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.”
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 … ”
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.
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.