An orange Edwardian and a white Victorian prominently viewed on the street.
Google Street view of 1153-55 Guerrero St.

Rodrigo Santos presented plans for a rear porch at 1153 Guerrero St. so breezily Tuesday night, one could almost forget he faces a federal prison sentence this June. 

“We have nothing but a desire to be totally transparent,” Santos said after explaining the basics of the project. “I work 24/7, you can contact me Sunday. I wasn’t baptized, I rarely go to church.” 

But, during the preliminary required outreach meeting, one community member of the six people attending pressed specific questions about the project and Santos’s intentions, and the pair entered into a passionate back-and-forth. The attendee, who identified himself as the architect who had filed a complaint regarding the building’s foundation, said with exasperation, “What are you planning to do? I don’t know! This is a piece of crap!”

No one brought up Santos’s criminal record. 

That record may provide the architect with ample reason for skepticism, a feeling he shares with myriad city departments. Santos pleaded guilty in January to 17 federal counts of fraud, falsifying records and tax evasion. His sentencing is scheduled for June 30. Each of his counts could land him five to 30 years of prison time.

"Rodbigo" Santos: A check to Ahsha Safaí
In this image from an FBI affidavit, Rodrigo Santos is accused of altering a check written to “DBI” to read “RoDBIgo Santos.” It was allegedly deposited in his Bank of America personal account.

From 2012 to 2019, Santos illegally skimmed some $800,000 from his clients. He routinely altered the checks clients made out to the Department of Building Inspection, and put the money into his own bank account. He once even changed a check written to “DBI” to “RoDBIgo Santos.” In 2018, he was sued by the City Attorney’s Office for alleged check fraud and permit forgery.

But Santos, on Tuesday, seemed to appease most of the handful of community members who took time out of their evenings, and told the one man he quarreled with to check out the property when work was being done. “It’s not a problem,” Santos insisted. 

Clearly, his admissions of guilt have not yet affected Santos’s capacity to build, and it’s unlikely they will, as long as he remains a free man.

Rodrigo Santos: State body moves to strip engineer’s license

On Jan. 30, the California Board for Professional Engineers moved to revoke Rodrigo Santos’s engineering licenses. This came 17 days after the civil engineer, permit expediter and former president of San Francisco Building Inspection Commission pleaded guilty in federal court to 10 counts of bank fraud and five counts of tax evasion, falsifying records in…

Rodrigo Santos pleads guilty to federal charges

Rodrigo Santos, an engineer, permit expediter and the former president of the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission, today pleaded guilty to a total of 17 federal counts, each carrying a statutory maximum sentence between five and 30 years. The charges include 10 counts of bank fraud, one count of honest services wire fraud, one count…

Rodrigo Santos and the imaginary toilets: a strange and terrible saga

Say what you will about engineer, permit expediter and accused federal criminal Rodrigo Santos, but the man has range. His alleged misdeeds span from the abstract to the concrete.  Or, rather, through the concrete: The City Attorney has accused him of using forged permits to undertake risky excavations that could’ve gotten somebody killed, and purportedly did…

Back on Guerrero Street, Santos’ plans are purportedly emergency work, to fix issues at the property’s rear porch, documents show. The architect’s active complaint at the property regarded work being done without a permit. 

The work is on behalf of Robert McCurn, who is part-owner of the current 1153 Guerrero St. LLC, according to records. McCurn, a contractor, faced three counts of grand theft in 2007 after being swept up in the Jimmy Jen affair. 

Jen, a former city plan-checker turned permit expediter, was hit with more than 230 charges in what then-District Attorney Kamala Harris described as a “massive fraud.” The city ultimately settled for $486,000 after Jen declared bankruptcy. 

McCurn was accused of doing $46,000 worth of faulty foundation work on a Mission District home after Jen falsified a report to enable this. The grand-theft charges against him were dismissed in 2008, according to the DA’s Office.   

Reached on the phone, McCurn declined to speak to Mission Local. 

