San Francisco stubbornly clung to 19th-century technology. That crippled it during a 21st-century pandemic.

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On Sept. 9, the sun did not rise in San Francisco. Wildfire smoke shrouded the city, and masked figures scurried about while bathed in a jailbreak orange glow. 

It was on the next morning that the incident occurred. 

On the first-floor lobby of the city’s one-stop permitting center, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., a man reached the end of his patience. He yelled to anyone who would listen that he could not handle the Department of Building Inspection permitting system, that he could not obtain the necessary in-person meetings to obtain his permits, and that his projects could not move forward. 

Frustration with the Department of Building Inspection’s archaic and arcane systems was common even before the pandemic. But, of note, this man is a permit expediter; negotiating these systems is his job.

He went on to shout that he could not earn a living or even feed himself if he could not obtain these permits — and he could not obtain these permits without an in-person meeting, even in the midst of a pandemic. He lamented that he should not have to cheat the system like everyone else. So he threatened to kill himself. 

He then said he would make his case to the mayor herself. But, as he left to walk to City Hall, he horrified the onlookers with what he said next: “I will kill myself in front of her.” 

We won’t keep you in suspense: This man was saved. Sources tell us that he was intercepted by sheriff’s deputies at or near City Hall and placed on a 5150 involuntary hold. He has, by all appearances, stabilized and improved. He’s even back on the job. He’s working. 

The system that drove him to the brink, however, isn’t. 



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