2867 San Bruno scaffolding Bernie Curran Department of Building Inspection
The 'temporary' scaffolding behind 2867 San Bruno, which violates myriad codes, has been in place more than two years. Photo by Joe Eskenazi

Update, June 14: Mission Local has learned that longtime senior inspector Bernie Curran, presently on suspension for receiving a $180,000 “loan” from a developer and initially failing to report it, has resigned. More information at story’s end.

The “temporary” scaffolding behind 2867 San Bruno Ave. has been here for more than two years. It looks a bit as if Donkey Kong ought to be tossing barrels from its upper level, but the Tonka trucks and tiny bicycles at its base are a reminder that families do, indeed, live here. This is no game. This is serious.  

A building code expert offering your humble narrator a tutorial on a recent brisk morning pointed out problem after problem after problem with this setup, separate and apart from the conspicuous use of zip-ties. As scaffolding goes, it’s adequate and even luxurious — but this contraption is actually meant to serve not as a means for workers to climb up but as an emergency fire escape for residents to scramble down. 

And here it’s a potential catastrophe. Sometimes building codes come off as niggling or arbitrary, but they exist for a reason. So, it’s a problem that the guard rails are held together with wires and twice as wide as the code allows, wide enough for a toddler to squeeze through.

 It’s a problem that windows swing open and residents would come clambering out along the walkways that would be carrying streams of people fleeing a fire. It’s a problem that scores of residents would be deposited into a driveway and then be forced to hustle up to half a football field’s length toward the sole gate to exit the premises. And it’s a problem that the gate, where a mass of people may gather and begin pushing to leave, opens inward, not outward. 

The code expert rattles off all these and more problems and pauses to take a breath. “It’s quite possible,” he says, “that everything about this building was done wrong.” 

It is, and we haven’t even talked about the inside yet. There are problems here of the structural, procedural and political variety. 

Twenty illegal units were clandestinely built into this new mixed-use structure by converting commercial space and subdividing existing units — there are 30 units here when the plans only list 10. The safety measures here befit a building meant to house far fewer people. And, to boot, city affordable housing requirements were skirted.

That’s bad, but it gets worse. 

This is a large, four-story mixed-use structure subdivided into five structures; it was erected on the site of a former gas station and completed not even five years ago in 2017. Things get complicated when you make subdivisions like this. From the outside, this looks like a single, continuous building — But going through the block and lot numbers for this site turns up 25 different addresses

Your humble narrator went through every permit associated with every address. And the myriad safety inspections required by law on a new building are not recorded anywhere. The only recorded inspections by Department of Building Inspection inspectors are a “start work” inspection in March 2014, a rebar inspection in July 2014 and then, 907 days later, a “Final Inspection/Approved” in January 2017. 

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. As a point of example, we checked the permits for the new seven-story building at 1801 Mission (the site of a tussle over a ground-floor cafe that got so much recent press). On just one permit, there were 19 site inspections performed here by a DBI district inspector — numerous rebar inspections, and checks on the shear walls, rough frames, sheet rock, insulation and more. These are all the legally mandated inspections of the elements holding up the building and ensuring it doesn’t burn down. 

At 2867 San Bruno Ave., either nobody wrote them down — anywhere, for years on end — or they just didn’t happen. 

That’s bad, but it gets worse. 

The final inspection at 2867 San Bruno was approved by longtime DBI senior inspector Bernie Curran. It’s irregular for a senior inspector — and not a district inspector — to be performing this duty. But irregularities abound here: You would think that the dearth of inspections on this site would come up during a final inspection. It did not. The site, of course, was approved — leading to a concatenation of other unfortunate events. 

On June 8, the San Francisco Chronicle beat us to the punch and broke the story that Curran has been put on leave. This came after the city attorney ferreted out that he’d accepted a $180,000 loan from developer Freydoon Ghassemzadeh of SIA Consulting, failed to note this on his economic interest files, and then done inspections on SIA projects.

It’s unclear if Curran intended to pay that loan back. Which would, of course, make this an alleged bribe. 

