Crew adores Rincon tower but can't afford to live there
Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 13, 2006
One in an occasional series on the construction of a high-rise on San Francisco's Rincon Hill.
A little more each day, rising steadily on Rincon Hill, where the Bay Bridge lands in San Francisco, the steel-and-concrete core of a new landmark is taking shape.
Just now, it looks a bit like the nest of some giant prehistoric bird, with steel reinforcing bars knitted tightly together like a woven basket. When the "rebar," as it is called in the trade, is all in place, concrete is poured over it, producing the strong heart of what will be a 641-foot condo tower, the first of two high-rise buildings in a project called One Rincon Hill.
Building the tower involves an intricate dance of workers and material, steel and concrete, mixed with the big-bucks economics of a $290 million project. It will also help transform a formerly funky hilltop into a new upscale San Francisco neighborhood.
"We spent 10 months just figuring out how to do this job," said Peter Read, who is in charge of construction for Bovis Lend Lease, the main contractor on the job. It is a project of enormous complexity, involving a slender high-rise of unusual design on a narrow site right next to the Bay Bridge approach.
When it is finished in 2008, the first tower will contain 43,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing 87,075 tons and 6,271 tons of rebar, which, if it were straightened and laid end to end, would stretch from San Francisco to Lubbock, Texas.
There will be 453,000 feet of conduit, and 9,000 electrical fixtures, according to Webcor Concrete, a major subcontractor of the job.
Last week, crews finished the foundation and the base of the tower and started going up.
They are now on the fifth floor of the residential tower; there are 50 more to go. The big construction crane that stands next to the site is 220 feet high. Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor, says that at the height of construction, on the top of the tower, the crane will be 720 feet above the crest of Rincon Hill.
The work goes on from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week. There are 98 men and two women on the job -- carpenters, ironworkers ("rodbusters," they are called), laborers and some others. But when the job goes into a higher gear and construction of the condo units begins, there will be hundreds more.
Many of the workers say there is something special about this tower.
"This is one of those great projects you'll be able to tell your grandkids about," said Julie Anne Linsley, who runs a hoist -- a construction elevator -- inside the building.
"You'll be able to see this building from El Cerrito, from Richmond, from Fremont, from all over. I'll say, 'Look at that. Granny got to build that high-rise.' " Linsley, who is 39 and lives in Oakland, doesn't have any grandchildren yet, "but I plan on having 'em."
Sometimes, the workers will simply stand and look at the building going up.
"You know," said Mike McGuire, a construction supervisor, "after a job like this, there aren't too many other projects in the world that wouldn't be happy to take you."
The Rincon Hill project has its ironic side, though.
In the 19th century, the hill and nearby South Park were fashionable neighborhoods, and then, in the 1920s and '30s, the hill went into a gradual decline. There were a number of shacks on the south side.
During the 1934 waterfront strike, considered a landmark in San Francisco's social history, a pitched battle -- the so-called Battle of Rincon Hill -- broke out between San Francisco police and strikers. The strikers threw rocks and other objects at the police, and the police used tear gas on the strikers. It was a full-fledged riot, or series of riots, that moved closer to the waterfront, where police shot and killed two union men, setting off San Francisco's only general strike.
In later years, Rincon Hill became the home for waterfront labor unions, including the Sailors' Union of the Pacific. The union's sleek, white, art-modern headquarters is right across the street from One Rincon.
But the new San Francisco, a city that is growing up south of Market, has not much room for the working class.
The price tag for the luxury townhouses at the foot of the tower and the condo units in the high-rise are in the $1 million range, so almost none of the workers who are building One Rincon can afford to live there.
Construction workers have some of the best-paid blue-collar jobs around: a journeyman carpenter makes $32.25 a hour, with lots of work now and overtime available. But they probably would not have the other financial qualifications to afford a home in the tower.
Fadi Lazkani, a field superintendent for Webcor, works on One Rincon, but economics have forced him into one of those killer commutes -- he lives in Riverbank (Stanislaus County) in the San Joaquin Valley, near Modesto, a 180-mile round-trip six days a week.
Lazkani leaves his home at 4:20 a.m. to arrive at Rincon Hill at 6:15. He spends four hours on the road every day, sharing driving with his brother, who also works on the project.
Why Riverbank? Because he could buy a brand-new house there for his wife and two children for $388,000.
Could he afford to live in the tower he is building now? "What are you talking about?" he said. "I can't afford to live in the Bay Area."
Lazkani was born in Tripoli, Lebanon, 31 years ago and came to the United States in 1991. There was no future for him in Lebanon, he said. "When I came, people warned me about crime in this country. They said it was unsafe. Yeah? You ought to live in Lebanon for a couple of years," he said.
He's been in construction for 14 years. He started as a laborer and worked his way up to carpenter. The standards are strict, he said. "You have to take classes for four years. Every quarter, you go to apprenticeship school for a week.''
He moved up steadily, changing jobs as he went, working on different projects. One was working concrete on San Francisco's Embarcadero light-rail line, an interesting job, he said.
One of his favorite jobs was working on the St. Regis Hotel at Third and Mission streets, one of the cornerstones of the new South of Market district. He liked working on a high-rise building -- "I was up on the 37th and 38th floors, looking down on all the people below," he said. "We built a condo that was worth $4 million."
Construction is a young person's game, it appears. Around the job, most of the men appear to be in their 20s and 30s. It's hard work, pulling and hauling, it pays well, and for now, the work is steady.
But it is also dangerous work. Last month, a construction platform collapsed, and four workmen fell about 8 feet. Three of them are back on the job, but one sustained a broken ankle, and he's still off work.
"Once, I fell four floors when I was working on a job," said Rob Walk, 52, the senior superintendent for Bovis Lend Lease, the principal contractor at One Rincon. "It knocked the wind out of me, but I wasn't hurt. The boss said, 'Get up! Go back to work.'
"I've been in this business 32 years, and I took the tools off 18 years ago," he said. "I'm not sorry."
The skinny on the tower
Units: 376 condos, 14 townhomes
Unit price: Up to $2 million
87,075 tons of concrete
6,271 tons of rebar
453,000 feet of conduit
9,000 electrical fixtures
Workforce: 98 men, 2 women