Bernal Heights homeowners upset at city over sewage spill

Lilian Kim Image
ByLilian Kim KGO logo
Friday, June 13, 2014
Bernal Heights homeowners upset at city over sewage spill
In Bernal Heights raw sewage has backed up into homes for years and residents say they?ve had enough and want the city to do more to help.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Raw sewage has backed up into San Francisco homes for years. Bernal Heights homeowners on Prentiss Street say this mess stinks -- figuratively and literally -- and they believe the city should do more to solve the problem.

"It was all gritty, black water. So there was nothing, thankfully, no solids?" homeowner Brandon Hughes said.

Hughes says raw sewage gushed into his home, not once, but twice last winter during heavy rain. The same thing happened to two of his neighbors, five total in the past five years. The wastewater finds its way in any way it can, up from the toilet and from the bathtub.

Homeowner Filip Kesler described his mess and told ABC7 News, "The walls were completely wet. I mean it was basically swimming in sewage water."

The damage was extensive. The floors, walls, ceilings and furniture had to be replaced. Neighbors blame the city. They say the main sewer line is the problem and a city work order proves it, which says there's a major defect on the line, dating back as far as 2009. Crews have since fixed the line, but the city says it's not liable and has denied the neighbors' claims, five in all.

"Really? How can that be? If you're suddenly doing a lot of work on the street and five houses in a row have all had a problem?" Hughes said.

The city attorney's office has declined to comment citing a possible lawsuit. But in its denial letter, the city says the homeowners are responsible for maintaining the so-called sewer lateral, the pipe that connects each house to the main sewer line.

Neighbors, however, say their laterals are up to code, and one even provided a city document dated before his house was flooded a second time. It gives his lateral a clean bill of health.

Kesler believes this is simply a case of the city not wanting to admit that it should have fixed the main sewer line years ago.

"And secondly there's the embarrassment and insult of having to sue the city to cover the expenses," Kesler said.

At last count, the cost of repairs was in the tens of thousands of dollars, but now with a possible lawsuit, these homeowners can expect to fork out thousands more in legal fees.