Let the record show that SIA is also tied to the 2867 San Bruno project.   

So here’s the skinny: There are 20 extra units and far more people in this structure than the plans disclosed or the building was designed to safely carry. That leads to life-safety issues of the sort necessitating an emergency means of egress and the hasty construction of the problematic Donkey Kong fire escape out back. 

On top of that, it is unclear if many, many legally mandated safety inspections were ever performed here — and, therefore, unclear how well-built those vital load-bearing and safety elements really are. And, to cap it off, the final sign-off was administered by an inspector currently on leave for taking a “loan” from a developer whose company is tied to this project. 

That is a terrifying combination. 

The Planning Department, the City Attorney’s office and Supervisor Hillary Ronen — in whose district this project lies — have long been aware of the flippant inclusion of 20 illegal units in these buildings. 

“We are trying to figure out a way to legalize those units and heavily penalize the owners and the builders to hold them accountable,” says Ronen. “We are trying to figure out a way to legalize the units and keep them safe because they’re occupied and we don’t want to displace the tenants.” 

Ronen, however, did not know about the dearth of safety inspections (and, resultantly, questionable building practices) on this overcrowded site with improper fire exits. None of the voluminous city reports about shenanigans on-site mention this.

She did not know about the Curran tie-in, or the attachment on this project of the outfit owned by the man who gave Curran a “loan.” 

And she is not pleased. 

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, pictured here in 2018

“From day one this should have prompted a complete investigation,” she says. She pledged to on Tuesday call for a Board of Supervisors hearing to address this situation. “It’s astonishing. I don’t know how they got away with this.” 

And that is indeed a pertinent question when you’re dealing with the Department of Building Inspection. How was this situation allowed to linger for years on end — with no liens placed on the property, no clouding of its title, no Certificates of Final Completion revoked and an unapprovable “temporary” fire escape not only approved but left up indefinitely? 

You may recall erstwhile Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards having nine permits revoked on his property only days after being hit with Notices of Violation. This, says a longtime Department of Building Inspection source, demonstrates “the unequal distribution of the hammer. Depending on who you are, you either get hammered or protected.” 

It would appear that the owners of this structure are being protected. Ronen and her city colleagues, meanwhile, have worked to protect the tenants, “who are victims and have no fault here.”

That’s true, but their task is daunting. When you have a certain number of people in a building, the law requires a second means of exit. The temporary fire escape now in place is plainly unacceptable, and the proposed “permanent” solution — to install a “galvanized steel fire escape” — is baldly in violation of longstanding city code. 

Metal fire escapes of this sort haven’t been permitted here in years; they are only allowed in case-by-case circumstances if a building meets all of about a dozen conditions. And 2867 San Bruno roundly fails here. 

So, the city may have to do more. The city allowed this building to be built in this manner and allowed this situation to fester. So it’s the city that should put up these tenants in code-compliant housing. 

And the city also must go back and inspect the work of its inspectors — which could lead to more of the above. A Department of Building Inspection spokesman told the Chronicle that the department’s new leadership is committed to “rooting out corruption and bad actors…” 

The suspension of Curran was, in fact, spun as a positive move. As they say: Always look on the bright side of life. 

So the spokesman, notably, did not mention that, for roughly a decade, Curran’s direct supervisor was Patrick O’Riordan, who was the department’s chief building inspector prior to becoming its new leader.

Tuesday figures to be an interesting day. “I am so angry and I am so outraged,” Ronen says. “I will get to the bottom of this.” 

Godspeed. It’s bad: And the more you dig, the worse it gets. 

Update, June 14 3:40 p.m.: Building Department spokesman Patrick Hannan confirmed that Curran has resigned, effective today:

Since Patrick O’Riordan was named Interim Director in March 2020, DBI has worked with the City Attorney’s Office and the Controller’s Office to identify and correct problematic practices and to investigate employees who may have engaged in misconduct or abused the public trust. It will take time, but we are committed to righting the ship and cleaning up any messes that have been left behind.

