A San Francisco building inspector resigned last week over fishy permits he granted at two properties and an inappropriate loan from a developer, but now the dam is bursting with a school of his fishy permits that span all across the city.
The latest hydra head to sprout from the ever-expanding Mohammed Nuru public corruption scandal — which at current count has additionally spawned permit expediter scandals, Recology bribery charges, resignations under fire from the head of the Public Utilities Commission and the city administrator (plus a cocaine mini-scandal), and check fraud with the former Department of Building Inspection Commission president — is an unrelated Department of Building Inspection (DBI) scandal involving an inspector who granted inexplicable permits to a developer that greased his palm with an unreported $180,000 loan that failed to report. When SFist covered that scandal early this month, we made a joke about how one of the properties in question had a payday advance loan storefront in its ground floor retail space, and we were all “Shady loans, haha! Get it?”
That became a lot less funny six days later when Mission Local reported on another property, about 20 yards away from the check cashing place in Visitacion Valley, that was a scaffolding-covered death trap where “Twenty illegal units were clandestinely built into this new mixed-use structure by converting commercial space and subdividing existing units.” The engineer listed on that death trap was the same developer who granted said shady $180,000 loan, and hours after Mission Local’s piece was published, the recipient of the loan, DBI inspector Bernard Curran, quickly turned his leave of absence into a resignation.
He resigned after it came out that he granted suspicious permits at two properties to that developer. But today the Chronicle is opening the floodgates on many, many more suspicious permits Curran granted, including “illegal units” (Oceanside), approving work “beyond the scope of the permit” (Sunset), and an Excelsior household illegally “subdivided into multiple units.”
These are not even the focus of the Chron’s article. The focus of the Chron’s article is a property in Miraloma near Diamond Heights where, when another inspector double-checked Curran’s work, he found so many improprieties and outright falsifications that he went full whistleblower.
The whistleblower reported “an OK to pour a retaining wall without a permit,” “falsification of foundation plans,” the “plan check process was falsified,” and "risks undermining the hillside supporting [other] properties."
Given the steep, hilly nature of the neighborhood, this could have been a Miami condo tragedy albeit on a smaller scale. And none of this is frankly news, the Board of Appeals hashed out these complaints two years ago. But it’s coming back to light now that we realize that “pay-to-permit” practices were present, if not rampant, at the DBI.
City attorney spokesperson John Coté said in a statement to the Chronicle, “Our investigation is focused on rooting out employees and contractors who abuse the public trust. That work continues. We’re following the evidence wherever it leads.”
There is a common thread to many of these complaints — the subdivision of a property into additional units. That’s a trendy idea to solve the SF housing crisis, and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s “Turn everything into a four-plex” proposal is winning rave reviews from YIMBYs and NIMBYs alike.
A problem with that proposal is what if everyone giving the permits for fourplexes is completely corrupt? Yes there is a new (interim) sheriff at the DBI, but subdividing households is apparently catnip for corruption in terms of who’s giving the permission. Tenants living in structures that are being subdivided describe the conversion-related construction as “a living hell,” and no one likes the sound of jackhammers and such. But the bigger concern is not just the corruption (and let’s be honest, more than one building inspector has likely taken a favor or two), but the potentially deadly consequences of hastily-approved structural shortcuts mixed with high density and jam-packed buildings.
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