A pair of supervisors today called for a City Attorney investigation of allegations made in a Saturday Mission Local story. That story documented a series of permit irregularities at both the home and on properties owned by Angus McCarthy, the longtime president of the Building Inspection Commission, which oversees the Department of Building Inspection.
The Saturday Mission Local article also documented McCarthy’s statement in a Sept. 20 sworn deposition in which he acknowledged sending material written by Department of Building Inspection personnel to his private builder colleagues at the Residential Builders Association to be edited and redrafted.
Today’s formal request, made by Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin, calls for the City Attorney to “investigate and report to the Board of Supervisors on allegations and improprieties and possible conflicts of interest by Building Inspection President Angus McCarthy as reported in Mission Local on September 25, 2021.”
Ronen, Peskin, and Supervisor Myrna Melgar, additionally, said they will work toward putting a measure on the June, 2022, ballot to undo Proposition G of 1994, which created the Department of Building Inspection in its present iteration.
“It is becoming clearer by the day that DBI is a fundamentally broken institution that needs fundamental change,” Ronen told Mission Local.
She and her colleagues are pondering several possible large-scale changes to the department to put before voters next year. It could be merged with other departments and/or placed under the City Administrator. Ronen hoped for “oversight by a department that isn’t quite so cozy with the industry it’s supposed to regulate.”
McCarthy is presently in Ireland, tending to his ailing mother. He did not respond to Mission Local’s queries last week, which we submitted in writing at his request; our story ran after allowing him 48 hours. On Monday night, he sent a letter to members of the Board of Supervisors co-drafted with his attorney, Andrew Wiegel, countering the allegations made in Mission Local’s article and welcoming an investigation.
The rebuttal letter is a fascinating document, and inspires a good many questions.
It does not explain why a permit to convert a crawl space into a wine room and exercise room applied for in 2007 received no inspections and, to this day, never received a final sign-off — even though the entire building received a final sign-off in 2009. It does not explain why the 2005 permit to erect this building listed it as “three stories, no basements” and the 2009 certificate of final completion listed it as “three stories, no basements” — but the 2007 permit listed it as “two stories, one basement.”
“This may have been a clerical housekeeping oversight by the district inspector at the time of the final inspection, Mr. Bernie Curran,” McCarthy wrote, “but the oversight escaped my attention.”
McCarthy says his permit to “Convert crawl space under building to wine room and exercise room” did not require any additional excavation work. But this is a curious claim, semantically and otherwise: If you’re converting a crawl space — which by definition does not have sufficient headspace to be a habitable room — into a habitable room, it’s hard to envision a scenario that doesn’t require excavation.
There is one: The excavation was done prior, without permitting.
McCarthy denied this under direct questioning in a Sept. 20 sworn deposition tied to former planning commissioner Dennis Richards’ ongoing lawsuit vs. the city. But he did concur that the basement room was built at the same time as the rest of the building, which doesn’t sequentially add up on this building’s permitting history.
Rather than excavating or doing additional foundation work, McCarthy wrote that he only “needed to sheetrock and paint the walls and install the finished flooring.” This would help to explain the svelte $25,000 cost associated with this project.
But this explanation is hard to comprehend. For one thing, the 2007 permit is emblazoned with a “State Industrial Safety Permit” stamp, noting that “construction of trenches or excavations which are 5 feet or deeper and into which a person is required to descend” are part of this project.
Private special inspections mandated for this project, including “bolts installed in concrete,” “reinforcing steel” and “holdowns,” correspond with foundation work, not sheetrock and paint.
What’s more, the contractor hired for this project was Ryan Engineering, an excavation specialist. Reviewing Ryan’s qualifications on the state licensing page, this would appear to be an excellent choice for heavy excavation. It is unclear if Ryan, which does not possess a Class B general contractor’s license, is even licensed to do sheet rock.
There were, again, no recorded DBI inspections for this project, and it has never been signed off.
Mission Local noted in its on Saturday story that a sign-off from the Department of Public Works mandated before the building could be completed was not present on any of the job cards available to the public, was not in DPW’s system, and a DPW inspector told us no inspections were recorded on-site prior to 2011. But this building was signed off in 2009.
McCarthy in his rebuttal letter produced an inspection report indicating a DPW signature was received in 2008 — though, again, Public Works has informed Mission Local that this is not registered in their computer system.
This inspection report brings up other questions, however: Significantly, there is no sign-off on it for “OK to Pour.” There is also no sign off for insulation or duct inspections. And the notes page, which records inspectors’ observations and criticisms, was not included in McCarthy’s rebuttal.
With regard to an investment property on 23rd Street McCarthy sold in 2017, he explains away Curran’s appearance to sign off on the project and do away with complaints as something of a coincidence. “For the second inspection request, Mr. Curran showed up. I believe Mr Curran was the Senior for this district and must have been covering for the district inspector.”
Curran is currently facing federal bribery charges. And senior inspectors are not supposed to fill in for their district inspectors — and rarely do. In fact, all the way back in 2014, Curran’s own propensity to improperly drop by at inspections led to Department of Building Inspection policy stating what’s supposed to happen when a district inspector can’t take a job.
Senior building inspectors are the No. 7 option. If department policy were actually observed, Curran randomly showing up on-site multiple times would be a statistical oddity.
Finally, McCarthy downplays the matter of a letter he sent to then Building Department head Tom Hui in his official capacity as Building Inspection Commission president. This letter was drafted by Department of Building Inspection staff at McCarthy’s request — but he also sent it to his fellow Residential Builders Association members Sean Keighran and John O’Connor for editing and redrafting. McCarthy said during the deposition he did not inform DBI of this.
In his rebuttal, he describes the letter as a personal missive, revised by a “building industry leader,” and “not DBI materials as stated in the article.”
The letter was signed “Angus McCarthy, Commission President,” and was, again generated by Department of Building Inspection staff prior to being edited by private builders whose work is inspected by the Department of Building Inspection.
Asked about the acceptability of this process, a DBI spokesman said that “City departments and commissioners are allowed to solicit feedback from stakeholders.”