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Pagoda Demolition Blog

Muni and MH Construction have begun demolishing the Pagoda but do not have a demolition permit (as of July 31, 2013).

If you witness illegal work without permits:

Pagoda Theater, 1731 Powell St., Demolition Permit No.:201302190452.
Mni, Mark Benson, (415) 701-5295, (415) 238-0996 (cell)
DBI Illegal Activities: File a Complaint at (415) 558-6570.
DBI Permit Violations: File a Complaint at (415) 558-5570.
Police Non-emergency Complaint: SFPD doesn't have jurisdiction but report any serious infractions. Ask police to talk to contractors about obeying the law at (415) 553-0123.
Feel free to call your own contacts at DBI, Planning, City Attorneys, Board… of Supervisors ...


August 2, 2013: File a "No Demolition Permit" complaint

It's as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Make a hard copy of the complaint form
  2. Sign and date the printed form in the "Description of Work" box. (The directions say to sign but there is no Signature box.)
  3. Mail or fax the completed form to:
    Sacramento Intake & Mediation Center
    P.O. Box 269116
    Sacramento, CA 95826-9116
    916.255.4184 or 916.255.4449 (fax)

Sample filled out form:

 Head of CSLB complaint form
 Top of CSLB complaint form
 Bottom of CSLB complaint form

August 2, 2013: Muni reply to "Where's the permit" doesn't mention 'permit'

From: Michael Barrett
Sent: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 8:27 PM
To: Reiskin, Ed
Subject: Pagoda 'DIG'.
Dear Mr. Ed Reiskin,
Today I stopped by this sight to check on correct permits for the beginning of the 'Dig'!
I even asked the representative of this project at the site at 1731 Powell Street, for
aforementioned permits. He (Arney?) went behind the temporary 'walls' of plywood,
then returned and said that no one could find the paperwork!
This project should be stopped - immediately!
Michael P. Barrett
A very concerned citizen of San Francisco.

August 2 reply to Michael Barrett from Ed Reiskin (unsigned)

August 1, 2013: No Demolition Permit, email from Howard Wong to City Attorney, DBI, Planning

Sent: 8/1/2013 5:27:21 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time

July 31, 2013

Please forward this to appropriate parties.

Pagoda Legal Analysis: No Demo Permit

  • More Breaking of the Rules. On July 31, contrary to SFMTA's own guidelines, jack-hammering continued past the 3:30 pm cutoff time---past 4:45 pm. Upon new requests by several neighbors and businesses, MH Construction again refused to show a Permit. Although visibly nervous and furtive, MH Construction may have a concealed SFMTA Letter authorizing work without a Permit.
  • No Tracking Process for Permit. Citizens were misled in following DBI's online tracking log for permits, which indicated no action for the Pagoda Demo Permit since 2-19-13. Now, DBI believes that SFMTA has some authority to issue its own Permit for its own project.
  • SFMTA may be improperly citing Prop A 2007 as authority for self-permitting. It is doubtful that the drafters of Prop A intended to cut out the Department of Building Inspection, Board of Appeals, Public Works Codes, City contracting obligations, posting/ notification requirements, public input and the rest of San Francisco out the process. Moreover, SFMTA does not even own the Pagoda Theater---owned by a private entity (Joel Campos) building a Condominium project at the site. Central Subway work in Chinatown and other stations have adhered to city permitting processes.
(b) The Agency shall:

1. Have exclusive authority over the acquisition, construction, management, supervision, maintenance, extension, operation, use, and control of all property, as well as the real, personal, and financial assets of the Agency; and have exclusive authority over contracting, leasing, and purchasing by the Agency, provided that any Agency contract for outside services shall be subject to Charter Sections 10.104(12) and 10.104(15) and that the Agency may not transfer ownership of any of the real property of the City and County without approval from the Board of Directors and the Board of Supervisors;

2. Have exclusive authority to enter into such arrangements and agreements for the joint, coordinated, or common use with any other public entity owning or having jurisdiction over rights-of-way, tracks, structures, subways, tunnels, stations, terminals, depots, maintenance facilities, and transit electrical power facilities;

July 31, 2013, 3 p.m. Workman accosts woman at Pagoda site


"Andrea Baker, Central Subway North Beach Liaison" <>
"John Funghi, Central Subway Senior Program Manager" <>

Andrea! Nearly got knocked down today about 3 p.m. by one of your workmen! Came up behind me on the sidewalk when I was departing Powell Street towards Union Street and in broken English confronted me inches away saying that he didn't want me to take his picture. Tall, bulky man in white overalls. I could barely understand him and asked if he wanted a copy of the picture. Apparently that wasn't it. Told him I was sorry he was upset. I don't think there is any law about standing in a public street photographing a worksite even when no permit or warning signs are displayed. I plan on returning to photograph further work in progress as long as it continues, but do I need to bring a cop with me for protection? If documenting work being done under government contract in a public place is prohibited, please advise me as soon as you ascertain the ordinance number. And let me know if I will need protection. Thank you.

