SFPUC sets up field office in West Portal

March 11, 2013 8:31:55 PM PDT
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is setting up a field office in the West Portal neighborhood where a water main recently broke, causing extensive damage. The city is taking extraordinary steps for those residents, but a flood victim in another part of town is not happy at all with the treatment he is getting.

The West Portal water main break was unusual for the scope of its damage, but water pipe breaks in San Francisco are not exactly rare. There are 1,200 miles of water pipe in the city and 200 miles of it is more than a century old. In addition, the Diamond Heights neighborhood has had its own unique problem with pipes.

The latest repairs, replacements and testing will be going on in the neighborhood for months, maybe years. So the San Francisco PUC will be opening a field office on West Portal Avenue to meet the needs of residents and contractors.

Three homes are red-tagged and might never be lived in again. There are 23 homes in all that were damaged by the February 27th water main break.

"With most of our construction projects we normally have a field office, but for something like this -- a water main break -- this is, I would say, a little unusual, but we want to be here for the community," said Alison Kastama from the SFPUC.

It's a somewhat different story at the site of another water pipe break.

"There was nowhere for the water to go, but up. It became a lake down here and it just came through my whole garden," said Zeno Zimmerman.

Zimmerman said in October 2010 a pipe broke on the street outside his Diamond Heights home. He provided us with the pictures he took during the repairs. Then the following year a pipe at the top of the street broke, twice. So his property has flooded three times. His garden was ruined and his garage is cracking and sinking. He has three cracks in his foundation. He's painstakingly documented everything and in frustration, more than a year after the floods, hired a lawyer and is suing.

Friday, Zimmerman went door to door in West Portal handing out flyers to residents, warning them they might be in for a long haul.

When asked if the city gave him any compensation, Zimmerman said, "Nothing. Nothing."

The city has offered 10-cents on the dollar of what his contractors say is $167,000 worth of repairs.

"It is the city's responsibility. And that's what makes it such an absurd situation, I mean it almost becomes Fellini-like, because they do take responsibility for the flooding, not just the damages," said Jess Yanez, Zimmerman's attorney.

The city says there are about 100 water pipe breaks a year. Diamond Heights has a disproportionate share of them.

"Diamond Heights does have a little bit higher occurrence of pipe breaks and that's because the original developer in that area actually put those pipes in pretty much directly on bedrock. That friction between pipe and bedrock causes a bit more breakage," said Kastama.

The city attorney's office told ABC7 News it doesn't want to litigate the case in the media, but that it did make an offer to Zimmerman and that Zimmerman's demands just simply exceed what the city thinks is reasonable compensation.

The neighbors in West Portal are so far very happy with the city response.


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