That the city of San Francisco is running dangerously low on cash is common knowledge. But is it as well-known that staffing cuts at revenue-generating city departments — like the Department of Building Inspection, which is tasked with handing out permits and punitive citations to permit violators — are making it even more difficult for the city to rake in green?

DBI Director Vivian Day said that her department assigned several building inspectors to the sole task of inspecting building permits and levying fees to permit-holders whose permits had expired, netting the department “several hundred thousand dollars” worth of revenue. But that revenue stream will dry up at the end of the month, when the inspectors are slated to lose their jobs through layoffs.

Building inspectors netted “several hundred thousand dollars” worth of revenue, but that revenue stream will dry up when they’re laid off later this month.“We need housing inspectors right now,” Supervisor David Campos said, and as the economy deteriorates further, “the need for housing inspectors will only get greater.”
So it’s legislators to the rescue. DBI could take in approximately $3 million annually if a $52-per unit inspection fee — to be levied on owners of single- and two-family rental housing units — is assessed, Controller Ben Rosenfeld said on Tuesday.

DBI is running close to $2 million in the red, according to Supervisor David Campos, so to some the fee might seem like a fait accompli. At least it did when the legislation was discussed in committee, where not a single public commenter spoke out against the legislation. And property owners’ groups, who usually stand against any possibility of fees on their properties, withdrew opposition to the fee when it came out that the fees would be complaint-driven, not imposed universally.

Supervisors did approve the $52 assessment fee on Tuesday, but not unanimously. The vote was 8-3, with Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd dissenting.

Unfortunately, even that cash won’t come streaming in immediately. There’s no invoicing system in place at DBI yet, Rosenfeld pointed out. But “it’s a bad time for everyone down here,” Day added, and that some revenue will be better than nothing.

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