At 2:30 p.m. on June 18, a five-alarm fire spread from building to building on Mission Street in District 9, burning apartments and storefronts. One hundred fifty firefighters fought early into the morning to put out the flames.
We have learned that 58 men, women and children have lost their possessions and have been displaced from their homes. Many of these survivors are low-income people already struggling to make it in San Francisco.
Our community also lost six successful locally owned businesses that significantly added to the culture of the corridor. At least three of these businesses were well-known legacy businesses, and all of the owners now face the daunting task of searching for new locations in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
These facts alone would be enough to constitute a deep tragedy for our community, but they’re compounded by the fact that this is the sixth major fire to displace residents of Mission/Bernal in the last two years. A shocking 198 residents of the Mission have been burned out of their homes in only 19 months. Three people, including one child, have died.
We are at a point in this crisis where reasonable people now believe that arson is playing a part in the rash of fires that are destroying the homes of Mission and Bernal residents. Reasonable people see that fires in low-income buildings almost always result in large profits for building owners and landlords and are disturbed and afraid the uptick in fires is more then just a coincidence.
As the elected representative of these neighborhoods, there is nothing I want more then to assure my constituents that arson is not a factor in these fires. Unfortunately, at this point, I can not say this with certainty.
The San Francisco Fire Department has reported the Fire Investigation Unit has been drastically understaffed and underfunded for years. Only one fire investigator has been added to the fire investigations team for the upcoming year, and I am concerned this is nowhere near what we actually need.
Neither my office nor the community has been briefed in detail on the process for fire investigations, or theories for why there has been an increase in fires in this neighborhood — even when we specifically asked for such information at a recent Fire Commission Hearing.
Last Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors, I called for an examination into our building, fire and health codes enforcement in the Mission, as well as our Fire Investigations Unit. I will hold a public hearing on the matter Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Public Safety Committee.
My office will soon have reached the limits of the powers given to us by the charter of the City of San Francisco to address these fires. Over a year ago we legislated the creation of an Interagency Fire Taskforce and drafted legislation to increase the audibility of fire alarms, update fire alarm technology, improve smoke alarm access and ensure that landlords provide tenants with critical information after a fire.
We have used my office’s discretionary funds on rental subsidies for low-income fire victims and are currently fighting to greatly increase the amount of money available for fire victims’ rental subsidies citywide. My staff has worked to ensure that after every fire, survivors receive needed resources and support and we worked quickly with city agencies to provide shelter and housing.
I am calling on the San Francisco Fire Department, Mayor Ed Lee and the Department of Building Inspections to use their authority given to them by the charter to address the increasing fires, loss of life and the permanent displacement of residents of the Mission. I won’t stop pushing until the Mission and Bernal receive answers and the displacement stops.