State board investigates SF contractor for shoddy, unpermitted work

Newspaper expose leads to probe of John Pollard and his firm S.F. Garage

S.F. Garage Company's John Pollard (John Pollard, Getty)
S.F. Garage Company's John Pollard (John Pollard, Getty)

A state contractor board has opened an investigation into a longtime San Francisco builder who has generated numerous complaints for shoddy and unfinished work.

The California Contractors State License Board opened a probe into the work of John Pollard and his S.F. Garage Company, which specializes in seismic retrofits, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The investigation follows a May expose by the newspaper where clients accused the once prolific builder of substandard work, billing for uncompleted work and work done without necessary permits.

One woman said she had to delay her retirement for years so she could earn the money she needed to finish the $850,000 project Pollard abandoned.

The Chronicle expose revealed that, as Pollard’s work in San Francisco waned, he shifted to building in Sonoma County. A neighbor of his there sued him in 2022, accusing him of unpermitted work, fraud and trespass. Pollard settled the lawsuit the day before it was to go to trial.

The California Contractors State License Board “has opened a complaint to investigate information obtained from your May 31, 2024, SF Chronicle article,” spokeswoman Katherine White said in an email. “CSLB will investigate allegations in your article that include failure to comply with permit requirements and/or industry trade standards.”

Pollard, who also runs The Pollard Group, a consultancy, did not respond to requests for comment from the Chronicle.

Previously, the city attorney’s office told the Chronicle it was investigating Pollard’s work as part of an examination of public corruption in San Francisco. The newspaper’s investigation showed Pollard was close personal friends with Edward Sweeney, a senior official at the Department of Building Inspection, who retired in 2020.

The newspaper showed how Pollard communicated repeatedly with Sweeney during a dispute with a client, Sal Salma, over a project in North Beach that was supposed to take a few months to complete, but remains unfinished years later. 

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When Salma complained about his ordeal to the state, Pollard and Sweeney traded a slew of phone messages, and DBI swiftly addressed problems that had languished for years.

Salma’s dispute with Pollard led the CSLB to suspend Pollard’s license in 2022, and place him on a four-year professional probation.

The Chronicle investigation showed that the city’s building regulators took little action to rein in wayward builders, despite numerous complaints. 

The perception of Pollard’s clout at DBI prompted former Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards to publicly criticize the department in 2019 for allowing work on an 18th Street building without the proper permits. 

The dispute intensified when DBI revoked permits on a project of Richards at a four-unit building on 22nd Street. Richards sued in response, accusing the department of retaliating against a whistleblower. The city ultimately paid $1.8 million to settle the lawsuit.

This week, Richards said he was pleased to learn of the state’s probe — but said it raised further questions about how Pollard was able to operate unchecked for years.

“What does it take for someone to be held accountable?” Richards asked the Chronicle. “The city and Bay Area are littered with his victims — we have to put an end to this kind of stuff. 

“Sacramento needs to do something about this kind of behavior and needs to do it quick.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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