Photo by Mimi Chakarova

The City Attorney released a report today, finding no evidence that interim Department of Building Inspection director Patrick O’Riordan shielded influential city builders. It instead heaped blame on former director Tom Hui who, in 2020, departed under a cloud; ex-senior inspector Bernie Curran, who was last year indicted on federal bribery charges; and former mayor Ed Lee, who died in 2017. 

The investigation was spurred by a pair of Mission Local articles in October. In those stories, retired 34-year building inspector Norman Gutierrez and current 20-plus-year inspector Christopher Schroeder said that O’Riordan, then chief building inspector, kept them off the projects of favored builders. The City Attorney dismissed those allegations, determining neither Gutierrez nor Schroeder to be “credible,” and finding that both “have a basis for bias and animus against O’Riordan, because he previously disciplined each of them.”

Gutierrez declined to participate in the City Attorney’s investigation. Schroeder did: In 2021, he told Mission Local that, over the course of months in 2012, he told his supervisor, O’Riordan, about a five-story structure on 26th Street being erected without any permitting by former Building Inspection Commission president Mel Murphy. The City Attorney countered today that, during a 2014 investigation into Murphy, Schroeder denied knowledge of the 26th Street project. 

Mission Local’s request of the Department of Building Inspection to follow up with Schroeder has not yet been granted. Gutierrez, who is retired, expressed little surprise in today’s report. He shared a November text message he sent to investigator Carol Stuart, declining to participate: 

I have thought about our meeting today long and hard over the weekend and have come to the conclusion that your job is to protect the city from liability. Unfortunately, protecting the city may be about protecting Patrick O’riardan (sic) and his affiliates that are many and controlling the city’s politics.  At this time, I have decided not to be a part of an investigation that may bring unknown repercussions against me.  For the last three decades I have suffered much decriminalizing in many forms and endured just to provide service to the public and I cannot continue to expose myself.  I hope you can understand my concerns. Thank you for the opportunity but I will pass on this opportunity for now (with much regrets).

Gutierrez freely acknowledged he didn’t have a good working relationship with O’Riordan. He said that’s a long way from claiming he exacted revenge by concocting allegations that he was “badgered” by higher-ups to appease a connected builder and taken off the project. 

“Look, Patrick took me to HR, like, six times. For stupid stuff,” said Gutierrez. That wasn’t the case with other employees O’Riordan supervised, Gutierrez said: “Bernie Curran, he got away with it for 10 years.” 

“If I was really disgruntled and upset and wanted to go after Patrick,” Gutierrez continued, “I would have gone over there and initiated this long ago.” 

Upon being named Department of Building Inspection employee of the quarter in April 2016, senior inspector Bernie Curran said “It is a pleasure and privilege to serve the people of San Francisco on a daily basis.”

Instead, Gutierrez retired in June of last year. He did not come to Mission Local. Rather, Mission Local tracked him down in retirement after noticing his name on building records as the inspector on a project on which O’Riordan performed the inspections, not him. 

Similarly, during a visit to the archives at DBI headquarters, senior inspector Matt Greene suggested Mission Local speak to Schroeder because Schroeder appears on records as the inspector on a project overseen by O’Riordan. If not for this suggestion and an interview facilitated by DBI, Schroeder would not have been available for an on-the-record discussion in Oct. 2021. 

Mission Local has not yet interviewed Schroeder regarding today’s report, which also claims he “made inaccurate statements to the press about O’Riordan in October, 2021, potentially in retaliation for O’Riordan’s role in disciplining him earlier in April, 2021.”

“A clear historical pattern of preferential treatment and selective enforcement under former DBI leadership … ” 
Interim Department of Building head Patrick O’Riordan

While finding no evidence of favoritism or wrongdoing by O’Riordan, today’s report found myriad examples of all of the above from the building department’s prior regime. 

Hui left the department in 2020 at legal bayonet-point after the City Attorney found written evidence of his nepotism and cronyism and essentially turning over policy decisions to contractor and permit expediter Walter Wong (who has since pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and fraud, and is cooperating with the feds). 

Today’s report disclosed more of that while re-litigating the uproar following the 2013 incident in which former Building Inspection Commission president Mel Murphy’s home at 125 Crown Terrace tumbled down the side of Twin Peaks. Emails uncovered by the City Attorney reveal that Hui reached out to Rodrigo Santos, Murphy’s engineer of record at the time and, presently, an accused federal criminal several times over, to get answers for questions about the collapse coming from DBI’s oversight commission. 

It was also revealed that Angus McCarthy, the president of that commission, sent an internal DBI report on the 2013 collapse to Sean Keighran, the president of the influential Residential Builders Association, on whose board McCarthy also serves. Mission Local reported last year that McCarthy has acknowledged sending DBI-generated material to be redrafted by Keighran, the president of a builders group that DBI ostensibly exists to regulate. 

The revisions to the report McCarthy workshopped with Keighran placed blame for the collapse more squarely on Murphy. That may have been warranted, but today’s City Attorney report did not mention that Murphy, who had set up a competing organization, was, at the time, an arch-rival of the Residential Builders Association. 

Ousted Department of Building Inspection boss Tom Hui, seen here in January 2020.

