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Mission: Impractical: Even the Federal Building Can't Protect a Bike in This Town 

Friday, Jul 12 2013

No, you're not going to sneak much into the Federal Building.

Metal stanchions, strategically placed concrete slabs, and a series of squat posts resembling giant, colorless Jujubes ensure you won't drive where they don't want you to. Postal trucks entering on the Mission Street side are given the once-over, complete with the mirror-on-a-stick devices you'd use to reveal James Bond clinging to the undercarriage of a vehicle at Checkpoint Charlie. Those perusing the scene on Google Street View will even discover a shades-wearing guard glaring toward them, his displeasure evident despite his blurred-out features.

Asked in this context, Juvenal's query of "Who will watch the watchmen?" becomes a Marx Brothers routine. The guard is watching the Google camera which is watching the guard and the security camera which is watching the guard watching the Google camera, and you are watching it all.

And, when you watch the building, they are watching you. A patron at the 98 Cafe on the corner of Seventh and Mission recalls a fellow diner peering through binoculars and typing on a laptop being approached by men in dark suits inquiring, courteously, what the hell he was doing. It turns out this was just a student appreciating the structure's modern architecture — but, the point is, he was seen doing this; there are more cameras here than at Costco.

And you haven't even reached the front door yet. On a recent trip to the building, your humble narrator was, politely but firmly, barred entry by an armed guard manning the metal detector due to an offending Boy Scout knife. So, no, you're not going to sneak much into the Federal Building. Especially through the front door.

But sneaking something out? Well, that's different.

Chris Costedio is a friendly guy with a ready laugh and a reassuring smile. It comes as no surprise when he mentions that he not only rode a "very clean mid-school cruiser" bicycle to work at the Federal Building, but he enjoyed hopping his BMX over potholes.

After an overzealous hop landed him in the emergency room with a wrenched back, however, the claims adjuster was forced to stow his wheels at work. But, in the week and change between his ER visit and feeling well enough to venture out on two wheels again, someone swiped the bicycle — from within the confines of the Federal Building.

Now, the loss of a two-wheeled vehicle in the vicinity of Seventh and Market is pretty commonplace. Thieves prey on the bikes parked in front of the building in broad daylight and in full view of armed guards. With this in mind, Costedio says, the powers-that-be designated a secure bicycle area.

In order to reach it, you've got to pass a number of cameras on Stevenson Street you can see and God knows how many you can't. At the bottom of a severe, gray ramp is a severe, gray metallic wall. Perhaps the 1978 vintage Jackie Chan could find a way to scale this barrier, but, rest assured, there'd be scary clips of him falling during the closing credits. They could even be filmed by the motion-detecting camera affixed to the fortress-worthy portcullis. And, again, those are just the cameras you see.

Gaining conventional access to the building here requires a keycard. And not just any keycard. Cyclists must specifically request digitally tweaked cards to open this door. But there's one more thing: Not only do you need a specially tweaked keycard to get in – you also need it to get out.

Costedio smiles and shakes his head. Either a bike thief somehow penetrated the feds' inner sanctum – meaning that far more sophisticated and ill-intentioned people could do the same – or a government employee decided to risk it all for the thrill of fencing a bicycle. That sounds crazy.

But, then, there was the "MRE incident."

Like every Federal Building, the one in San Francisco, sensibly, comes equipped with emergency blankets, water supplies, and military-style food rations (MREs). Not so sensibly, it appears someone ate a great deal of these, sans emergency. "Hey, I was in the Navy," says Brad Mayberry, a fellow claims adjuster. "You do not want to eat those things." In any event, multiple building employees confirm that dozens of MREs illicitly left the premises, as have mats and weights at the gym.

Messages left for Federal Protective Services have not been returned. But no one is implying that the Federal Building is a den of thieves; it just suffers from the same plight as offices where they don't have people with guns or personalized keycards. A 2006 study by Harris Interactive revealed that 58 percent of office workers have pilfered supplies. Of this group, 77 percent confessed to nabbing the odd pen or Post-It – but 2 percent copped to walking out with plants, paintings, or office furniture. "Honesty is overrated," bemoans Andrew J. DuBrin, a professor emeritus of industrial psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "Around Labor Day, office supplies dwindle because people use them for back-to-school supplies."

Perhaps some child is heading to summer school right now on a very clean mid-school cruiser. Perhaps not. Costedio filed a report with Federal Protective Services on May 30. His offer to tote a six-pack to the security room and personally review surveillance footage was politely declined. "I really thought we could close the loop on this pretty quickly," he says. He shakes his head and smiles. "That bike is in 100 pieces by now."

Apparently the system here is engineered to keep you from toting unwanted objects into the building rather than wanted objects out. In the meantime, interoffice e-mails admonish those who'd lift the fed's weights, just as your office manager sends out notes chiding the guy eating everyone's yogurt.

At any rate, according to a web quiz on "Theft in the Workplace" created by the federal Office of Procurement and Property Management, Costedio did the right thing by filing that report after suffering property loss in a federal building.

At least it seems like the right thing. The quiz is misnumbered; the first question has no numeral and the second question is marked as No. 1. So, none of the answers match up and the quiz ends abruptly at question No. 9.

We can close the loop pretty quickly on what happened to question No. 10.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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