Haight Street business owners angry at bungled construction

Business owners on San Francisco's legendary Haight Street are at their wits end as a troublesome infrastructure problem has caused emergencies, evacuations and chaos.

KTVU went to the famed street that is one of the city's favorite tourist haunts on Friday.  The block in question is at Haight's equally famous intersection with Ashbury Street.

A recent project to replace a water main and a sewer main has resulted in five natural gas leaks and one water main leak that caused a sinkhole. The work has been marked with street closures and evacuations making life for merchants and residents very tough.

"We're losing business, we losing tourism. We're losing people walking down Haight Street and it's just completely horrible for business right now," said Christian Calinsky, who runs Mother's Body and Tattoo Shop.

"Not only is it horrible for business, because they close of the street and no one's allowed to come down, but it's bad for our health and my employees health. That's just not OK," added Sunshine Powers, owner of the clothing store Jammin' on Haight.

"The last thing we want to do is anything close to a repeat of what happened in San Bruno," said FTC Skateboard  shop owner Kent Uyehara.

Replacing underground infrastructure in old streets is a challenging thing to do; that's why you hire experts. Unfortunately, in this case, the outcome has been anything but expert.

"We're lucky that nothing has exploded yet," said Calinsky.

The contractor that's done the digging and the troublesome pipeline dig-ins says the plans that were given shows 240 pipes and other lines to avoid. But the firm says it's already encountered 760 lines.

Though the street shows telltale colored paint warning markings, the contractor says many of those marks are in the wrong place or nonexistent. The contractor added that many of the lines are buried way too shallow, not at the required depth of 30 inches or more.

This provides no confidence to people who live and work in the area.

"If it's obvious they don't know what they're doing, then why aren't we trying to put someone there that does know what they're doing?" asked Powers.

"I don't think they have anything under control. I think that they just keep adding more people out here to make us think that they have it under control," said Calinsky.

KTVU asked the city officials who hired the contractor what is being done about the problems.

"What we're doing about it right now is we have shut the project down," said Rachael Gordon of the SF Public Works Department. On Friday, Gordon said she had been in meetings addressing the problems all day.

"We, as well as the state Public Utilities Commission, are investigating. Have there been proper markings? Were the markings being followed on the street? Places where it's called for to do hand digging, was that actually followed?" explained Gordon.

"At the end of the day, all the merchants and residents basically just fearful for their safety," said Uyehara.

The SF City attorney is weighing the city's legal options.

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