An investigation of the collapse of Murphy’s home undertaken by the General Services Agency in 2014, but never before made public, was released today by the City Attorney. While Hui, McCarthy and others were presented with that GSA report and made aware of the loss of institutional control of the building department, little was done to change things. In fact, only months after favoritism to Murphy on the 125 Crown Terrace project, the same cast of characters did much the same in greasing the skids for Wong on the 555 Fulton project.   

Today’s City Attorney report portrays O’Riordan as being unable to enact meaningful change against the wishes of his corrupt bosses, and reiterates earlier suppositions by the controller that Hui felt pressure to cater to Mayor Lee’s friends and supporters. 

In 2019, O’Riordan complained to the City Attorney that Hui was directing Curran to preferred builders’ sites; in 2021, he told the City Attorney he felt “hamstrung” in overseeing Curran. Curran, for his part, told the City Attorney he considered O’Riordan “irrelevant.”

Interim director O’Riordan is an aspirant for the full-time position. Multiple DBI sources inform us he’s a finalist. The Building Inspection Commission secretary tells Mission Local that no new director will be named at Wednesday’s meeting.  

Mission Local stands by its reporting. 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. 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 editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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8 Comments

    1. Whack comment by BN
      I work/worked with most of these guys. It’s just like you’d suspect if you read the articles. Gutierrez was an awesome, stand-up, principled inspector who would help both the homeowner be safe and give the contractor great advice for improving the project. Curran was a huge sleezeball, albeit super entertaining and fun to talk with. Guess which one wasn’t a brown noser and got ticky tack write ups by management?

      1. You misread my meaning. I’ve been following this and have personal experience with DBI and The City’s corruption. It galls me that it takes the FBI to investigate the corruption because the departments tasked with checks and balances in city government are mostly headed by members in good standing of the City Family.

        Very grateful that Mission Local and Joe persist in the search for the truth.

  1. So, more of the same from Chiu as we had from Herrera. As a life long Democrat, it pains me to say that if it wasn’t for a Republican US Attorney, we would have the same corrupt cast of characters heading up DPW, DBI and the SFPUC.

  2. At every cartel, the three main pillars are a corrupt Mayor, supported by a corrupt GM/Dept heads and they are supported by an army of lawyers, same org chart all over CA with one intent syphons public money to the last penny.
    David Chiu and Harerra’s hand picked Keslie Stewart (all lawyers) wasted no time playing the game and to prove he is a cartel player. Ironically the two whistleblowers are “not credible” just as any demonized whistleblower labeled with “conspiracy theories”, yet we will see the destruction of homes and fires once the big one hits and since the cartel allows gas-pipeline to be embedded within the concrete foundations just as PG&E resulted with in the San Bruno gas pipeline disaster that cost human lives to be lost.
    Can Chiu relay on an independent panel to determine both the legality and engineering aspects since Ethics and Honest Government is never an option or should we wait and read what the FBI “might” tell us.
    Lets see, what happen to the independent inspection consultant working on the SF Pisa titling Tower called Millennium, they got fired for doing their job two weeks ago since they did not see eye to eye with what the cartel wanted them to report.
    This cartel has every intention of destroying the City to the last brick just as the SFPUC publicly declared at the Budget meeting last Friday that they can’t build the projects listed in their budget under the new GM Harrera.
    If that is the case, what is Harerra going to do with the billions of project funds or will he just waste it one way or another… He will waste it as they do ……Pathetic

    1. Just like the recent controllers office report on the Community Benefits scam subject to the BoS grilling today the Cartel “investigations” are done with controlled parameters, and controlled characters. The Westside observer had the best analysis on this report about two weeks ago.
      The cartel would never ask me or ask anyone that they can’t control their output nor will they ever allow an independent body to look into it and its always , “we can’t find a thing and it’s all conspiracy theory. ….. that was Harerra slogan for years until the FBI blitz in feb 2020 starting with the guru Nuru and his clown. So far, the federal operation netted 29 in SF and LA including GMs, dept heads, deputy mayors, Council members, contractors, lobbyists and for the first time TWO lawyers protecting the LADWP cartel (LA equivalent to the SFPUC).
      I love these agencies lawyers playing poker on an empty hand!

  3. Comrades,

    Lincoln Steffens, the muckraker who hung out w/Teddy Roosevelt said and proved over a couple of continents that, to his satisfaction – with which I agree – …

    you can get rid of corruption for a time but it always returns.

    Greed and temptation are always there and some will certainly succumb to it.

    In fact, that’s how Vegas got the Raiders.

    Steffens and his cub reporter, Walter Lippmann developed a diagram that worked like a template with … anyway, as Steffens himself says on page 596 of his Autobiography:

    “I described and Lippmann diagrammed the corruption of government.”

    Roosevelt sent in federal judges and marshals to clean up San Francisco for his friend, Lincoln but within ten years it had all slid back to the same old practices.

    Speaking of the San Francisco Housing Authority and their missing sidewalk for poor people walking in the street while the Steamfitters palace across the street …

    As Steffens noted, it never ends but let’s have fun trying to stop it anyway.

    Go Giants!

    h.

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