Building Overtime

Off-duty police officers making time and a half are swarming over construction sites, handing out tickets. Only in S.F.

Richie Walsh's complaint was typical. First off, an officer asked him to do about 10 minutes' worth of fixes regarding sidewalk blockages and proper barricades on his site, then gave him a ticket. But, even more confusingly, Walsh says the officer informed him that he'd been observing the site over the course of three days. "What if something would have happened while he was just sitting there?" Walsh wonders. "Rather than sit there and take photos, he should have pointed out the problem straight away." While Tobin claimed he and his officers may wait "10 or 15 minutes" to snap a damning photograph at a construction site, numerous builders told SF Weekly of SPOT officers, on overtime, lurking for hours. Builder Danny Kerley says he actually stopped work on his site and had everyone cool their heels for the better part of an hour because a neighbor informed them that Tobin — whom Kerley says previously buzzed the site in a Porsche — had been sitting in a car across the street since long before the builders arrived that morning.

Noel Boggins is an old hand at the appeal process. The proprietor of Celtic Scaffolding walks into a small conference room and sits next to Tobin; a laptop placed between them displays photos of Boggins' offending site. On speakerphone from Santa Barbara is arbitrator Thom Bateman, who has copies of the same photos as Tobin (builders hoping to introduce photo evidence of their own are out of luck). Questions about the ADA compliance of Boggins' site lead the builder to make a couple of snipes about the ADA compliance of the building he's currently sitting in.

But Boggins quickly comes to the same conclusion as all the builders before him: The best course of action is to readily admit guilt, profess interest in attending a SPOT seminar, and accept whatever reduction in fine Bateman sees fit. On this day, Boggins ended up paying $122.81. He's still grumbling as he walks down the ramshackle steps, traipses through the garage, and heads into the daylight — and what he sees before him does not improve his mood. A dozen cars are double-parked along Seventh Street, blocking the dispute center's driveway — and pinning in the car that was already illegally parked in front of the driveway. Across the street, a three-wheeled Department of Parking and Traffic interceptor protrudes into the bike lane, and two workers block the sidewalk with their flatbed as they unload a small forklift. It's a galling sight for a man who'd just been given a tag-team lecture about traffic and pedestrian safety.

The day before Boggins' hearing, Tobin heard from a San Franciscan with a bit more clout than a disgruntled scaffolder: Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The president of the board of supes summoned Tobin, MTA/DPT engineers, and other city officials to his office for a Sept. 10 informational meeting. Peskin's assessment of SPOT was eerily similar to that of contractor Mel Annuzzi, Tobin's closest ally in the building community: "It's a good program, but the approach they use sucks."

Peskin describes the SPOT program as "an orphan — no one really owned it or managed it." Rather than spend the vast majority of its money to fund enforcement officers, the supervisor thought it would be fairer and more productive to "require some kind of proactive educational program in order to receive a permit ... rather than going out and reactively citing people."

He was stunned to learn that 98.5 percent of the program's tickets go to private contractors, but was most concerned with the vast amounts of overtime money involved and a structure in which officers can justify their overtime gig by readily handing out citations. "The police department has got to come up with a plan to get off the overtime tit and get this on straight time," says Peskin, who plans a follow-up meeting. "The fines shouldn't be about generating money or perpetuating the program."

But whether SPOT morphs into the program Peskin would like it to be or maintains its lucrative status quo, it won't make much difference to Mike Butler. The scaffolder was one of several members of the building trades who told SF Weekly that he's had it with San Francisco.

"Frankly, it's gotten so bad that I pulled my ad out of the San Francisco Yellow Pages," he says. "I've been doing this for 30 years, but, other than my solid customers, I ain't going over there anymore. We can make money in other cities."

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