Relationships are what it’s all about. More than just obtaining a Permit

Lee Heidhues 6.8.2021
I am familiar with the ways of the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection professionally and personally.
On a personal level, I have learned the hard way less benign inner workings of DBI. Third parties and other City government agencies have utilized the system to benefit themselves and harm my family.
DBI historically has been thought of as a place where the well-connected can get their way. My own experiences have reinforced this opinion.
Relationships are what it’s all about in San Francisco. People who need special services hire so called “expeditors” or, on occasion, deal directly with DBI. The motives are not always benign. The goal is more than just obtaining a Permit.

San Francisco Chronicle -J.K. Dineen – 6.8.2021

A senior San Francisco building inspector has been placed on administrative leave after he allegedly failed to report a loan from a politically connected developer for whom he had performed multiple inspections.

Senior Building Inspector Bernard Curran (pictured above right) came under scrutiny last month after admitting that he had accepted a $180,000 loan from Freydoon Ghassemzadeh, whose family business, SIA Consulting, has been one of the city’s most prolific developers in recent years, according to City Hall sources and public documents.

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State records show that in March of 2020 Curran neglected to disclose the loan in his annual Form 700, a state filing that requires public officials to disclose economic interests. In a March 25 email to Human Resources Director Michele Nieve that was sent along with the form, Curran wrote “I do not have any economic interests so I believe this is all I have to fill out.” A year later — in April of this year, after being questioned by the city attorney — he amended the paperwork to include the loan.

It’s also not clear whether he intended to pay back the loan, which he said in the April disclosure had a five-year term and an interest rate of 6%.

The loan was discovered during an ongoing investigation of corruption in the Department of Building Inspection by the city attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.

City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Cote said he could not “provide details about an ongoing investigation.”

“I can say that throughout this corruption investigation, including at the Department of Building Inspection, our focus has been on rooting out contractors and employees who abuse the public trust,” he said.

The investigation comes amid a widespread investigation into corruption in San Francisco City Hall, a multi-agency probe that has so far led to the indictment of former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and former Public Utilities Commission wGeneral Manager Harlan Kelly.

At the building inspection department, the city attorney’s probe led to the resignation of Tom Hui (pictured above left), the former director, as well as a settlement with former permit expediter Walter Wong that bars him from acting as a permit expediter for five years.

“Our investigation did not stop there,” said Cote.

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Department of Building Inspection Director of Communications Patrick Hannan said that new leadership at the beleaguered agency is committed to “rooting out corruption and bad actors preying on the building industry and betraying the public’s trust, whether they be in the private or public sector.”

“We have partnered with the city attorney’s Public Integrity Unit on an investigation into employees suspected of corruption and have recently placed one of those people on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation,” Hannan said.

It’s not clear whether Curran, who has been with the department since 2005, gave the developer preferential treatment in exchange for the loan. Curran was the final inspector to sign off on several of SIA Consulting’s projects. In February of 2018, he approved a four-bedroom renovation at 708 Buchanan St., a seismic upgrade project that converted the basement into a four-bedroom apartment, and added bedrooms on the second and third floors, according to public records.

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DBI Inspector Bernie Curran approved project at 3005-3007 San Bruno Avenue

In 2019, Curran approved three inspections of a seismic retrofit job at 3005-3007 San Bruno Ave., a project that included adding an additional bedroom and three bathrooms to an existing three-bedroom, one-bath unit.

The agent for both projects was Behmann Ghassemzadeh, the son of Freydoon Ghassemzadeh.

Calls to Curran’s home phone were not answered. It was not clear if he has legal representation. A message left with Freydoon Ghassemzadeh was unreturned by the time of publication.

Hannan said his agency and the city attorney have launched an investigation to see if the work the inspector signed off on — some of which was outside of the district he was in charge of — violated city codes.

“We have also teamed up with the City Attorney’s Office on an auditing initiative to review the work performed by these bad actors and are implementing a series of reform initiatives to improve our business practices, increase transparency and enhance accountability,” Hannan said.

Cote said that since taking over the department in March 2020 after the departure of Hui, Interim Director Patrick O’Riordan has “shown true cooperation with our investigation, and we’re hopeful about the changes we see in the top leadership at DBI, as well as their willingness and ability to hold staff accountable.”