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‘Entrenched web of corruption’ for building permits, inspections prompts suite of reforms

Several San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday introduced a charter amendment intended for the June 7, 2022 election that would reform the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission.

The commission is the body that oversees the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, tasked with manages and enforces The City’s building, housing, plumbing, electrical and mechanical codes.

According to the supervisors, reforms within the Building Inspection Commission are needed to ensure oversight and accountability after a number of wrongdoings within DBI were uncovered last year as part of a federal corruption probe.

Currently, four of the commission seats are appointed directly by the mayor and the three other seats are appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Additionally, some seats are reserved for representatives within the building industry.

However, according to the supervisors, this scenario has a potential for conflict of interest.

Under the proposed charter amendment, seats on the commission designated for specific industries or stakeholder groups would be eliminated. Additionally, a nomination and confirmation process for all nominees would be required as part of the appointment process.

The charter amendment also removes a provision that allows the commission to appoint a Building Inspection Department Director and replace mayoral appointments with commission recommendations.

The proposed measure, which would need to be approved by the full board before heading to the ballot, was authored by Supervisor Myrna Melgar. Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, and Rafael Mandelman are cosponsors.

Ronen said in a statement:

“The entrenched web of corruption affecting our building permitting and inspection services has undermined public trust and endangered residents across The City. … Unfortunately, there are people out there who are looking to take advantage of any loophole to make a quick buck. This charter measure is a major step to reform the Building Inspection Commission and DBI ensure that San Franciscans have the functional and honest governance and oversight we deserve.”

Since the January 2020 arrest of former Public Works director Mohammed Nuru on suspicion of wire fraud, several other city officials have been linked to corruption, including former DBI Director Tom Hui. Hui has been accused by federal prosecutors of legal and ethical violations, giving preferential treatment to a permit expeditor and a project developer, and using his position to get jobs for his son and his son’s girlfriend within city departments.

Also, the former Building Inspection Commission president Rodrigo Santos has been charged by federal prosecutors with bank fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft, while former DBI senior building inspector Bernard Curran is facing a wire fraud charge.

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