Two construction contractors that escaped Cal/OSHA fines aren’t new to business in San Francisco

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By G.W. Schulz

This week we posted a story about two contractors hired by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District in 2001 to complete phase two of its ongoing (and over-budget) retrofit.

The original contract was for $122 million, but a spokesperson for the bridge told us this week that the joint venture formed by two contractors to bid on the job, Shimmick-Obayashi, would actually earn more than $150 million for the work, which is almost finished.

Our story explains that following the accidental death of a carpenter named Kevin Noah, Shimmick-Obayashi was fined $26,000 by Cal/OSHA for allegedly failing to properly rig Noah’s fall protection and also for not providing workers with scaffolding to stand on where the footing was less than 20 inches wide.

But Shimmick-Obayashi never paid the fines, because on appeal three years later, a lawyer from the company argued that the original citation didn’t contain its full legal name. An administrative judge bought the claim and tossed all of the citations.

What we didn’t have space for in the story was explaining the extent of the construction work both companies have conducted in the Bay Area.

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60-story Millennium Tower

Tokyo-based Obayashi has constructed residential, hotel and civil works projects locally since the ‘70s, recently completing 135 residential units at Fulton and Masonic in May of 2003.

While Obayashi has long figured prominently in local heavy construction, it leaped ahead just last month with the announced purchase of a majority interest in Webcor Builders, the West Coast’s largest commercial construction company who’s ubiquitous vinyl banners front two of the city’s largest current projects, a 60-story residential sky-buster on Mission Street and a group of luxury condo towers on Spear Street (the tallest reaching 41 stories).

It’s also no stranger to political contributions having given nearly $50,000 to various state and local candidates and causes since 2000 (including maximum donations to Gavin Newsom in 2003), according to public records. The Shimmick-Obayashi partnership gave $7,600 to the pro-major development California Alliance for Jobs between 2005 and 2006.

Shimmick has independently given nearly $45,000 toward efforts in Sacramento beneficial to major contractors since 2000. The Hayward-based company formed in 1990 and was hired by the city to complete a total of $67.4 million worth of work on the vastly over budget Third Street Light Rail, which opened full time in April. Shimmick was also awarded a $45 million contract in another joint venture with Obayashi to assemble a sewer facility for Islais Creek in 1995. Since 2000, the company has completed at least $112 million worth of construction for San Francisco’s city government alone, according to figures provided by the controller’s office.

While Shimmick has faced few Cal/OSHA penalties since 2000, in the middle of last year, the firm was handed two serious citations totaling $36,000 in fines after an aerial lift containing an ironworker reportedly fell off a 34 inch light-rail platform during construction of the T-Third line “ejecting the employee into the fast lane of traffic,” according to Cal/OSHA records. The 52-year-old man was taken to San Francisco General Hospital with a serious skull fracture, records show. A safety director for Shimmick, Ike Riser, insisted that despite the recent penalties, the company has one of the best safety programs in the state.

Obayashi faces $60,475 worth of total open Cal/OSHA penalty cases statewide from five different projects dating back to 2005, which we detailed more closely in our main story online this week. A representative from Obayashi never called back.

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