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Planning commissioner in weird building feud goes MIA

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Dennis Richards is absent from the Planning Commission after his vendetta against the Department of Building Inspection boiled over

Two images of a square Italianate-style SF building side by side, the one on the left with a gray-green paintjob and the one on the right with a newer, more vivid teal color.
The 22nd Street building that’s been the source of Dennis Richards’ woes, both before (left) and after his company’s work on it.
Courtesy DBI

Outspoken SF Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards seems to be on a leave of absence from his crucial spot on the body that governs new building in San Francisco, just weeks after a surreal City Hall hearing where he told city building inspectors to “go fuck themselves” and drew potentially damaging scrutiny to his renovation a multi-million building in the Mission.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that Richards is on a leave, although the commissioner himself would not comment. Richards has not yet responded to Curbed SF’s requests for confirmation of his absence either, but he has missed the body’s last two meetings.

The paper cites SF Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee saying that Richards was taking a break in part to deal with permitting problems 3426-3432 22nd Street, the four-unit building that Richards and his investment partners bought for $2.7 million in June 2018 and are now selling for $7.5 million.

Earlier this month, Richards appeared at a Board of Appeals hearing railing against the city’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI), which had cancelled permits for the now-completed renovation of the classic Italianate-style building.

Richards alleged that the department was plotting against him in reprisal for some of his recent votes and called city inspectors corrupt and “a cancer.”

DBI responded calling the work on the 22nd Street property sloppy and exceeding the scope of permits, denying that the punishment was directed at Richards personally.

The aftermath of the City Hall showdown—at the end of which both parties were instructed to negotiate a compromise and return early next year—provoked criticism of the commissioner not just for his showing at the hearing but for his involvement in the renovation project to begin with.

In his planning commission role, Richards has served as a frequent critic of gentrification, eviction, and house-flipping.

That his company bought a rent-controlled SF building and moved tenants out to get a multi-million dollar resale later leaves him vulnerable to criticism.

Richards says no one was evicted at the 22nd Street building and claims that the tenants happily accepted buyouts. He also characterizes conditions in the quadplex as poor and says that the work done by his company Six Dogs restored the building.

Richards didn’t notify the SF Rent Board about the buyout offers when he should have, which he told Mission Local was an error.

Fair housing activist Sasha Perigo said Richards should resign over his real estate dealings. President Yee stopped short of that but did say that the appearance of conflicts of interest hurts Richards’ standing.

Spots on the commission are unelected, appointed by a combination of the mayor and Board of Supervisors. The board appointed Richards in 2014.

The seven-person body wields tremendous influence over what gets built in SF, with some projects going straight from commission approval to permitting. The absence means that new building projects won’t have to face Richards’ signature tough standards about preserving city and neighborhood character for however long he’s gone, which might prove consequential.