City Attorney spokesman John Coté added the following:

Throughout this corruption investigation, our focus has been on rooting out contractors and employees who abuse the public trust. At DBI, our investigation led to the resignation of then-Director Tom Hui as well as a $1.7 million settlement with former permit expediter Walter Wong that requires him to repay taxpayers and bars him from acting as a permit expediter for five years. Our investigation did not stop there. It also led to the resignation of other senior officials at DBI, including most recently Mr. Curran.

This story first published on June 11 at 3 p.m.

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Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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37 Comments

  1. Joe, thanks to your concern about those risky stairs, let’s hope these dozens of people can lose their housing as soon as possible.

    1. Thanks for your compassion of relegating people to a potential deathtrap.

      This is the city’s problem, not the tenants’. The city must own this and put up the tenants in acceptable housing — here or elsewhere.

      JE

      1. The initial relocation costs should be taken out of the senior inspector’s accumulated retirement.

          1. How about having him accumulate jail time instead? And how about him not going down alone?

      2. Joe Eskanazi – If you weren’t following this story like a junk yard dog, maybe no one else would. What’s right is right. The problem here is that a systemic corruption running deep into the roots of City Hall and various City agencies seems to first fail to make anyone “fear” offering or accepting bribes, and those responsible for catching them, stopping them, and prosecuting them, seem nearly totally uninterested in doing so. Could that be, because one thief is reluctant to prosecute another thief?

        Everyone knows the laws exist for good reasons. When a building is permitted based on specific plans, everyone has a right to expect the final construction to match those pre-approved plans. This is not a matter of something as relatively minor as changing the flooring in the lobby, or the exterior paint colors. These unsafe changes could put people’s lives at risk, as well as firefighters. Everyone who has broken the law needs to be punished severely in order to change this culture of bribery and fraud.

        The developer ought to be forced to provide immediate replacement housing or payments to all of those who are forced to move out. And if the developer refuses or delays, the City ought to move to take over this building under eminent domain, so the developer is prevented from profiting on their abuse of the City planning process.

        Your integrity shows brightest now that so few others exhibit any!

    2. Sounds like all of them could sue for constructive eviction, with very few preparatory actions. SF has tenancy laws which protect us tenants quite well, the main thing that usually gets in the way is whether the tenants in question know what their options are. So, if you care so greatly, rather than interrupt Mr. Eskenazi’s day with your snark you might post signs (in multiple languages) around the building referring the tenants to the free resources that are available to them. It shouldn’t be hard to hire a tenancy lawyer who would take payment as a percentage of the total won in the suit, since it seems it would be easy for them to win the case. I’m not a lawyer, but it does not seem these would be lawsuits which the property management would allow to go to trial.

      I know what it feels like to be afraid of being homeless in this city — with kids — so please know that I am compassionate to your situation, if you’re one of the tenants. But I will stand up for journalists all day, every day, regardless.

      1. MMB – Well said. I’d just suggest that in this type of case where the whole mess would not have occurred if the City departments had not been negligent (and potentially criminally negligent), the City owes it to all impacted tenants to relieve them of the obligation to sue, and to instead assist them, and pay for their relocation. Then the City can sue the developer and their former inspector etc., and whomever else they find is responsible, in order to recover the costs plus legal fees for fixing this whole mess. I’d just like to see the City step up and take full responsibility, and work compassionately to prevent these tenants from having to suffer and worry over the whole process.

    3. Paulo – If you really cared about the people who were rented illegal/unapproved units in this building, you’d be praising Joe for calling out all of those responsible for it, and demanding they find each of these people a new place immediately. Joe is not the bad guy here for reporting the truth. It seems the developer and every other person who aided, assisted, looked the other way, or failed to prosecute are the people you should be hopping mad at. Yet you seem not to be upset with anyone but the one person telling the truth?

  2. No where to go but up? Things cannot get much worse when you cannot trust the department in charge of inspections of the contractors work. It is particularly unsettling to learn of special relationships between the contractor and the inspectors.

