Burning down the housing in San Francisco

Fire crews from around the city worked to contain the fire along Fourth Street in China Basin.
Ross Barringer

Yesterday’s massive fire that destroyed a 172-unit market-rate housing complex that was near completion in China Basin got plenty of attention in mainstream and social media outlets — and only a little speculation as to how this fits into San Francisco’s aggressive push for new housing and its charged political debates about gentrification and displacement.

That’s probably appropriate for now, as is the praise being heaped on the San Francisco Fire Department for keeping the intense conflagration from jumping to nearby properties, including an affordable housing project being built by Mercy Housing right next door. With this morning’s warm air and steady winds, it’s easy to see how this fire could have gotten out of control.

Still, there was some early speculation on causes and comments on the more macro aspects of this fire, including this provocative Facebook post San Francisco Tenants Union head Ted Gullicksen made a couple hours after the fire started: “On the luxury housing under construction burning down today, let me just say that a sort of turning point during Dot Com One was when that began happening with the luxury lofts of that time.”

The implication that self-interested arson could have been the cause — and that this sort of thing has happened before — triggered a lively discussion, with some commenters cheering the setback in building more housing for the wealthy and others asking Gullicksen to offer more information.

He cited a fire on Mission Street during the last dot-com boom, while another remembered a building on Harrison being torched, and Gullicksen later had this comment: “Fire spread very quickly...they were already selling/renting stuff there...maybe demand wasn't there for high rise housing in antiseptic South Beach.”

On the other end of the spectrum, some were speculating that an overzealous affordable housing advocate could be behind the blaze. As Douglas C. Perera wrote on Twitter, “Would it be too conspiratorial of me to suggest anti-gentrification arson is what incinerated the apartments in the #ChinaBasinFire?”

Clearly, this is all still in the realm of idle speculation, not actual accusations, but we nonetheless posed the question to the developer of  the burned properties, BRE Properties, which had just put out a press release that noted, among other things, “We carry comprehensive insurance coverage for events such as this including hard cost replacement, soft costs and loss of revenue.  We believe any losses to the Company caused by the fire should be covered by insurance and will not have a material effect on our financial condition, operating results, or pending merger transaction.”

BRE Partner Andrew Siegel responded to our inquiry by writing, “Please see BRE Properties’ press release, which says, ‘We are currently assessing the situation, including the cause of the fire, and we will be consulting with the appropriate authorities.’ No company comments on speculation, and BRE Properties declines further comment at this time.”

Drone-shot footage of the fire by Ross Barringer:

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee, for whom the fire is a setback in reaching his already difficult goal of building 30,000 new housing units by 2020, issued the following statement, “On behalf of the residents of the City and County of San Francisco, I would like to thank Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White and the approximately 150 firefighters from several San Francisco Fire Stations who responded to what became a five-alarm fire in our Mission Bay neighborhood today. I am extremely grateful and relieved that no one sustained serious injuries during this very serious incident.

“Thanks to the leadership and determined action of our Fire Department, the very real potential of severe damage to other homes, businesses, and structures in the neighborhood was avoided. 

“The Fire Department will continue to investigate the cause of the blaze and the City and the Red Cross will work closely with any displaced residents of nearby homes. I would like to encourage property owners and landlords to use the Good Samaritan temporary occupancy residential rent ordinance, to help those displaced so that they can more easily find temporary housing, if needed.

“Other city departments performed admirably, including the Police Department, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Animal Care and Control, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.”


The idea that destroying homes will create more housing and lower rents is miserable nonsense.

It's much more like likely that arson happens by property owners trying to escape rent control, low-rent tenants who won't move, and stupid DBI abatements.

Remember when several SRO's burned down when the city started enforcing sprinkler ordinances? Sometimes an insurance payoff is better thand ealing with bureaucrats and mindless ideology.

Gullicksen is, of course, a moron but the SFPD should interview him anyway re his whereabouts at the time.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

associated with it go away as well?

If so, why would Gullicksen want that? Unless he hates successful people so much he would throw some poor folks to the dogs in order to spite them

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

It wasn't burned down, fortunately.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

BMR homes, at least if off-site, do not get funded until a project is completed.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

I think...I think...Steven is aiding the speculation that arson was involved because people remember 2 other fires years ago? Any other basis?

And the fact that the builder carried fire insurance makes them look suspect?

There are factors worth looking at (that Steven T Jones doesn't even mention). For example - why wasn't there a night watchperson who would have spotted the fire earlier? This has been discussed by real journalists.

Anyway, am I missing something or is this just Steven's stupidest post this week?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

it highly unlikely that it was arson set by some "activist".

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

Is just an opportunity for Steven to gloat about market rate housing going up in flames while not appearing to gloat, all while implying that Mission Bay 360 Building A had it coming.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

Although perhaps he thinks the fire is some kind of karmic justice served onto people who are guilty of the crime of success.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 6:42 am

He does love to gloat. Like when Larry Elison losing the America's Cup was an example of karma.