Joan Wood

[Note: Joan is a petite person, a mother and grandmother, and is active in North Beach community affairs. This incident was completely uncalled for, and immediate apologies from SFMTA (Muni) and the construction company who employs this belligerent person are in order.]

July 31, 2013, Muni accosts North Beach at Pagoda site

All day Tuesday and Wednesday, July 30--31, SFMTA (Muni) and their demolition contractors have been jackhammering, using a backhoe, loading materials into trucks, and making other disturbances at the Pagoda Theater site, without posted permits.

  • No demolition permit is posted at the site.
  • Requests to view the supposed permit being used by the construction company at the site have been denied.
  • No notice was given to property owners within 300 feet of the site.
  • No plans or other information were released under SFMTA (Muni) Sunshine Requests.
  • No plans for disposal of hazardous materials have been released, also requested under SFMTA (Muni) Sunshine Requests.
  • No plans for truck and other construction vehicle traffic have been released, also requested under SFMTA (Muni) Sunshine Requests.
  • No opportunity to appeal the demolition was given to residents.

Under Muni's newly-devised self-permitting process this is the situation we are in. Doesn't seem this would be tolerated anywhere, especially in San Francisco.

Under Department of Building Inspection (DBI) rules, all of the above would have been disclosed, notices would have been issued, and an appeal process would be available. DBI rules and permits are in force at the Central Subway Chinatown Station site at 947 Stockton Street. Why not at the Pagoda site?

The Department of Building Inspection (DBI) is currently reviewing whether they can step in and supersede Muni's Byzantine permitting process. Please contact these City officials and let them know Muni's actions will not be tolerated:

Mayor Ed Lee, City Hall, Room 200,1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place,
San Francisco, CA 94102   (415) 554-6141

Board of Supervisors, City Hall, Room 244, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place,
San Francisco, CA 94102   (415) 554-5184

Supervisor David Chiu, City Hall, Room 244, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place,
San Francisco, CA 94102   (415) 554-7450

Muni: Mr Tom Nolan, Chairman, SFMTA Board, One South Van Ness, San
Francisco, CA 94103   (415) 701-4505

Muni: Mr Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation, One South Van Ness, San
Francisco, CA 94103   (415) 701-4720

Email to all

July 31, 2013, 7 a.m. Foreman says "No photos"

Foreman Ken warned that photos are not allowed, but got a few anyway. Still no sign of a demolition permit, but looks like serious demolition going on.

 Thru the screen As I took this photo from the sidewalk peering through a break in screen, Foreman Ken said, "You can't take photos."

 Behind the screen Some serious work going on inside. (Taken from sidewalk holding camera over the protective green fence.)

 Foreman Ken Nice guy, foreman Ken, until you ask to see the demolition permit.

 Tractor and hole in slab Note large parts of the slab removed around tractor at front of site.

July 31, 2013: Email from Howard Wong to all

Please forward this to appropriate parties.

Pagoda Theater, Central Subway Project:
Property Address: 1731 Powell Street, Block/ Lot: 0101/ 004
Demolition Permit No.: 201302190452, Filed 02/19/2013

Compared to Chinatown station's open permit process, the Pagoda's attempted demolition without permits is symptomatic of the project's flaw---namely, SFMTA acknowledges the project is not even necessary.