    1. Sebra Leaves – The FBI is supposed to be looking into this as part of the Nuru case, but this is not new behavior. One of the people involved I knew over thirty years ago, and while I couldn’t prove the person was doing anything illegal, I sensed it. When he decided to stop working with me, I sensed the real reason was that he knew I would not go along with anything illegal, and there was significant money involved. When I read the names in the paper, I was not surprised at all, but very disappointed at how long the FBI is taking, and who is apparently getting a pass.

  3. From an earlier article SF City attorney John Cote said that since taking over the department in March 2020 after the departure of Hui, Interim Director Patrick O’Riordan has “shown true cooperation with our investigation, and we’re hopeful about the changes we see in the top leadership at DBI, as well as their willingness and ability to hold staff accountable.”
    But as you clearly note in this article the new interim director PATRICK O’RIORDAN HAS BEEN BERNIE CURRANS DIRECT SUPERVISOR FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS. HOW DOES THAT MAKE PATRICK O’RIORDAN WILLING TO HOLD STAFF ACCOUNTABLE. THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF HOLDING STAFF ACCOUNTABLE.
    Sorry for yelling I’m not sure anyone realizes this

    1. SeenThisBefore – Thank you! 100% bullseye. This is both a follow the money story, as well as a nepotism, and/or join our team, and we’ll guarantee you/your family great City jobs type of scheme. I dearly wish the FBI would hunt down every rabbit or rat hole reaching into those who have retired on their overly fat unearned pensions, just tear the roots out of this fraud!

  4. Joe, what’s the Building Inspection Commission doing about fraud and malfeasance like this?

    1. The BIC is a farce and a sham, which is headed by malefactor Angus McCarthy, who is great buddies with both the criminals mentioned here O’Riordan and Curran, as well as recently ousted DBI management scumbags Ed Sweeney and Dan Lowery.
      Angus, who represents the RBA clan of buffoons, works hand in hand with the mayor’s office and the City Attorney to cover up all instances of fraud, malfeasance and corruption at DBI.
      They also work extremely hard to silence any and all whistleblowers who attempt to shine a light on the huge piles of feces inside DBI.
      The mayor’s office sees to it that Angus is provided all the protection he needs to continue the racket he’s running.
      Not only has O’Riordan been allowing corrupt Curran to illegally operate with impunity for over a decade, he’s approved the hiring of MANY of Bernie’s good buddies off the street – completely unqualified people who are handed badges and called building inspectors, who hold positions within the building department and who operate with impunity just like Curran, and who O’Riordan continues to protect.
      Next question.

      1. I worked at DBI for years. All these allegations are true. Bernie Curran is a hack with no knowledge of the Building Codes. He wouldn’t have been hired anywhere except San Francisco.

        1. Al Smith – Thanks! If you know it to be true, it takes courage to say so. Is the FBI even listening?

    2. Re: the BIC/RBA – one merely needs to look at the list of financial donors of Angus McCarthy’s RBA annual golf tournament, to begin to get a glimpse of which contractors get preferential treatment at DBI.
      https://www.rbasf.com/2017-golf-tournament
      Inconceivably, DBI itself also holds annual golf tournaments, as well as lavish Christmas holiday parties, funded by willing contractors.
      Now ask yourself, why is DBI accepting financial gifts (bribes) from the very contractors they are tasked with “regulating” and “overseeing”???
      Then ask yourself, if a contractor funds these activities for inspectors, what are the contractors gaining in return for these financial gifts (bribes)???
      Finally, ask yourself who sits at the head tables at these lavish functions?
      Answer: Angus McCarthy, Patrick O’Riordan, et al., along with high ranking officials from the mayor’s office!
      It’s actually quite sickening and repulsive to witness the “kissing of the rings” by contractors, that take place at these events.
      San Francisco is a corrupt pay-to-play town.
      Recently it’s been announced – the unqualified and bumbling buffoon, building inspector Matt Greene (recently promoted to Senior Building Inspector, despite lying about his sign-offs at former Building Official Mel Murphy’s collapsed/fallen house at 125 Crown Terrace!!!) handled all the “donations” for these parties.
      For those not in the know – Ex commission president Mel Murphy is inspector Greene’s godfather.
      O’Riordan sent Greene out of his assigned district in 2013 to 125 Crown Terrace for “inspections” and gave the job an “all clear” mere days before the building collapsed and fell down the hill.
      O’Riordan at DBI along with McCarthy at the BIC, worked hard to make sure to smooth over all the “problems” at Murphy’s job and in fact called upon the venal Curran to perform the subsequent inspections out of his assigned district, including approving the Final Inspection.
      https://archives.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/bringing-down-the-housing-how-builders-game-the-system/Content?oid=2187393
      Will the mayor’s office or the City Attorney begin an investigation into the constant flow of bribery money into DBI?
      They haven’t.
      For years.
      After all – they’re invited to the parties too.

