Bay Area home projects: Sanitizer, neighborhood complaints, police patrols

The morning scene in a pristine Palo Alto neighborhood looked
and sounded vaguely familiar for a weekday— workers unloading
materials and tools from pickups, electric saws and drills
buzzing.

But in front of a nearly-complete custom home, a socially
distant line of workers halted steps from the door. Sean Supple,
owner of a small construction company, aimed a digital thermometer
at the foreheads of incoming workers. Checking the readout, Supple
nodded and sent each of the men inside.

It’s a new process, Supple said: “I’m learning every
day.â€

Even as restrictions on small residential projects eased this
month through much of the Bay Area, work on everything from
landscapes to kitchens to custom homes has not returned to
normal.

But tensions over neighborhood development in the Bay Area
persist. The COVID-19 restrictions have sent frigid conversations
about home improvements into deep freeze, with neighbors tattling
on neighbors, police units formed to calm disputes and educate
builders, and contractors big and small adjusting and re-adjusting
work schedules to bring projects to completion safely.

Builders are working with smaller crews, with new sanitizing
stations and social distancing requirements. Contractors say
projects are taking longer, will likely cost more, and may involve
sealing off construction zones in parts of a home.

“We’re going to live with this thing for years,†said
Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction
Trades Council. “We can do this.â€

The trade council has found just 22 coronavirus infections on
more than 3,000 building sites across California, he said. The
council has fielded numerous calls about site conditions, he said,
and local and state unions have been issuing guidance and training
for workers.

The new Bay Area regulations require contractors to set up a
system for screening workers daily, sanitizing work sites and
tools, and maintaining six-feet between workers. The builder must
post guidelines at the worksite and designate a COVID-19 supervisor
to enforce the rules. For occupied homes and offices, construction
spaces must be shielded from living and working spaces.

Cities are handling the new requirements in different ways. Some
contractors say work has been slowed as local inspectors adjust to
video reviews of projects and fight through backlogs.Related
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Neighborhood intrigue also has drawn law enforcement to work
sites. San Jose police responded to 135 construction-related
complaints and issues spotted by officers during the first six
weeks of the shutdown, according to a public records request.

Menlo Park set up a website for anonymous complaints about
illegal construction shortly after shelter-in-place orders were
handed down in March. The site turned into a hot zone of
neighborhood sniping, and residents are now required to put names
to their grievances.

The site has received more than 730 complaints since the
restrictions were announced March 16.

As construction projects re-started, Menlo Park Police Chief
Dave Bertini set up a three-member task force to respond to the
surge of complaints.

Bertini pulled three civilian employees, two code inspectors and
one community service officer back from furlough to regularly visit
the dozens of active building projects. The unit freed up uniformed
officers to handle more serious complaints.

Most of the construction workers and companies understand the
new rules, he said. Larger companies have designated supervisors to
oversee compliance, while smaller companies have
crew members ensure workers follow guidelines.

The inspections have served to educate construction crews, as
well as let them know that people are watching. “I have not heard
any push back,†Bertini said. “We’re not out there looking to
arrest anybody for violating these orders.â€

The new rules aren’t the only challenge for small contractors.
Tony Tran, owner of a five-employee construction company based in
San Jose, said his work had been delayed by lack of city
inspections. He suspended three jobs in San Jose because they
needed city approval.

Tran laid off three workers but expected them back when projects
resumed in Santa Clara County. He was able to continue work on a
home renovation in Pleasanton, where restrictions were not as
tight.

His customers have been patient and understanding, said Tran,
who started his own business 15 years ago. “We’re trying to get
by,†he said. “Hopefully.â€

Rich Robb, general manager of MN Builders in Oakland, said the
company did not lose any projects. The employee-owned builder
secured a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, allowing them
to keep workers on the payroll, he said.

MN Builders started preparing for new rules in early March, Robb
said. The company ordered a variety of masks, sanitizers
and temporary sinks for hand-washing stations.

When regulations came down, Robb said, MN Builders reached out
to project partners and began to coordinate new work schedules.
Project managers rearranged schedules to minimize crews on site and
came up with ways to have a better balance of workers inside and
outside a building. “It was a well-thought-through process,â€
Robb said.

He expects workers to adapt to new safety protocols, just like
earlier requirements for hardhats and eye protection. “Everyone
wants to work safely,†he said. “Our guys are ready to do that.
… We’re optimistic.â€

In Palo Alto, the Supple Homes worksite had a collection of new
amenities — a portable sink, disinfectant wipes and masks for the
dozen or so workers.

As work sites have re-opened, Supple has warned workers not to
gather for lunch breaks. “To adhere to these guidelines to the
‘T,’ it’s going to slow down construction,†he said, noting
that 20 workers on site might be cut to 10 workers.

But, he added, “people are glad to be at work.â€

Source: FS – All – Interesting – Lifestyle
Bay Area home projects: Sanitizer, neighborhood complaints,
police patrols