The architect’s complaint, which this emergency work is ostensibly addressing, called 1153 Guerrero St.’s conditions worth “concern.” The building “sagged” and “split open the exterior siding,” and the outside stair “is detaching … and falling towards the neighboring property.” The complainant worried about the “structural integrity” of the building, too. 

Santos said Tuesday that the property hadn’t been renovated for decades, and was due for an upgrade. Foundation work is planned. 

While the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists in January initiated steps to remove Santos’s civil and structural engineering licenses, the hearing is scheduled for May 31. Even if the board decides to revoke Santos’s licenses, that might not take effect until months later, according to a staff member. 

Until the licenses are formally revoked, intervention by San Francisco’s Planning Department and the Department of Building Inspection is limited. In 2020, the building department said no “law would give DBI the authority to deny a state-licensed engineer the ability to obtain permits from a public department.”

The Department of Building Inspection, which is still reviewing the permit applications for the rear deck, has noted Santos’s involvement in the project, and flagged that he is part of the new Expanded Compliance Control List, a program initiated in 2021 to add extra supervision for applicants who have a history of malfeasance. So far, Santos is the list’s sole member. 

The department “is doing everything within our legal authority to ensure that permit applicants are adhering to the law and meeting the required building codes,” spokesperson Patrick Hannan wrote in an email. 

The Planning Department also noticed Santos is the deck job’s project sponsor, and staff is “keenly aware” of his projects and history, said Dan Sider, the department’s chief of staff. Still, Sider says his hands are tied. 

“The issue is, we aren’t able to preclude anyone from filing an application, or taking on some work,” Sider said. The department’s job isn’t to scrutinize a person’s “morals,” Sider said, but to process project applications that abide by “applicable law.”  

Prior to his federal guilty pleas, the engineer and permit expediter served as head of the Building Inspection Commission, which oversees DBI. He was also appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the City College Board, but lost a subsequent election. 

He presently runs RS Structural Engineering, and declined questions posed by Mission Local during the meeting, asking a reporter to instead send queries via email. When and if he responds, we will update the article. 

It’s unclear what the next step is for the 1153 Guerrero St. project. Whatever the case, Santos said, “If you have any questions, I am the person to call.” 

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REPORTER. 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 on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Santos pled guilty to a total of 17 federal counts, each carrying a statutory maximum sentence between five and 30 years. He is supposed to be sentenced next month. When does he plan to complete this project, before sentencing? Or after?

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  2. So Rodrigo presents the project to the neighbors as is required, makes himself available for questions, then appropriately files the necessary applications and drawings. The building and planning departments review the drawings and applications. What exactly is the problem and what is the purpose of this article? Does Mission Local have nothing else to write about?

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  3. This is a vicious hit piece that’s more like spurious gossip that competent journalism. Yes, Mr. Santos defrauded the IRS of unreported income for which he will be sentenced. Mr. Santos repaid ALL his clients. Mr. Santos never violated any building codes or put anyone at risk for buildings that weren’t structurally sound. In 2020-21 Mr. Santos was the structural engineer for my fifteen-month project & he did a great job!

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  4. Rodrigo Santos is one of the best engineers and expediters in town and even though I personally have no explanation for some of his actions I do personally know many are very grateful for other actions on his part. Navigating SFDBI’s labyrinth is no easy task and no one should be faulted for mistakes made when forced to operate in the corrupt culture created by Senior DBI staffers. Please name me one happy DBI customer!!!

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  5. Seriously? These people still have a license? What does it take? Are they paying someone off or do they have knowledge of more unearthed discrepancies without the city departments? So many small property owners are on the shelf waiting for permits while these “admitted” crooks are going to the front of the line and continuing to rake in the contracts? No reason to trust City Hall while this is going on.

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    1. I promise you, Rodrigo Santos is nowhere near the front of the line. He is the most scrutinized engineer/expediter at SFDBI and I can assure that no projects are more closely reviewed and overseen than Rodrigo’s.

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