      1. P. Weber – Excellent summation! “S.F. former Mayors and City Hall, and City Attorneys and DAs – Fraud? What fraud? We see no evidence of any fraud. These unfounded allegations are the vicious attacks of disgruntled former employees and political enemies.”

    3. As Joe points out, there are many other buildings in the City that have equally spurious histories to 2867 San Bruno Ave. One such building is 2525 16th Ave, a 4-story, 150,000 sf property that is still permitted for light manufacturing use only, according to DBI Permit Tracking records. That building was purchased for $67,000,000 in March, 2018, by Angus McCarthy, longtime President of the BIC.
      Since being acquired, several permits have been applied for or issued, but only one has been completed. That was a 2018 permit for $300,000 of tenant improvement work on the 3rd floor, and, of course ☹, it was issued over-the-counter. That permit, as shown in the Tracking records, is for work in a building supposedly already approved for offices. However, there is no evidence of any approved change of use from F-2, moderate hazard manufacturing, to B, offices. A change of use would require many more improvements than that included in the relatively simple, tenant improvement project. Other permits for the building have been issued or are in the review process, some for as long as 3 years, including ones for fire sprinklers, heating and ventilation, structural work, an accessible entrance, etc., but no inspections have been done on any of them, according to Tracking records. In addition, there is no evidence that a Certificate of Occupancy for office use has been issued. (There was also a 2016 permit issued for a change of occupancy, but it was never inspected or completed.)
      Nevertheless, two very large, 3rd floor, office tenant spaces are now listed for lease on the Property Shark commercial property listing website.
      (https://www.propertyshark.com/cre/commercial-property/us/ca/san-francisco/lion-building/)
      There is also a For Lease sign on the side of the building.
      “How is this possible?”, you ask. Well, maybe Mr. McCarthy’s word is sufficient for DBI Inspectors and other employees ☹. That wouldn’t be a surprise. None of them would like to make it onto the Residential Builders’ Assoc. (RBA) blacklist. If that happened, there would no longer be any chance for promotions for them, even if they were on the list of favorites to begin with.
      Looking back, Mr. McCarthy was appointed to the BIC in 2012 by then mayor Ed Lee. That was because of the Charter requirement that one member be a “residential builder”, and McCarthy was a residential contractor and member of the RBA. That position has always gone to an RBA member since the Charter amendment of 1994. (It should be pointed out, too, that soon after McCarthy became President of the BIC in 2013, the Commission dismissed the previous Director and appointed Tom Hui to be DBI’s Director. Hui has now been forced into retirement for rampant corruption.)
      However, Mr. McCarthy should no longer be considered a “residential builder”. He is rather, now, a multi-millionaire developer, whose agents have numerous interactions with DBI staff. And if that is not a conflict of interest for him, I’d like to know what is. His position as BIC President (or even as a Commissioner) makes the potential for special treatment at DBI a foregone conclusion. And, consequently, he should step down from the Commission asap.
      The only problem with that outcome is that it’s probably inevitable that another RBA leader would be appointed by the Mayor to replace him. And then, as almost always, that person would be voted President by the other Commissioners who are, for the most part, political appointees. Joe O’Donaghue, former RBA leader and co-creator of DBI, would be rewarded once again. Therefore, and not for this reason alone, the ’94 Charter Amendment has to be repealed and replaced, as well. There is no other way.
      Great reporting Joe!

