for the amount owed, which he had to split with his lawyer, the contractor says.

"I was only able to recover 50 percent of that money," he says. "It just became kind of a bad deal, and everybody knew it."

There's John Dillon, the job's first general contractor. Dillon is an old personal friend of Jordan's, and Pizziconi says the mayor still owes Dillon some $12,000. Dillon didn't want to comment, except to say that he's confident that he and the mayor will work things out.

There are others who say the job was "a nightmare" but who don't want to be quoted because construction is a referral business, one in which recommendation is paramount, particularly from someone as powerful as the mayor.

And there are still others who say the job was problem-free. Cal Crew Painting, for one. Cal Crew did the exterior stripping, painting, and gold leaf work on the Fillmore Street house. "We've never had any problems with them," says Ellen Joseph, Cal Crew's office manager and gold leafer.

It cost $2,500 for the gold leaf itself, Joseph says, and about $2,500 to pay for the labor to apply it to the outside of the house. The gold is 23-karat, hammered into sheets like tinfoil, only thinner. It comes in books of 3-inch squares, which are stuck onto surfaces with a kind of glue. Each book has 50 squares of gold, and costs $25.

"It gets a rich golden look," Joseph says. "It just looks like gold."
Another contractor who isn't complaining about the job is Neil Lyons, of McClure Electric. "Not as far as I'm concerned," Lyons says, when asked if he ran into any obstacles on the renovation. "I don't know nothin' about that."

But some people do know something about another matter, which is how money from the Friends of Frank Jordan, a political fund-raising committee, wound up being spent -- temporarily -- on the renovation of the mayor's house.

Last year, the Friends of Frank Jordan paid $5,841.64 in two separate checks to a "Window and Door Shop" at a Pleasant Hill address for "security" at the mayor's residence. The expenditure was for shatterproof glass, says committee treasurer Jack Immendorf. The political committee -- which must abide by the rules of the California Fair Political Practices Committee -- approved the expenditure, wrote two checks, and then decided that it would be better if the mayor paid for his glass himself, Immendorf says. So Jordan repaid the money to the committee's account, "per FPPC," according to the records maintained by the city's Registrar of Voters. Listed on the repayment form, Schedule I, is the following explanation: "Window and Door Shop Security System Expenditure (Not allowed expenditure per FPPC)."

But a quick check of the telephone directory showed that there is no "Window and Door Shop" listed in Pleasant Hill. In fact, the address given on the committee's finance reports for the "Window and Door Shop" -- 545 Mesa Verde -- belongs to Charles McKee, the general contractor for the Jordan house renovation. So did the checks go to a window and door shop? Or not?

When asked about the expenditure, Immendorf says he thinks the check was made out to a window and door shop, but that he isn't 100 percent certain. "What you're asking me is something I'm not prepared to answer," Immendorf says, suggesting that the question be put to McKee, the contractor.

And McKee clears it up, providing two invoices for 1-3/4-inch glass from a Harrison Street store. All but one of the pieces of glass cost more than $600.

In all renovation projects, meanwhile, the end eventually comes. When that happens, the province of painters becomes the purview of the tax person -- in this case, the city Assessor's Office, which is entitled under law to raise the assessed value of property that has been improved through renovation.

From May 1994 to May 1995, the city Assessor's Office wrote to the mayor to ask him for the paperwork on the renovation, to enable the assessor to establish the new, improved valuation on the home.

Recently, the mayor complied with the request -- after SF Weekly columnist Larry Bush wrote about it in his column, Paper Trails, in June.

"We have basically gotten all the information subsequent to that article Larry Bush wrote," says David Busse, the city's chief property appraiser. Among the information the city sought from the mayor: itemized lists of all construction costs, certified copies of disbursement of funds, costs not funded by construction loans, and the "name, address and phone number of person to contact if audit was needed."

Armed with the new info, the Assessor's Office is now in the process of establishing how much more the property is worth. It's not the simple matter of reassessing the entire property, Busse says. Under Proposition 13, new construction on homes is evaluated by figuring out what the value of the property would be before the construction and after the construction, subtracting one from the other, and then adding that to the original assessed value at the time of purchase. Confused? Wait, that's not the end of the process. The mayor's house assessment will get a special, high-level review at the Assessor's Office, further up the food chain there than most other home-improvement projects ever go, Busse says. "Ordinarily a house like this wouldn't be looked at," Busse says, "but the assessor wants to make sure everything is correctly assessed."

When the new assessment is complete, the construction is expected to have added some six figures to the value of the property, Busse says.

And that's a chunk of change.

About The Author

Ellen McGarrahan

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