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San Francisco Unified School District named in lawsuit over 2011 fire

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S.F. Examiner File Photo
A Dec. 22

The San Francisco Unified School District is partially responsible for a five-alarm blaze that severely damaged several Western Addition buildings in 2011, a lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit blames the neighboring buildings, including “sparks generated by SFUSD” related to renovation construction at Creative Arts Charter School at 1601 Turk St., and “outdoor barbecuing and/or smoking” as causes behind the fire, according to court filings made April 3.

High winds blew a fire that began in a trash chute in an alleyway behind 1502 Golden Gate Ave. into a five-alarm conflagration that damaged four buildings — including an SFUSD-owned building that housed a charter school — and caused more than $8 million in damage Dec. 22, 2011.

More than 150 firefighters — half the firefighters on duty in The City at the time — needed almost three hours to bring the fire under control.

The plaintiffs in the case are insurance company Commercial Industrial Building Owners Alliance, which insures 1015 Pierce St., and John Palmer, a Sausalito resident who owns the building, according to records.

Palmer could not be reached for comment Friday.

A squabble over who is responsible for funding 1015 Pierce St.’s rebuild might be a reason why Palmer and the insurance company have sued.

Federal government-controlled Fannie Mae bought 1015 Pierce St.’s loan, and CIBA has cut checks made out to the building owners and to the bank. However, the cost to rebuild, including upgrades to meet The City’s fire code, is $1.8 million greater than the building’s value at the time of the fire.

The three-story, 25-unit, 1915 building was most recently assessed at $2.13 million, according to Assessor-Recorder’s Office records.

Fannie Mae has refused to release funds to building owners and has demanded that Palmer and his partners come up with the extra $1.8 million or have the insurance company cover the difference before releasing any funds, Palmer wrote in a letter to tenants Dec. 22, 2012.

“As you can imagine, trying to force an insurance company to pay an amount they have not yet agreed to is … impossible, and has brought our construction to a halt,” Palmer wrote. “Meanwhile, I have retained an attorney to fight [Fannie Mae’s] completely unreasonable position.”

Palmer’s attorney, Michael T. Kennick, could not be reached for comment Friday.


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