      1. Additional comments:
        The building at 2525 16th St is an historic building built in 1924, almost 100 years ago. That gives you an idea of how much work is needed to upgrade it for office use. (The total value of all the permits that have been applied for and issued, but not completed, or are still under review, is more than $12,000,000.)
        Mr. McCarthy should not be allowed to remain on the BIC during the selection of a new Director and Deputy Directors. At the very least, he should recuse himself from the entire selection process. Otherwise, he is likely to support the choice of persons who will favor and excuse his own business dealings with the department, such as Mr. O’Riordan and Mr. Duffy.

      2. Latest from Jerry Dratler, former S.F. Grand Jury member, at June 16 BIC meeting:

        “The critical issue facing DBI and the BIC today is the environment at DBI that allows corruption to flourish. The lack of transparency in code enforcement, and the lack of clear, enforceable, Building Code rules facilitates corruption. Attempts to change DBI’s environment over the last eight years have been sabotaged by DBI leadership and the BIC Commissioners. When you have a system of rules and procedures that are vague, it is impossible to successfully implement a system like Accela. The FBI will weed out the remaining corrupt employees. The BIC needs to address the culture of corruption. If we want change, there needs to be new leadership at both DBI and the BIC, and the cultural problems at DBI need to be discussed in public meetings, not privately. I would like to see a motion approved at today’s meeting to begin this process. No motion means there is no commitment to change. Thank you.” (SFGOV TV minutes approx. 8:00 – 9:30)

        https://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=14&clip_id=38798

        Of course, no such motion was considered.

      3. C.F. Thanks for sharing all of that excellent detail. S.F. Board of Supervisors, I am guessing, voted to approve that 1994 Commission Charter with full knowledge of what it would mean. The current Supervisors should not need you or the Mayor to point this out to them. If they have any integrity, they should change that charter NOW! Set three non-construction, non-developer, non-construction finance residents placed on that Commission, and cut the crap! And no – I will not be holding my breath

  5. This is simply outlandish. At some point, the Mayor and the Board need to simply disband DBI. The corruption is so deeply embedded in this organization that it will never be ferreted out completely. This building, just as an example, probably puts at least 60 or 70 innocent people at risk (assuming 2+ per unit). And if the obvious things like fire egress are substandard or non-existing, one can only imagine what the wiring, plumbing and foundation work are like. This situation, of course, begs the question of how many other buildings in the City are like this and how many more unsuspecting people are at risk (see Joe’s articles about the seismic retrofits and gas lines just as one example).

    A reputable architectural/engineering company should be brought in to handle plan checking and inspections on a temporary basis. That would give the City the opportunity to start from scratch and put together an organization, based on best practices, that is headed by a highly regarded professional that has no ties to the murky world that is San Francisco politics. Additionally, the Building Inspection Commission needs to be abolished. While the Bureau of Building Inspection under the CAO many eons ago had its issues, there seems to have been an order of magnitude increase in corruption since the organization was removed from the CAO’s jurisdiction and placed under a commission of political appointees.

    It’s very sad that a small, community-focused news organization is the only one in the City that is reporting things like this and doing the deep investigative work that’s needed. What you do is very much appreciated Joe. Thank you.

    1. Steve – I thankful that good people like Joe have this outlet for their talent, and hope that other large papers would pick up these article and pay Joe like a independent or syndicated writer. It’s is just a shame that our local papers don’t pursue any of these stories. I wonder why that is? It’s hard to imagine why any truly independent paper would not dig deeply. Not seeking to smear anyone, just searching for the truth. Wherever it leads, they would follow like hunting dogs. But it seems if the story ever leads to the addresses of certain powerful people, the dogs immediately lose the scent. No shame in their game!

