Adam Ornellas' home partially collapsed last month, possibly due to construction crews failing to shore up a trench they dug next to his house. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

South San Francisco home partially collapses amid scrutiny over development

A controversial South San Francisco housing development is again under scrutiny after a home adjacent to the project was endangered when its retaining wall and patio collapsed.

Homeowner Adam Ornellas believes the damage was a result of construction crews failing to shore up a trench they had dug next to his house. The damage happened Thanksgiving morning and led to his Edgewood Way home being red-tagged.

However, city officials and the developer have not yet confirmed what caused the damage. Still, Ornellas, who has been a vocal critic of the project, says he is impressed with how the company and city government have responded to the crisis.

The project, located at 1256 Mission Road, is being constructed on a 1.7-acre lot that was once farmland. The long-neglected field, which contained a derelict building, had become a dumping ground for trash and occasional sleeping spot for homeless people.

Some city officials characterized the lot as urban blight, and some in the community wanted it cleaned up. But the 35-unit “transit village” being constructed on the site by developer City Ventures drew cries of protest last year from homeowners on neighboring Edgewood Way.

Chief among their complaints was the developer’s plan to use their street, which is currently a cul-de-sac, as a point of entry for the housing complex. Despite residents’ protests, the change to Edgewood Way remains part of the plan.

According to Ornellas, the damage to his home progressed rapidly on Thanksgiving morning. He said his wife Mary first noticed a crack in the cement along the side of the house at 7:39 a.m. In less than an hour, the crack had widened to “a big hole.”

“We were standing out on the deck, deciding what to do for Black Friday, when we heard a sound like a book dropping,” Ornellas said, describing the patio’s collapse.

Local news outlets called the problem a sinkhole, but Ornellas disagrees with that characterization.

“A sinkhole is a natural phenomenon, but this was caused by the construction,” Ornellas claimed.

City Ventures Project Manager Samantha Hauser said Ornellas has been “extremely helpful and collaborative,” and she hopes to find a solution soon.
“We have several different engineers looking into not only what caused the situation, but how we can resolve it,” Hauser said. “We expect to submit a long-term solution to the city next week.”

South San Francisco Director of Economic and Community Development Alex Greenwood agrees the damage was not caused by a sinkhole, but said it’s too early to assign blame.

“All we really know is that the retaining wall failed, causing a collapse of the side yard and a large amount of soil to spill into the construction site,” Greenwood said. “Several soil and geo-technical engineers have examined the site, and they have not found evidence of a sinkhole.”

Greenwood added The City’s role is to ensure safety at the site, and not take sides in what he said was a dispute between the homeowner and the developer.

If the incident is indeed a dispute, it appears to be an amicable one. Ornellas noted on the day of the calamity, a City Ventures manager used his own personal credit card to secure lodging for the family at a nearby hotel.

While Ornellas did give The San Francisco Examiner a tour of his red-tagged home, he did not disparage the developer. “I’m not going to play this out in the media,” Ornellas said.

Getting ahead of the winter rains will be crucial for saving the house, Ornellas said.

Greenwood shared that sentiment, noting, “due to the rainy weather, time is of the essence in fixing this site.

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