Firefighters controlled the blaze, but it destroyed equipment, trucks, the office and building materials that were stored there. Reuben Borg Fence has been located there since 2012 when he leased land and two buildings from the Peter Kiewit and Sons company.
After a follow-up visit from Pleasanton city building inspector, the local property manager for Kiewit and firefighters, the second building onsite (both were built decades ago) was yellow-tagged, meaning he could only enter it when accompanied by the owner's representative. Kiewit reps have since boarded up other entrances and installed security cameras.
Meanwhile, the city's Planning Division has determined that the way Borg was using the buildings and land exceeded his conditional use permit.
What's remarkable is how one piece of the business -- building fences -- is continuing despite severe challenges.
The fire burned on a Friday morning and Borg's crews were back in action the following Tuesday, missing just one business day. He leased five trucks, arranged for delivery of the wood and had his crews working. He's kept all 40 employees on the payroll, although in different roles because he cannot access one building where guys used to work cutting redwood.
It contains computer-controlled machines to cut the redwood, a key part of his business, that he cannot use because of the yellow-tag. By cutting his own redwood, he was able to obtain a higher quality wood than what is available in the warehouse stores and built a reputation for quality fencing.
Dennis Corbett, who signed the yellow-tag letter to Kiewit, wrote me in an email, "There were multiple violations of Section 3.02 of the Pleasanton Dangerous Buildings Code, PMS Chapter 20.32, visible at that time. Large pieces of equipment were installed without building permits or inspections. The entire building was being powered off a generator, large quantities of diesel fuel were being stored and dispensed in a dangerous manner, and many, significant electrical and combustible material ventilation hazards were observed."
Reuben has been in business in Pleasanton since 1999, first operating "Borg Fence" with his wife until they divorced and he gave her that business name as well as the building they owned on Boulder Court. He has a record of supporting the community, including a couple of years ago when he dropped his schedule to do emergency repairs on collapsing sound walls near Harvest Park Middle School. His schedule was filled for 2-1/2 months, but he put it on hold to help.
Now, he is struggling with the financial loss (more than $2 million in the fire) and the ongoing costs of renting trucks ($20,000/month), plus payments on his expensive cutting equipment.
And, on top of that, there's uncertainty.
As the lessee, he has no control over the required improvements to the old building. That's up to Kiewit, and it's an open question of whether the Omaha-based company will want to make substantial improvements when the land is key for development if Pleasanton restarts the planning process for the east side. That was suspended during the drought.
The Kiewit parcel is the gateway to the city off Stanley Boulevard and, other than Borg's operation, is leased for storage. It's a prime site for potential development, and one local home-builder already moved dirt onto the parcel.
What's sad about the current situation is that Borg had a very sweet business going that he pointed out had almost zero carbon footprint. When his crews replaced a fence, they would bring the old boards back to the shop, so they could be recycled into interior tongue-and-groove redwood boards that are sold at warehouse stores and other lumber outlets. The remaining redwood was then ground into a high-quality mulch.
Two legs of that business are halted with no clear path to get them opened and running again. The precision-cutting equipment cannot be relocated outside because of dust would harm the computer systems.
When Borg and I visited over a lunch hour, we sat in two old chairs outside the sheet-metal yellow-tagged building -- in his office (he's working out of his home). The city wants the temporary office trailer he installed removed so he can apply for a permit to locate it on site. He’s frustrated with the city and the situation.
He's determined to push through the challenges and offered one key takeaway when it comes to fire insurance: Ask any question you can think of, and then more, to ensure the coverage is what you think it is.
For instance, does fire insurance on a truck cover it when it's in a building that burns down?