Following up on our previous story about the July water main break affecting several homes on the unit block of Sussex Street, the Glen Park News was able to interview Joe Fong, a resident whose family has been displaced to Daly City since that time.
Fong is a lifelong San Franciscan, having grown up in the Mission District where his parents owned a shop. A veterinarian, he owns a small veterinary hospital in the Inner Sunset and has lived with his family in Glen Park since 2009. “We’re committed to being in San Francisco,” he says. “We’re going to try to live in Glen Park for the rest of our lives.”
Since the flooding Fong says rendered the family home unlivable – which the City denies – his devotion to Glen Park and San Francisco has been tested.
After the damage to the family home, Fong began the arduous process of getting the extensive repairs made and filing a claim with the City. He spoke to an adjuster with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) who neglected to inform him that the City had remediation contracts with six companies. If Fong had chosen one of them, the City would have paid the company directly.
The adjuster told Fong verbally that he’d made a mistake but nothing was put in writing. Fong also says the adjuster never went into the property; he only stayed outside. Instead, SFPUC hired a third-party adjuster who tallies up and estimates the damages.
It’s a struggle to recover from a disaster like this, even when things go (somewhat) according to plan. In this case, the lack of information given to the Fongs caused a cascade of difficulties. “The process is too much of a mystery, there’s no one telling you, ‘This is how you do it.'”
Once they got estimates and chose a remediation company themselves (rather than choosing one of the companies the City has contracts with) it was necessary to pay them within 60 days or have a lien placed on the house. As a result of this oversight by the adjuster, the Fongs paid out of pocket and credit cards, at least $60,000, to get the repairs done while their claim was being processed.
To add to the expense, as was previously noted, the Fongs moved out pending repairs and are paying rent in Daly City.
To get a settlement a claimant must itemize all the bills and present them line by line to amount to a grand total. It’s a difficult process when you lose half your belongings, Fong noted. And once the paperwork is in it is final form, with no additions allowed after that. Claims for personal property losses must be made with the City within six months.
Settlements aren’t paid in increments; they are only paid at the end of the process. Fong also found that, in a settlement, depreciation in the value of belongings is taken into account so the reimbursement wouldn’t cover replacement at current prices.
Then there are the losses due to one’s individual situation that are not part of a settlement. In Fong’s case, for example, he won’t be paid for the week he had to take off to pack up the family belongings and find a place to live. As a small businessman, he needed to make payroll “because I have to pay my people. And I lost the ability to help the patients that were supposed to see me. I had to cancel all those appointments because I couldn’t work.”
After the October 10th community water main meeting at which SFPUC spokesperson Brian Cauley said he would look into the lack of communication regarding the contracts with the remediation companies, Fong got a call from the adjuster a day later asking for all his paperwork in order to look up his settlement. “That was it. Nothing changed,” said Fong.
As of this writing, Fong still hasn’t submitted his paperwork out of fear of not putting in everything he’s supposed to, so he’s being very meticulous. There’s a six-month deadline for submitting. It can be in paper or electronic form. Due to the volume of data, photos, etc., Fong prefers to submit electronically. SFPUC will set up a mailbox but it only stays open for a week, after which one has to request that the box be reopened.
Another thing on Fong’s mind, since he wants to stay in his home in Glen Park, is soil integrity. There was a water main break in the same location six years ago which Fong says still hasn’t been explained. “We want to make sure that the family is safe, that the soil is safe. We’re on a hill, it’s all clay.” As the homeowner, he would be responsible for paying for a soil evaluation to determine if there was damage to the foundation.
As the process drags on, Joe Fong is persevering. But he feels let down by the City. He feels more like a defendant than a plaintiff. “You are damaged and you have to fight to prove your loss.”