Rec and Park starting to feel heat

Recreation and Park Department officials began squirming and went into defense mode as soon as word got out that one of their chief roofing foremen sent a whistle-blower letter to the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee in June. Rob Rowland, a chief roofer with the department’s structural maintenance division, warned that at least 50 park buildings need a total of $3.4 million in timely roof repairs to head off dry rot and mold hazards.

Rowland charged that staff shortages restrict Recreation and Park to completing less than 60 percent of monthly roof maintenance work orders. He said unrepaired roofs make buildings deteriorate faster, creating higher repair costs later. Roof leaks allow water to get inside the walls — causing dry rot, weakening the structure and spreading mold that can cause asthma and other health problems.

He asked the supervisor committee to fund two additional roofers — positions that did not get approved. The denial was not surprising, since The City is trying to sustain a hiring freeze as it struggles to balance a projected $338 million budget deficit.

The reflexive counteroffensive from Recreation and Park management raised standard anti-whistle-blower arguments. First, Rowland was labeled disloyal for lobbying the supervisors instead of confining his complaints to departmental higher-ups — who then could more conveniently ignore him.

The senior roofing foreman was accused of being excessively concerned with his own specialty and not understanding the big picture because the chronically budget-short department constantly faces tough choices in prioritizing among $1 billion of deferred maintenance. And Rowland was charged with using “scare” words to falsely suggest there was any imminent health threat from potential mold growth.

This incident presents a useful demonstration of a longtime flawed policy by San Francisco political leaders. No level of government ever has enough money to do everything that everybody wants it to do, so politicians face ongoing temptations to focus available funds on highly visible uses that quickly deliver wide public satisfaction. Too often, this means capital maintenance is cut first, year after year.

Unfortunately, San Francisco mayors gave short shrift to capital maintenance for 50 years, repeatedly erasing deficits by deferring maintenance needs. This has become increasingly foolhardy as most of The City’s basic infrastructure is past the century mark.

But San Francisco voters cared enough about their parks to approve a $185 million park-maintenance bond in February.

And though a laundry list of much-needed projects was presented to the public in Proposition A, surely enough wiggle room is left topay for fixing some of the worst-leaking roofs on our park buildings.

People are entitled to enjoy these facilities without fear of catching mold-borne allergies and diseases.

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