San Francisco Assessor-Recorder employees encountered a smelly shock when they showed up to work at City Hall on a recent Monday morning.
They may have been expecting the usual questions from the public about property records or tax liens, but certainly they weren’t ready for the debris and suspected fecal matter spread throughout the office.
An investigation is underway into who broke into the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder at City Hall and dirtied up the place, necessitating a massive and rigorous cleanup that’s been ongoing since the incident was discovered Nov. 7.
That includes shampooing of carpets, sending out upholstered chairs for special treatment, vacuuming up of debris, cleaning water dispensers and “sanitizing all marble floors and staircases.”
The debris was even tested by the Public Health Department over fears of E. coli.
Several emails sent by Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu and obtained by the San Francisco Examiner provided details into the incident and described a shaken staff.
Chu confirmed the incident to the Examiner. She said the ongoing investigation prevented her from discussing the matter further.
The most recent email was sent Tuesday morning, alerting staff to the results of the Public Health Department’s testing of the substance.
“The sample was analyzed in two ways: it was analyzed microscopically to determine the components and it was tested for fecal coliforms and E. coli, as there were concerns that it was ‘manure’ or pure fecal material,” the email reads. “We are informed, based on the results, that it appears the material was soil which contained very low concentrations of fecal material. Thus exposure to this material would be similar to working with soil, which often has small amounts of fecal contamination.”
Chu added in the email, “While it cannot be ruled out that the sample contained some fecal matter, the concentration of fecal matter would be very low.”
Eileen Hirst, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, said, “We are working with the Assessor’s Office to investigate that incident.” She declined to answer other questions related to the incident, including whether they have identified any suspects or motives.
An outside contractor was brought in to help with the cleaning. It’s not immediately clear if the contractor comes at an added cost to taxpayers.
In a Nov. 18 email, Chu wrote, “We pushed for the hiring of an external contractor to conduct a deep cleaning on upholstered surfaces such as carpets, chairs, and affected cubicle walls.”
In a Nov. 10 email, Chu noted how “It has been a tough week for many” and “we also understand that staff may feel unsettled when incidents like this happen.”
The cleanup is apparently extensive, covering every nook and cranny. “This past weekend and the last two weeks City Hall custodial/building management has been working with us to clean-up surfaces like doorknobs, railings, and floors,” Chu wrote in the email.
“They were very helpful in working with us to bring on expert cleaners for our upholstered surfaces such as our chairs and carpet. This past weekend building management followed up with an additional cleanup of our marbled floors.”
Since no city officials are providing further details, it remains unclear how someone gained access over the weekend to the department, which is located on the first floor of City Hall.
In the Nov. 10 email, Chu said, “The Sheriff’s Department has been conducting walk-throughs of our office after hours. In their walk through, they have brought to our attention that a number of our first floor windows have been left unclosed and unlocked.”
City Hall is ordinarily closed over the weekends except for municipal workers with employee badges, but for those weekends when voting takes place at City Hall access is available to the public and poll workers.
Still, those entering the building would have to go through security checkpoints where bags are searched as is the usual security protocol during normal business hours.