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  A More Thorough Second Look
September 29, 2003

Aloha! After a few days in Hawaii for the wedding of a daughter of a friend of more than 55 years, the E-FORUM is back on line.

I was impressed by the action that Rebecca Rosen  Lum’s recent investigative reporting piece provoked at 514 Macdonald (See http://www.bayarea.com/mld/cctimes/content_syndication/local_news/6866111.htm) I wish my complaints about City services would be as productive.

Upon my return, I found in my City Council packet a chronology of City actions on the property going back to 1991. There have been representations that the City Council had made some kind of policy decisions that validated the landlord’s code violations. I want to set the record straight. Since 1995 (before I was elected to the City Council), there has been only one action by the City Council related to 514 Macdonald. There was an appeal of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) 92-55 revocation action by the Planning Commission. According to the City Council Minutes of December 8, 1998, the Planning Commission had previously voted to revoke the CUP because there was not a resident manager at the site. Mr. Bal testified that there had been four resident managers at the site during the preceding year. Nine persons, including such pillars of the community as Fred Jackson, spoke in support of granting the appeal. On motion by Griffin, seconded by McIntosh, the City Council unanimously voted to granting the appeal. In making his motion, Griffin requested that the “City should assist Mr. Bal to resolve any management issues.”

The result was that Mr. Bal retained his CUP (which included a number of operating conditions and restrictions), but the City Council did not endorse any practices that included code violations or violations of the CUP. Inexplicably, Mr. Ball received clean fire inspections from 1996 through September 4, 2003. After Rosen-Lum’s September 21, 2003, article, the Fire Department apparently with redoubled motivation, went back for a second look and found a host of violations, including an inoperable fire escape. Other inspectors, according to the Times found “39 0r 40 violations.”

The Times article follows this E-FORUM.

Posted on Fri, Sep. 26, 2003

Richmond hotel landlord cited with 40 violations


Prompted by a story in last Sunday's Times, Contra Costa County health officials have cited Inderjit Bal with some 40 violations of the health and safety code at the single-room-occupancy hotel he owns.

A team that included Richmond building and fire inspectors and county senior environmental health specialist Joe Doser visited the second-story rooming house at 514 Macdonald Ave. Doser sent a letter to city officials today detailing the problems and his recommendations.

"It's sad to see people having to live that way," Doser said. "We saw some rodent infestations, windows missing or without screening so flies get in, floor deteriorating, having a bunch of junk and debris out there on the (first floor) roof. I also thought I saw some asbestos wrapped around the ducts. I noted about 39 or 40 (violations)."

Bal could not be reached for comment.

After the article appeared Sept. 21, City Manager Isiah Turner requested the matter go on the upcoming City Council agenda.

"We've been dealing with this guy for long enough," he said. "I want some action and my department heads know it."

Bal bought the building in 1991 and secured a use permit from the City Council in 1993 after first being denied by the Planning Commission. Conditions there have provoked criticisms from neighbors and tenant advocates, but few have translated into reforms or official demands for upgrades.

The Planning Commission has revoked Bal's use permit three times and considered it at least twice more during the past 10 years, but each time, the City Council reversed the decision on appeal. Although city files document alleged fire hazards, as recently as Sept. 19 fire inspectors gave the hotel a laudatory inspection report.

The Times documented numerous problems, including rotted floorboard and walls, outdated fire extinguishers, doors with no locks and rodent infestations.

During Tuesday's tour, a rodent sped down the hallway, alarming one of the inspectors and some tenants.

"People started screaming and running around," Doser said.

The furnace, reputed to be broken, could not be tested since it has been turned off for the summer and early fall, he said.

Fire Marshall Don Perez demanded that Bal remedy some problems on the spot, including tossing out the contents of a closet full of flammable solvents and paints.

Bal was cooperative, but "seemed a little shellshocked," Doser said.

City inspectors will receive Doser's report today or Monday, then set a deadline by which all the fixes must be made. Consequences could include fines or referral to the district attorney for civil or criminal prosecution. The city attorney also could choose to prosecute, something former city attorney Malcolm Hunter declined to do in years past.

Neither code inspector Coy Charles nor senior planner Judith Battle, both of whom accompanied Doser to the hotel, returned telephone calls Thursday.