  • NO PERMITS: The Demolition contractor, MH Construction, has been jack-hammering, digging with backhoes, using electric saws and attempting to hide work behind opaque screens. Each day, when asked for permits by neighbors, MH Construction makes different excuses.
  • NO POSTING: There is no large poster on the building for a mandated time period, showing the granting of a demolition permit, permit application data, contact phone numbers and timelines for questions and appeals.
  • NO PUBLIC NOTIFICATION: No mailing to properties within 300 feet of the site has occurred, showing the granting of a demolition permit, permit application data, contact phone numbers and timelines for questions and appeals.
  • NO REVIEW OF ENGINEERING PLANS: Because of an independent geotechnical engineer's warnings of unstable saturated soils, neighbors have been asking to review the Pagoda's Engineering Plans. But neighbors have had no such opportunity. Moreover, there has been no follow-up to Neighborhood Meetings---at which a majority of neighbors asked that TBMs (Tunnel Boring Machines) be buried or extracted in Chinatown.
If you witness illegal work without permits:
PAGODA THEATER, 1731 Powell St., Demolition Permit No.:201302190452,
DBI Illegal Activities: File a Complaint at (415)-558-6570.
DBI Permit Violations: File a Complaint at (415)-558-5570.
Police Non-emergency Complaint: SFPD doesn't have jurisdiction but report any serious infractions. Ask police to talk to contractors about obeying the law at (415)-553-0123.
Feel free to call your own contacts at DBI, Planning, City Attorneys, Board…..
  • SFMTA ACKNOWLEDGES THAT PROJECT IS NOT NECESSARY: The demolition is being rushed for political reasons. Internal SFMTA documents show that demolition is not necessary for the Central Subway: In SFMTA's Risk Management Report No. 46, Risk Item 208 notes:
    "March 2013: 2. If resolution of costs associated with the Pagoda option is not achieved, the TBMs will be buried to maintain budget requirements."
    So, TBMs can be buried under Columbus Avenue, Stockton Street or Chinatown, eliminating the empty 2,000 foot tunnels from Chinatown to Washington Square and the Pagoda Project; and saving up to $80 million---better used to quickly improve Muni throughout northern and western San Francisco.
  • BAD MUNI PRIORITIES: For many years, SFMTA has continued Muni service cuts, route eliminations, shortened bus lines, deferred maintenance, switchbacks, increasing fares/ fees/ fines/ meters…. Muni has fewer riders now than it did a decade ago---the only major transit agency to lose customers among the nation's top six transit districts. Only 17 percent of all trips within the city are made by public transit; 21 percent are by biking-walking and 62 percent are by motorized vehicles. Politicized management, not insufficient funding, is Muni's roadblock for world-class public transit. The agency has wasted funds on transit-poor projects, like the 1.7 mile Central Subway, while taking money from Muni.

Regards, Howard Wong, AIA

July 30, 2013, 7 a.m. First day of work with "permit"

Met up with the MH Construction workmen this morning and asked if they had a permit and they said they did. When asked to show it they said they didn't have to show it to me. After persisting they unrolled some plans and gave me a brief look at a letter from John Funghi rolled inside, then rolled up the plans again. Asked if I could take a picture of the permit/letter with my camera and the foreman, Ken, flipped out and began shouting that he didn't have to show me anything and why did I keep asking.

Called the cops and Officer Monteverdi arrived. He explained that the matter was a civil one and he had no power to make them show me the "permit." He asked the foreman, Ken, if he would show me the permit and Ken said no.

July 28, 2013: YABCA 2; mystery of the missing Pagoda demolition permit

If you've been by the Pagoda site you've seen workmen and trucks there, and the plywood with graffiti has been taken down. But according to City inspectors no demolition has been done.

Of course, we keep seeing the usual YABCA (Yet Another Bogus Construction Announcement), and even though there are workers at the site there is no demolition permit posted. Normally, no permit, no work can be done. When the workmen are asked about the permit they point to a small sign attached to the construction fence:

 Not a demolition permit. Not a demolition permit.

Where is the Pagoda demolition permit? No one seems to know and no one in the City is tellin'. Most demolition permits are issued by the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and you can track them at their online site (as of this writing, July 28, there is nothing for the Pagoda since February). Rumor has it Muni writes their own permits independent of DBI - hard to believe, even the Chinatown station at 947 Stockton has full DBI permits. We're trying to track it down.

If you see workmen at the Pagoda site tearing down the building and they can't produce a permit, call 558-6570 and file a complaint for "work being done without a permit."

Related Historic Demolitions

December 2013: Imminent demolition of 120 year old building in Vancouver’s old Japantown

An historic building is threatened with demolition by the Vancouver (Canada) city government. Like the Pagoda Theatre its address ironically was Powell Street, and located across from a city park.

 Historic Vancouver building PDF

Web site updated September 7, 2014;