Monday, June 20, 2005

Civic Center Hotel

The Civic Center Hotel is an old SRO (Single Room Occupancy) joint for poor people that rents daily, weekly and monthly. It stands at the corner of 12th and Market Street next door to a large, stupid parking lot.

On the other side is a brutal building that is the headquarters for Local 38, the plumbers' and pipefitters' union.

When they get graffiti on the building, it usually takes them forever to clean it off. In fact, from the outside the place looks like a ghost building.

The union is rich, old-fashioned and very powerful. Take a look at their Officers page on their website.

They have also have had a few problems with government lately. Here's a story from last year:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2004 - The U. S. Department of Labor sued current and former trustees, the plan administrator, and Local 38 of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen for diverting more than $36 million in assets of five employee benefit plans to renovate and operate the Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa facilities on Clear Lake in Kelseyville, Calif. "The Plumbers plan officials mismanaged the investments and placed the benefits of thousands of union workers at risk," said U. S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Unfortunately, the union also owns the Civic Center Hotel.

J.K. Dineen in the Examiner wrote about another scandal in March of last year:

The City will likely take legal action against the plumbers and steamfitters union, United Association Local 38, after the powerful organization repeatedly refused to install sprinklers in a residential hotel it owns on 12th and Market streets.

After months and months of trying to get the union to comply with The City's residential-hotel sprinkler ordinance, the Department of Building Inspection's litigation committee referred the matter to the City Attorney's Office on Monday.

"They have got to comply with the law," said Building Commissioner Roy Guinnane. "They have so much money, they think they are above the law."

The Local 38 Pension Fund, headed by the union's business manager, Larry Mazzola, owns the 156-unit Civic Center Hotel, which is separated from the union's headquarters by a parking lot.

The union has argued that it does not have to install sprinklers because it has filed plans to demolish the building, but it has yet to file plans for the replacement condo project.

Documents show that on Jan. 28, 2003, the union was notified that it had to install sprinklers in order to comply with an ordinance then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom passed after a string of deadly hotel fires. On May 7, 2003, the union then received a complaint for failing to submit plans for the installation of sprinklers.

Last summer, on Aug. 7, the building's landlord was given 15 days to comply with the ordinance, and still the Department of Building Inspection heard nothing. Another warning was issued, and again the department did not receive a reply from the union, according to Guinnane.

"We are mandated to follow the law," said Guinnane. "This is a building that is fully occupied. It would be different if it were empty."

While many owners of The City's 357 residential hotels have stalled and procrastinated on installing sprinkler systems since the law went into effect 18 months ago, the owners of the Civic Center Hotel are the only ones who has unapologetically refused to even submit plans, according to Guinnane.

"They maintain they have demolition on file and are going to tear it down," he said. "They are no different than anyone else. They just don't want to comply. They have even refused to submit a drawing."

Under the sprinkler ordinance, hotels that refuse to comply are assessed a $1,000 per day fine, he added.

Ironically, Local 38 was a big supporter of the sprinkler ordinance, a piece of legislation that benefits those who work in the plumbing trades.

"This is their work, it's their members who are doing it," said Sam Dodge of the Central City SRO Collaborative.

Over the past six months, there have been two fires at the Civic Center Hotel, including one just two weeks ago.

They finally installed the sprinklers recently, according to the very pleasant manager of the hotel.

The latest wrinkle is that the union has been ordered to retrofit the building, which is not that expensive and not that big a deal. It's been done in just about every old building in the neighborhood, including where I live. The union's response was that they couldn't afford it and they were going to demolish the hotel and put up high-priced condos.

This hasn't amused a lot of people, so today there was a left-wing gay protest in front of the plumber's headquarters. (There's always an angle, and theirs was that people with AIDS along with transgenders lived in the hotel.)

It was a very jolly protest and the chants weren't as silly as they sometimes can be.

To read more about the background to all this, check out BeyondChron.


Anonymous said...

Great bit of muckraking, glad to have some glimmer of what is going on in the neighborhood.

sam dodge said...

I love your site, great pictures and the summary of the struggle so far is a good one, as there have been plenty of twists and turns. Today's update is that the case of the plumber's refusing to retrofit the building has now FINALLY been sent to the city attorney's office. Good news for everyone.

in solidarity,

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