committee overhead

Superb example where everybody is an official and nobody is a citizen.

After four years, $300,000 in legal bills and a three-week court trial, a San Francisco fishmonger is facing eviction from the port – all over a bathroom. The bathroom is part of a trailer that William Dawson inherited 17 years ago when he opened his fish-processing business on Pier 33.

Nobody paid much attention to the trailer until 2006 when the fire marshal declared it a hazard, saying it would block fire trucks if they needed to get onto the wooden pier. However, without the bathroom for his workers his business would be shut down.

He offered to build a new toilet on the property, and even hired an architect to draw up plans.

Then the finger-pointing began.

Port property manager Susan Reynolds says Dawson wanted the port to pay for the $29,000 sewage hookup, which the port said it couldn’t afford. Dawson’s attorney, Kurt Peterson, insists his client was always willing to pay for the hookup, but wanted permission to keep the trailer until the new toilet was built. “Their position was the trailer needed to go immediately,” Peterson said.

As a result, Dawson found himself in a Catch-22 – if he satisfied the fire marshal and the port, the health department might shut him down. So he kept the trailer and its toilet, prompting the port to declare he was no longer a tenant in good standing and therefore was ineligible for a permit to build a new bathroom. The standoff eventually wound up in court, where a jury hung before the two sides agreed to have the judge rule – and he sided with the port.

“It’s just crazy,” said former Mayor Art Agnos, a friend of Dawson’s who tried to mediate a settlement with the city. “They want to kill him over a bathroom.” “I wish this was just about the bathroom,” says the port’s Reynolds. Dawson, it seems, spent so much on his court fight that he couldn’t come up with the $167,000 in back rent that the city was barred from collecting during the battle.

Dawson’s attorney expressed confidence Friday that a deal was near to spare the fishmonger and his nine employees from being evicted. Meanwhile, it’s been nearly four years since the port has been able to collect rent from the business – but if you head out to Pier 33, you’ll see the toilet-equipped trailer unmoved.