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City Hall toilets knocked out by Van Ness BRT construction mishap

Friday, San Francisco leaders’ toilets fell silent.

Not a flush. Not a tinkle. Not even a swirl.

For roughly two hours Friday, not a single toilet had flowing water at San Francisco City Hall after a Van Ness Improvement Project construction crew inadvertently knocked out a water line, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

“We have lost all water pressure at this time,” wrote a building manager in a mass email to City Hall staff Friday afternoon.

Though water has since been restored, City Hall will remain closed Friday as crews test the water.

The Van Ness Improvement Project is a multi-agency effort, meant to build out the infrastructure for Muni’s Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit Project, but also to rebuild water mains and sewage lines underground — the latter of which has led to years of delay on the project.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials previously said SFPUC-led construction contractors have had to dig slower than usual — by hand — to avoid breaking one of the many water pipes they found that are not on any map or blueprint.

Friday, those crews hit one anyway. And that water snafu raised concerns it would impact San Francisco’s ongoing counting of the ballots from Tuesday’s election. There are two close contests still up for grabs, the District Attorney’s race and the District 5 race.

City officials have confirmed the counting was not impacted and will continue even though City Hall was fully closed to the public in light of its water-less condition.

John Arntz, director of the San Francisco Department of Elections, wrote in an email to the Examiner that the department would continue counting ballots at City Hall, after making special toilet arrangements. He confirmed that those who ask to enter the building to observe the election counting process will still be allowed to do so.

“City Administrator Naomi Kelly organized our using restrooms in Bill Graham [Civic Center Auditorium] and also organizing some portable restrooms that we can use,” he wrote. “The building is closing to everyone other than elections personnel until water service restored.”

Will Reisman, a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesperson, confirmed a construction crew for the Van Ness Improvement Project inadvertently “hit a 3-inch (water) main that was built in the 1890s.”

While that main isn’t the one delivering water to City Hall, it was connected to that main, which had to be shut down for repairs, which in turn deprived City Hall of water.

Danielle Rabkin, who owns CrossFit Golden Gate on Van Ness, has been a frequent critic of City Hall’s handling of the Van Ness Improvement project construction.

She had little pity for City Hall’s current toilet-less predicament.

During the the still-ongoing construction on Van Ness, Rabkin’s gym has been coated in construction-related dust, various construction vehicles were parked in front of her business blocking it from view from potential customers, and barricades were erected in front of her gym’s front doors.

“People thought I was closed,” Rabkin said. “Water turning on and off was the least of the issues I’ve had to deal with. I’ve lost income. City Hall, they don’t have a toilet? That’s nothing.”

Still, she said, if they were really desperate, her business could perhaps help City Hall in one small way.

“I have a port-a-potty parked out in front of my business,” she said.

It’s just a quick jog up the street.

joe@sfexaminer.com

San Francisco Examiner reporter Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez covers transportation for the San Francisco Examiner. He also writes the weekly political On Guard column. Reach him at joe@sfexaminer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzTheReporter.

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