But also in the first paragraph he seems to be chiding the mainstream press for just reporting the facts so far and for not engaging in baseless speculation...before any scientific investigation has even begun.

Anyway...bottom line is that Steven seems to be making even less sense than usual.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

I have read some BS in the SFBG before, and while this may not be the dumbest article ever published here, it does rank as one of the stupidest.

This was a simple fire. It has nothing to do with gentrification, SF's housing policy, or any other political issue. One of the leading possible causes of the fire that has been published at this time is a welding torch--which is a pretty common cause of blazes in buildings under construction.

There is actually some good journalism that gets published in the SFBG, please spare us all this sort of BS.

If there is an arsonist at work, may I suggest he or she burn down the current editorial policy of the SFBG and replace it with good-old fashioned journalism.

Posted by Chris on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 1:13 am

I appreciate the information in this article, especially the information from Ted Gullicksen. Very interesting considering the rampant gentrification taking place at this time. It's wrecking this city.

Is it true that all of the employees on this job site got to leave at 3.00pm the day of the fire? That's what I heard. If so, how curious is that?... as well as convenient. When does leaving at 3.00pm ever happen on a job such as this?

I also heard they had just sprayed the building/structure making it very flammable (it's the green color on the building I was told).

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 2:29 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 6:43 am

Yes. It makes perfect sense.

The building's developers, who would spend their lives in jail if anyone died as a result of their actions, mysteriously send everyone home after asking some workers to spray flammable material all over the building. Then the huge fire breaks out.

It could be a major investigative winner for the SFBG to start working on.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 7:32 am

Yes, they did leave at 3.30pm according to this article.

S.F. firefighters still dousing hot spots after massive blaze

Also, I was in the union and the union workers are the hardest workers there are. That's why companies hire from the union. Leaving at 3.30pm is highly unusual for construction workers.

They had just completed putting on the green insulation on the outside of the building. That insulation is very flammable.

I feel it's an inside job. One kinda wonders how much Lee is getting for his part? The only one who loses will be the insurance company and who cares about them?

And who builds a SIX-STORY WOOD-FRAME BUILDING these days? Usually concrete/steel buildings are built after 4 stories. This is SO obvious but lies and corruption are "in" these days and as long as it involves a politician, it's okay. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

The hours for the union employees are usually:

8:30 a.m. to 5:00-5:30 p.m. Every day they have to pay for those cranes and all the rental equipment, therefore they work as long as possible up to as long as the city allows them. They cannot start before 8 or 8:30 a.m. And that's the union schedule I've seen adhered to for the luxury designer condos being built in my area.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

and continue until past 6:00 PM.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

It's not, I see the iron workers walking out of there at three.

"I was in the union and the union workers are the hardest workers there are. That's why companies hire from the union. "

Of course not true.

Stop trolling.

Posted by guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

"“Would it be too conspiratorial of me to suggest anti-gentrification arson is what incinerated the apartments in the #ChinaBasinFire?”"

Obviously, SFFD arson investigators should start interviewing prominent anti-gentrification activists and prominent anti-gentrification journalists to see if they know anything about this.

I was wondering why the SFBG was covering something as mundane as a fire...

Posted by racer さ on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 6:49 am

1) Man takes a bus to work

2) Man rents out his flat for a week-end

3) An accident at a boat race

4) A fire in a city full of wooden buildings.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 8:09 am

Only an idiot who knows nothing about anything thinks union employees leaving a job site at 3 is unusual.

This was an accident, and has no bearing on SFs housing policy or its various tangents. Thank god it was handled in the way that it was and that no one was killed, or additional housing ruined.
Gullicksen is showing his cards as a generally miserable human being - gloating at the fire while people living immediately across the street are displaced.
I suppose if mission bay was filled with some of SF's finest mom and pop artisanal thimble manufacturers, and a vegan le$bian heirloom mushroom collective Ted would be complaining that the fire was another nail in the coffin of SF's charm.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 10:38 am

There probably is one in SF and now they feel offended.

Else they moved to Oakland.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 10:42 am

The tech workers aren't a "wealthy, powerful elite" as they are made out to be by ignorant people who both hate and make idols of these, their new "gods". The average tech worker may make as much as $500 per day, pre-tax. They are higher than average paid workers. They may appear rich to low wage workers, but get a grip. Detaining buses, shooting up electric power transformers, and spray painting and defacing property in Atherton is the work of delinquents, varying in degree of criminality. That is the kind of crap which commonly occurs in the third world. The FBI needs to come in and clean things up, pronto.

Posted by Harry on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 11:59 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

Rush Limbauh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter.

All leftists eh?

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

way the left does. Some of them may, of course, but it is not central to their philosophy the way it is to class warriors and the envy brigade.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

Unions leave at 3:30 normally it's all about workers rights. And the fact that it says market rate apartments is ridiculous. It's more like above market place rents.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

The fact that you cannot afford them doesn't mean that others cannot.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2014 @ 4:38 am

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