1086 Florida St. Taken by Annika Hom, Sept. 23, 2021.

The Planning Commission voted 4 to 2 Thursday to approve the demolition of 1068 Florida St., a site where, in 2018, a demolition contractor tore down part of the building without any permits. 

While the commissioners and neighborhood residents lamented  the illegal demolition, the majority of the commission generally agreed that adding a new building would be preferable to keeping the property as it is: a derelict home to vermin and trash. 

“There’s, like, a million raccoons living there, and the tarp flaps so loud,” said Nora Barber, who moved in a few doors from the site two years ago. “Something has to be done about this; it can’t stay like this forever.” 

The structure at 1068 Florida St. became an eyesore three years ago, after workers ripped out its second floor without any permits. Neighbors awoke to a racket, then surveyed the damage as the dust settled: a half-destroyed house, construction workers sans protective gear, and a textbook illegal demolition. 

Property owner Matthew Miller and his architect, Gregory Smith, claimed under oath they had no knowledge of the demolition and blamed the demolition contractors — who have claimed they showed up at the wrong address and mixed up 1068 Florida St. with another house they were supposed to demolish.  

At Thursday’s meeting, Miller and Smith requested permission to demolish the rest of the structure in order to construct a four-story, two-unit building with a rent-controlled accessory dwelling unit. 

A lawyer representing Miller and Smith, urged the commission to not “treat this project more harshly” than others, in spite of its past. 

Planning Department staffers were amenable to this approach, having earlier recommended the commission approve the project. 

CommissionersTheresa Imperial and Kathrin Moore were the only dissenting votes. Commissioner Deland Chan was absent. 

The property owner Miller, notorious for evicting an elderly Chinese family in 2013, was in 2019 chewed out by Ed Sweeney, then the Deputy Director of Inspections of the Department of Building Inspection. Miller was ordered to clean up the mess.

The property owners followed the DBI order by covering the site with  a tarp, according to a recently submitted letter from his lawyer, John Kevlin, addressed to the Planning Department.

He also reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the contractor in which “the contractor will pay Project Sponsor for the extensive damages caused by the unpermitted demolition to the Property. Furthermore, in deposition testimony under oath, the contractor indicated that the Project Sponsor did not authorize any demolition work at the Property. Under oath, the contractor further indicated that a demolition crew mistakenly went to the wrong property address.”

Some neighbors were happy to move on, citing the ugly blight and detritus. “I’m glad they’re going to finally do something with it. There will be less rats for the neighborhood cat,” said one neighbor who moved in a year ago and declined to be named. 

“It looks bad the way it is,” said Tony Ruiz, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. 

For the Planning Commissioners less inclined to forgive and forget, however, the involvement on this project of some of the city’s most notorious development figures remained a disturbing element.

A report submitted for Thursday’s meeting recounted how Rodrigo Santos’ former company, Santos & Urrutia, performed an initial engineering inspection here; later in 2018, the City Attorney charged him and his company with fraud and forgery. 

Commissioner Kathrin Moore noted Santos’ involvement in the case and said the property’s history was “shrouded in mystery.” Looking past the past is one thing, Moore continued, but she was concerned that the Planning Commission is becoming a “Forgiveness Commission.”

“I am troubled,” she said, “by the fact that we are again and again being asked to approve something that no one else wants to touch.”

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Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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11 Comments

  1. Neighbors hate this one weird trick to get your denied projects through the Planning Commission! Every detail about this seems dubious as hell.

  2. Well, thankfully the previously extant house was not a gorgeous dilapidated Queen Anne, indeed it was a hideously stripped Edwardian with tacky asbestos-clad siding and terra-cotta roof tiles. Not that it absolves the demolition of the building completely, but at least nothing of architectural merit was torn down. Whatever takes its place will be a vast improvement over what was previously there. I feel bad for the neighbors that have had to wait in limbo with the ineptitude of City Planning. What to do to ameliorate the prior tenants’ rights going forward is another matter entirely, of course…

  3. Had to read the 2019 article (linked above) to get the full story. I’m still not 100% sure the demolition was intentional. I just don’t believe in conspiracies – too many people have to keep quiet.
    I’d imagine Miller and his contractor Joe O’Briain WOULD commit perjury to avoid fines. BUT, there is NO reason for a licensed architect to do so – too many risks.
    Who were the subcontractors Joe O’Briain used?
    Did they make declarations under penalty of perjury?
    What was the address of the 28th street property, the one which Joe O’Briain’s clients DID have permits for demolition?

    1. No conspiracy needed. This is done often and everywhere, not just SF. Want to do something? Worried won’t get permits? Do it and deal with the fallout later. Happens all the time, from small towns to cities. The wealthy particularly know this and don’t mind paying the lawyers to get out of any troubles.

  4. Perfect example of Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness
    That’s exactly what this commission has become.
    The Gaelic cabal at it worst..

    1. People wouldn’t perform these “work around a” if DBI was less corrupt and these was a timely and even playing field for permits.

  5. Planning Department historically, sides with the property owner with the most political connections. Over and over have sided with big money interests over community. Is funded by developers. So they are politically and financially comprised. Anyone who thinks different isn’t paying attention. The two commissioners that voted against this B.S. are probably the only ones not compromised by politics and or money! Good for them!

  6. More corruption and cronyism at DBI and Planning.Why cant we get rid of these crooks and liars,replace them with folks who are committed to serving the public interest not lining their own pockets. Pat Monk.RN. Noe Valley.

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