Tuesday, March 29, 2011

North Panhandle Eyesore Remains, City Renews Permits for Fire Escape That’s Never Completed

Scaffolding has become an unwelcome fixture on NOPA street

On Lyon street towering over Golden Gate Avenue for years

Wire strung through structure to utility pole

Scaffolding leans against exterior but not secured

The extent of secured footing for scaffolding on Lyon street

Although the structure on Lyon Street at Golden Gate Avenue re-purposes parking spaces and attracts attention to the sidewalk, no one would point to it as one of the new parklets sprouting all over the city with the spring rain. Instead the barely-secured scaffolding meant for temporary use remains as a persistent blight in the North Panhandle neighborhood that the city continues to allow year after year. City staff suggest there’s nothing to be done.

According to a Department of Public Works inspector who most recently verified the permit for the scaffolding at 800 Lyon Street, “There’s not anyone who can do anything about it.” She added, “They have a legal right to be there as long as they’re doing work there.” She mentioned in January of this year that on her last visit she “saw someone scraping paint.” But after years of no apparent, substantial work or improvements, the series of six-month renewals appear to reflect inertia and permit gridlock rather than effective inspection, oversight or resolution.

The scaffolding is in place as the result of a long struggle between building tenants, the property owner, and city agencies. The three story structure was installed to serve as a fire escape for a tenant who resides in an illegal unit at the top of the building. In October 2010 the city approved plans to allow the addition of new fire escapes on the Golden Gate and Lyon street sides of the corner apartment building. Presumably these would be standard installations that would not obstruct the parking lane or the sidewalk.

When BIKE NOPA first reported on the Lyon structure in January 2010, the building owner’s attorney, Andrew Zacks of Zacks & Utrecht, said his client was sympathetic to neighbors’ concerns. “The owner understands this is a blight on the neighborhood,” he told us. In January of this year Zacks said he would provide an update on the situation but no information was forthcoming, and he stopped responded to inquiries.

A close look at the scaffolding reveals a structure barely secured to the building exterior, loose footings, and electrical wires strung through the apparatus to a nearby utility pole. The 800 block of Lyon features a steep grade with head-in parking on the same side of the street as the scaffolding. Residents in the building told BIKE NOPA that they worried about a vehicle hitting the scaffolding and bringing it all down on the sidewalk and street, disconnecting electrical wires in the process. Beyond the safety issues and blight, the structure also occupies two to three parking spaces around the clock in a neighborhood where many residents complain about the lack of available parking.

After several years of the status quo, might the city finally resolve the issue at 800 Lyon and make the block safer and more attractive? Several neighbors have indicated they are ready to petition the city for resolution of the eyesore they've lived with much too long.

Lyon Street Scaffolding Stats
800 Lyon Street at Golden Gate, 40 feet of curb space
DPW permit for scaffolding: # 1227100
Permit type: major encroachment
DPW permit office: 415 554 5810
Online Permit and Complaint Tracking for this address


  1. Thanks for the update Michael. At the end of the next 6-month permit issued, can't the city refuse to reissue based on the fact that an unreasonable amount of time has gone by without any reasonable progress?

  2. Alex: Yes, the city can decide whether to re-issue permits. It would help for residents to inform the city of their discontent with this ongoing problem. Can do so with direct calls to department as well as 311 (preferably both: to ask for removal not just one more inspection of status quo).

  3. I made my service request to 311 this morning. S. R. # 852346. I then called DPW Street Mapping and they told me that an inspector would be out there soon. I'm worried that a high wind could whip this structure into a tangled mess and kill someone.

  4. Thanks, Doug. Let's keep an eye and hear to the situation. There have been on-street inspections before but with no change to permit renewals. Maybe this time...