November 2012

Informal Auto Repair Shop Annoys Bayview Residents

Keith Burbank

Bayview residents living east of Third Street, near the Williams Street Muni stop, are concerned about what they allege is an illegal automotive repair business. According to these neighbors, on any given day numerous cars are parked outside a single family home located on Shafter Avenue, motor oil and radiator fluid are dumped into the street, and suspicious-looking people hang out nearby. “It’s lowering property values,” said Syd Round, a Bayview resident and real estate broker.

A resident who lives nearby, and who didn’t want to be identified, agreed with Round. “We are very disappointed. The illegal mechanic is creating vehicle traffic, and cars are parked in the middle of the street, and we do not know if the people walking around are doing or dealing drugs or both. We got one of these chop shops closed a couple of years ago. Now they have opened another one.” The resident pointed to pollution caused by leaking oil and abandoned automobile parts as problems. “Also, blight,” the resident said. “Our property values will go down if an illegal auto repair shop is allowed to operate there.” Other residents have objected to excessive noise, and complained to the police and the fire departments of home carbon monoxide alarms being triggered by automobile exhaust.

 “SFPD has been called to that address 12 times between June and October 2012, regarding suspicious persons/vehicles, that resulted in no cites,” said Officer Gordon Shyy, of the San Francisco Police Department’s media relations unit. Since the View initially contacted SFPD, the department has received two more regarding the alleged activity. According to Shyy, no citations have been issued because the activity wasn’t occurring when officers arrived or the police were unable to locate any suspicious activity or persons. Of the 14 calls, one caller later canceled his request for police assistance, Shyy said.

On an October afternoon the View approached a group of people sitting at a table at the location where the alleged activity is said to be taking place, but no one would answer any questions. It didn’t appear that any automobile repair activities were being done at the time.

According to acting Bayview Station Captain Robert O’Sullivan, in situations such as an auto repair business, SFPD will first tell the individuals involved in the alleged illegal activity that there have been complaints, and that they must “cease and desist” what they’re doing. If the activity continues, a code enforcement officer can cite them. Officer Sue Lavin-Mann, the Bayview Station’s code enforcement officer, said that the police department can also ask other City agencies to inspect the property and issue citations for other code violations. [This] “is one of many properties in the area that have similar alleged activity. We have so many code enforcement cases at the moment that the more serious cases take priority. Our team is complaint driven, and presently we are working on the highest priority cases, so we will get to it...,” Lavin-Mann said.

According to Round, the person doing car repairs appears to have invested thousands of dollars in automobile repair equipment, including a hand-operated car lift and air compressors. “There were 11 vehicles at one time in front of the home,” Round said. “The cars were triple-parked, and a fire engine had to wait to pass until people moved some of the cars. Pedestrians find passing along the sidewalk difficult, and one individual in a wheelchair had to steer out into traffic.”

Because of the complaints, the San Francisco Planning Department has “created a complaint file for this site. We will be notifying the property owner by mail that a complaint has been filed against their property, and request that they contact us,” said Joanna Linsangan, the Planning Department’s communications manager. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) is investigating whether an unlicensed auto repair shop is operating in Bayview, said Russ Heimerich, of BAR’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

Although residents report that the auto repair work continues, things have improved somewhat. “The car guy has abated some of his work,” Round said. “But he is still working. He is working at various hours, it appears, to avoid detection by the police and neighbors. And he may be loan sharking; doing repairs and allowing people to pay him later at high interest rates.” Despite this problem, Round said that Bayview is improving. “It’s turning around,” he said. “There is already a contingent of people concerned about their environment, such as entrepreneurs, attorneys, and engineers, and now new families are moving in.”

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