San Bruno blast victims apparently abandoned by contractor hired to rebuild homes 

The idea of moving back into a home has become a pipe dream for five San Bruno families, whose contractor recently made a mysterious withdrawal from rebuilding houses that were ravaged when a transmission line ruptured in September.

Castro Valley-based Vanderbuilt Construction has apparently pulled out of rebuilding five homes of families who were forced to evacuate when a gas pipeline exploded under the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood on Sept. 9, destroying 38 homes and killing eight people.

The company sent an email to the customers on Friday saying its operations were stopping until Monday, according to the Contractors State License Board.

A spokeswoman for PG&E — which introduced Vanderbuilt Construction to the families — said it was her understanding that the contractor is going out of business.

"We are deeply troubled by this development, and we will continue to do everything we can to help everyone affected by this terrible tragedy," PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said.

Chord said PG&E did not recommend Vanderbuilt Construction to the families, but had the contractor on-hand to pay them out for items like a broken window or damaged door directly following the blast.

She could not comment whether PG&E would be arranging an alternate contractor.

Vanderbuilt Construction representatives were not available by phone this morning. Calls were routed to an answering service.

"I guess they're taking extended vacation," said Cody, an employee at the answering service who declined to give his last name.

A customer complaint against the contractor was filed with the state license board on Tuesday, but officials have yet to investigate the credibility of the grievance, spokeswoman Venus Stromberg said.

"The complaint was from Concord, not San Bruno," she said.

She said the board did not know if the company was closing.

"Whether they go out of business doesn't necessarily affect their contractor license," she said. "But they're on our radar now."

Two lawsuits were filed against Vanderbuilt Construction in 2007.

One of the suits — an alleged contract breach — resulted in a suspension of company operations in August last year after management failed to comply with a court order, Stromberg said.

But Stromberg said the company resumed operations after about two weeks, when it complied with the order.

Vanderbuilt Construction has been in operation for more than 20 years, according to its website, www.vanderbuilt.net.

"We are committed to assisting our customer's in restoring residential and commercial properties that have experienced a loss due to fire, water, smoke and other disasters," the website read.

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