Former SF planning commissioner agrees to settle city suit for $1.8M

Building inspections department allegedly lashed at former planning commissioner for criticizing department


A former San Francisco planning commissioner settled a suit filed in federal court against the Department of Building Inspections for retaliating against him for criticizing the agency.

Dennis Richards agreed to settle the suit for $1.8 million, a fraction of the $12 million that he and real estate agent Rachel Swann originally sought, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Richards said the department retaliated on a project he and real estate agent Swann had been working on at 22nd Street in the Mission District after his criticism.

“The settlement will make us mostly whole from an out-of-pocket standpoint,” he told the newspaper. The agreement must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Richards and Swann bought the four-unit building for $2.7 million in 2018 and spent millions on renovations and $350,000 to buy out tenants. They listed the property at $7.88 million the following year.

Before it could be sold, Richards criticized inspectors for signing off on another Mission project where construction had been done without permits. Then a new set of inspections were conducted on the 22nd Street property, even though it had already passed previous checks.

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The result was multiple violations. Edward Sweeney, the department’s deputy director, told an engineer assigned to the project “that they were going to find a way to come down hard on the property,” according to court records. While developers are often given 30 days to correct violations, Richards and Swann had nine permits revoked, including some for work that had been approved and completed.

“It wasn’t about the money. It was about uncovering and identifying corruption and showing how there were two sets of rules,” Richards said. “I think we made our point.”

Bernie Curran, a former San Francisco senior building inspector, recently landed in jail and was charged with perjury and conflict of interest by District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office for allegedly accepting a loan from a developer and then signing off on several permits for it.

[San Francisco Chronicle] — Gabriel Poblete

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