"City Hall Doesn't Want to See Sequel to Disney Movie Flood,
Stricter Regulations on Events Held There Being Considered"

by Yumi Wilson, San Francisco Chronicle, 19 June 1999

San Francisco officials said yesterday that they will consider new restrictions on private events at City Hall after a movie crew set off fire sprinklers and flooded part of the historic building with 300 gallons of water.

Mayor Willie Brown, Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and Supervisor Michael Yaki agreed that more scrutiny is needed after two 10,000-watt spotlights used by the crew filming Walt Disney Pictures' "Bicentennial Man" set off the sprinklers Thursday night. Water poured down on the second and third floors of the carpeted rotunda hallways on the Grove Street side.

Yaki said one sheriff's deputy told him that the "scene looked a lot like Niagara Falls."

City Architect Tony Irons, who was up all night assessing the damage, said he was angry that Disney's film crews did not pay closer attention.

"The people running those lights should have known that those surfaces are brittle, ornate and have a sprinkler system in place," Irons said. "There's no reason that they should not have recognized a serious potential problem."

Brown's office and the Board of Supervisors will "take a look at the regulations designed to protect the integrity of this building," mayoral spokeswoman Kandace Bender said.

"City Hall is the people's building, and, as caretaker of this building, the mayor wants to ensure that it's kept in tiptop condition," she said.

Ammiano, who had opposed allowing the Disney crew to use the supervisors' chambers for earlier filming, called the flooding "every mother's dream of, 'I told you so.'

"I'm dry, but I'm hot," Ammiano said.

Both Yaki and Ammiano plan to call for hearings on private events at City Hall at the weekly supervisors' meeting Monday.

Thursday night's flooding came less than two weeks after portions of City Hall, recently renovated for $300 million, were flooded during the Black and White Ball on June 5. A bathroom sink on the fourth floor overflowed, sending water cascading down several levels below and into the mayor's conference room.

Disney paid the city $5,000 to $20,000 a day to use City Hall's board chambers to film "Bicentennial Man," a science fiction film starring Robin Williams. The company is now paying about $10,000 a day to use other areas of City Hall.

The crew's lights set off the sprinklers at about 10 p.m. Thursday, said building manager Kerry Painter. The sprinklers go off when it gets hotter than 160 degrees.

Firefighters arrived within four minutes, followed shortly by Brown.

By the time the sprinklers were turned off, water had gushed onto the third-floor rotunda, seeping through the limestone ceiling and onto the second floor rotunda below.

Firefighters swept the ankle-deep water onto the marble staircase, trying to keep Disney's electrical equipment dry. Meanwhile, Disney brought in 30 workers to dry things off with humidifiers, blow-dryers and fans.

Most of the cleanup was done in less than two hours, and filming resumed about 12:30 a.m, Painter said. But signs of the mishap were still visible yesterday, including water stains on the second-floor ceiling and wet carpets.

Disney location manager Ralph Coleman said his crews had done everything right.

"If someone's driving at the notion that this could have been prevented, I don't think that's a fair assessment," he said. "City Hall gave us strict guidelines that we followed... but since the building is newly renovated, the sensitivity of the system was hard to measure."

Disney crews will return this weekend to finish the cleanup, which will include a free wax job for several levels of the building. The studio will pay for all the damage.

Irons said he did not know what the bill would be. "Limestone is very porous, so it will be extremely difficult to clean and will never get as clean as it originally was," he said. "That means it's going to have to be a costly effort."

That was not what the angry supervisors wanted to hear.

"I do support the movie industry, but we need to draw the line somewhere," Ammiano said. "This was very disrespectful to this building and what it represents."

Yaki said City Hall "deserves the highest protection we can give it. I don't want anyone to think we're putting short-term financial gain ahead of the long-term future of one of America's most important treasures."

©1999 San Francisco Chronicle

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