  6. There are a number of city operated structures/spaces with code violations as well. The California Health and Safety Code requires fences surrounding a playground to completely enclose the play space and measure at least 48″ high, and the latches of access gates should measure at least 48″ high. To prevent children from passing through the fence, the vertical members of the fence should be spaced 4″ apart or less. The legal interpretation of “should” and “shall” as used in the code is that those words mean “must.”

    That nifty safety requirement, however, was dismissed by Rec and Park and the Trust for Public Land when they designed and built the two Helen Diller Playgrounds at Civic Center Plaza. The fences are only 42″ tall, and the diamond-shaped openings in the fence measure approximately 18″ by 42″. Plenty large enough for kids to climb through – and they do.

    When I brought this to the attention of the Recreation and Park Commission (on three separate occasions in person and in several emails and phone conversations), not a single member of the Commission showed even the slightest concern. Asked about the state law by a commissioner, Director Phil Ginsburg said the law does not apply to the fences at the playground. As if by the magic of corruption, our used car salesman of a park director opined that SF Rec and Park is exempt from a mandated basic safety feature.

    For their part, the Trust for Public Land told me they wanted the suggestion of a fence, a mere visual demarcation between the playground and the rest of the plaza. The place was too pretty and historically significant to have a fence that did its job. A “suggestion” of a fence would be adequate for toddlers and young children since everyone knows you’re not supposed to escape from a playground. The staff I communicated with told me that parents and caregivers alone are responsible for the kids they take to the playground, not them, not the people who design and approve a project and not Rec and Park. Obviously she was unfamiliar with kids – otherwise she might have known that they are often quite small, very fast, and come with siblings so the caregiver might need a little assistance in keeping young children safe.

    The commissioner who also has a house in Bolinas had nothing to say when I reminded him that the roads along his trip from SF to the beach include guard rails at many locations, especially on Highway 1 or the alternative route over Mount Tamalpais. Although everyone knows you’re not supposed to drive your car off the cliff, Caltrans and others decided it’s a pretty good idea to have actual functioning guardrails rather than mere suggestions that demarcate road from not road, especially when not road equals cliff. Even someone as self-important and wise as a Rec and Park Commissioner probably deserves – or at least feels entitled to – common sense safety measures that might save his life.

    The certified playground inspector who signed off on the fence hemmed and hawed when I spoke with him, at first denying there were fences around those playgrounds and never addressing why it would be the case that those two playgrounds are exempt from the Health and Safety Code, or even indicating what section in the code stated that it didn’t always apply. The inspector did admit that he had agreed to and signed off on changes to the fence design at a school when there were complaints that they looked like prison bars. The prison bar look, however, is just one visual interpretation of the legal design. The playgrounds at Alta Plaza and Lafayette Park have prison bar looking fences. Perhaps Pacific Heights parents (and other caregivers) are good with that look because they see the value in it.

    It might not be inevitable that a child is lost or injured because of this stupid fence design, but I did bring to the attention of the City Attorney the legitimate question of the city’s liability should that happen. The self-appointed superhero for children who felt obliged to sue SFUSD into reopening for in-person learning (without first suing the city to force the reopening of his office building so he could lead by example) did not reply to me. The building inspector on the project told me he only had to check to see if the structure was built to plan, even if the design was code non-compliant. The Public Works staff on the project, who among other things would assure that the project was developmentally appropriate, did not reply to my inquiries. The Department of Children, Youth and Their Families told me that city departments are fully autonomous so they could not even look into the issue. The Human Rights Commission reviewed the material and determined that it is not under their purview to determine if a city agency or department is adhering to state law or common sense understandings of age and developmentally appropriate safety standards.

    1. Scott Bravmann – I’d say you have very well documented the problem. It appears like Looney Tunes is running the insane asylum.

  7. ? Unexplored aspects, as yet:
    1] That NONE of the “district inspectors” for this area ignored +/ or kept silent about this allows one to wonder whether there were intimidation — or worse.
    2] Why & how could City Attorney could ignore looking into DBI,even after Hui’s departure?

