Investigation into SF’s acting DBI director finds no evidence of wrongdoing

An investigation into allegations that Acting Department of Building Inspections Director Patrick O’Riordan favored politically connected developers in an earlier role a decade ago has found no evidence of wrongdoing, according to City Attorney David Chiu.

The investigation focused on three controversial projects — 3418 26th Street, 220 25th St. and 700 Valencia St. — all of which were licensed between 2009 and 2012 when O’Riordan was senior building inspector.

All three projects have been the subject of whistleblower complaints by Norman Gutierrez, a former DBI inspector, and Christopher Schroeder, a current DBI inspector. Both Gutierrez and Schroeder alleged that O’Riordan, who was their supervisor at the time, “inappropriately took over inspections and prevented them from enforcing the building code because the projects were associated with builders. influential and politically connected,” according to the report.

“They suggest that O’Riordan used ‘kid gloves’ on these projects to unfairly favor project sponsors,” the city attorney’s report summary said.

After reviewing permit history and interviewing participants, the city attorney concluded that “O’Riordan’s conduct regarding the projects was appropriate and consistent with DBI’s enforcement standards and code of conduct.” .

The report, written by the City Attorney’s Public Integrity and Investigations Team, found that Gutierrez and Schroeder’s claims “were not credible in light of the permitting history for the projects and other evidence we have gathered during our investigation”. He said the two inspectors had a “base of bias and animosity” against O’Riordan because the now acting director had disciplined them. Gutierrez was disciplined in 2013 and Schroeder in 2021.

“The only allegations of preferential treatment or impropriety against O’Riordan that we have identified come from Gutierrez and Schroeder, whom our investigation did not find credible,” the report said.

Neither Gutierrez nor Schroeder could be reached for comment.

But while the investigation failed to prove that O’Riordan violated building codes, it did find a culture of corruption at DBI, which over the past year has come under scrutiny. federal criminal investigation underway. The corruption investigation led to the federal indictment of former chief building inspector Bernie Curran, as well as two notorious permit “shippers” – Walter Wong and Rodrigo Santos.

“Our role as investigators is to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Chiu said. “Fortunately, we are able to report that the allegations against the Acting Director of the DBI are without merit. However, our investigation showed how widespread the problems were under the DBI’s previous leadership. The unethical tone imposed at the top resulted in a culture that tolerated, if not encouraged, favoritism towards politically connected people. There is no place for this type of behavior in San Francisco.

However, the report pointed to an “unethical tone under former DBI director Tom Hui that resulted in favoritism towards those well-connected with business before the department.” Despite multiple complaints of rampant favoritism, Hui remained director of DBI and received several pay raises.

The report describes how former DBI Director Tom Hui failed to disclose or act on a confidential 2014 Government Services Administration report that revealed ‘preferential treatment’ given to Mel Murphy, a former chairman of the DBI commission who was caught building without a permit after a house. which he owned at 125 Crown Terrace collapsed and slid down a hill.

The city attorney said “mistakes and preferential treatment that were uncovered during the GSA investigation” were never made public and former manager Tom Hui took no action.

“This culture reveals a failure of leadership, including former DBI Director Tom Hui, to prioritize or model ethical conduct and implement reforms that would limit the ability to offer preferential treatment and provide greater transparency and accountability to the DBI,” the city attorney said. report.

The city attorney’s investigation into the allegations against O’Riordan is one component of a broader public corruption investigation launched immediately after federal criminal charges were filed in January 2020 against former public works director Mohammed. Nuru.

City Comptroller Ben Rosenfield, who released a report on ethical lapses at the DBI in September, said the city attorney’s “finding underscores the fact that poor leadership can be corrosive and impact an entire organization. even after an individual is no longer in charge”.

“Righting wrongs is a much more difficult task, and that’s why ethical guidelines, strong reporting and monitoring programs, and firm penalties for misconduct are essential to establish early on,” Rosenfield said.

JK Dineen is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @sfjkdineen

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