    1. 1)
      Intimidation is -exactly- how O’Riordan and others in the corrupt DBI management “control” the employees.
      For many years at DBI, open threats of demotion, and/or transferring honest whistleblowing employees into less desirable divisions, has been the standard.
      I’ve heard it said many times – the only thing you can get disciplined for at DBI is Doing the Right Thing.
      These completely unqualified managers at -every- level, spend more time harassing good employees who speak up, and protecting their corrupt allies, than they do learning the Building Codes they are expected to uphold.
      2)
      The City Attorney is part and parcel to the massive corruption throughout DBI. Time after time, they have provided protection to the outlaws running the department. Time after time, the City Attorney has chosen to support the fraud, deception and abuse by DBI as well as the Building Inspection Commission, supposedly in place to provide “oversight” to the city department which is DBI. Time after time, the City Attorney has given the finger to the citizens of the City and County of San Francisco.
      Next question.

  8. Thanks, Joe, for your steadfast investigative reporting on the corruption in this city. Thanks also to the commenters who obviously have inside information and direct experience of this and are willing to share.

    What concerns me, above all, is that it seems the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our city and county government are all rotten at the top, much like the odious Trump administration (with the exception of the House). There are probably some decent employees elsewhere in government, but most of them seem to be silenced or too frightened to speak out. So how do we correct this, soon, before people die from the years and layers of malfeasance and negligence?

    The large corporate real estate speculators (e.g., the ones known for their endless years of renovictions) and their multitude of contractors are also probably tied up in this, as they seem to get away with whatever they want in this city, despite the tenant protections built into city ordinances ensuring a right to quiet enjoyment of one’s home, free of harassment.

  9. Seems like a federal investigation is needed. The city-level corruption is too deep for anyone in SF city government to investigate. Those fire escapes are third-world. This is a perfect illustration of the systemic corruption of SF city government. To quote The Joker from Batman (1989), “This town needs an enema.”

    1. Agree. The checks and balances will never work for the people if all city parties are in on the grift. It will take federal investigations and, in the meantime, more courageous investigative reporters like Joe delving into this and informing the public about their findings.

  10. This evidence is -extremely- on point:
    https://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=14&clip_id=25195
    (Building Inspection Commission (BIC) meeting from 4/2016)

    Witness the corrupt BIC president Angus McCarthy commending the disgraced former DBI Director Hui at the 1:00 mark for his fine work at the department, as well as gleefully applauding the recently ousted Curran with exceedingly high praise at the 5:00 mark, referencing the known criminal as:

    “clearly an excellent example of DBI professionalism and it’s finest.”

    Every single employee at DBI knew Hui was a sad, illegitimate excuse for a department director, and knew as well that Curran was his main go-to for signing off on illegal projects.

    Everyone.

    Witnessing 5 years ago, this blatant middle finger by McCarthy and the BIC in the face of San Franciscans and the over 300 employees at the department by the felonious BIC president was literally sickening.

    The illegitimate City Attorney, who repeatedly provides cover for corruption at the highest levels of S.F. city government, again will do -nothing- to take the reins from McCarthy and ensure proper representation of the public’s best interest regarding Building Life Safety.

    But now the City Attorney isn’t the only game in town.

    To quote another commenter –

    “The FBI will weed out the remaining corrupt employees.”

    Their work is cut out for them, as there are -many- yet to be removed.

  11. I’d like to think my contribution, a whistleblower complaint (sent to the city attorney’s office) against Bernie Curran, Ed Sweeney and Tom Hui helped bring about this joyous news. But I know the retaliation against one old woman homeowner (for not keeping quiet about an inspector trying to shake me down for $$$) is small potatoes. They red tagged my house, kept me out of it for 6 months longer than necessary and forced me to hire a lawyer. They never imagined I recorded one of our meetings at DBI. I sent an email to Hui’s secretary (cc’d Hui) stating I would record. Guess they don’t read their email. The instigator of my complaint, newish inspector James Kelly, is untouched. And so it goes…
    As for “soft corruption…” nothing soft about Bernie. He’s a pure Mother F**ker through and through. They’re all Joe’s boys (O’Donahue) – the Jimmy Hoffa of SFDBI.

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