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Planning Commissioner accuses inspectors of conspiracy in bizarre renovation feud

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Dennis Richards unleashed his anger at a surreal Board of Appeals hearing

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 contentious 22nd Street property, before (left) and after the renovation.
Courtesy DBI

Wednesday saw fireworks at the San Francisco Board of Appeals, as outspoken Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards accused the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and the appeals board of plotting against him and sabotaging his renovation of a pre-1906 apartment building in the Mission.

Speaking at the Wednesday hearing, Richards called the city’s code enforcement corrupt and alleged that building inspectors punished him for doing his job on the Planning Commission by yanking permits on his 22nd Street property earlier this year.

DBI contends that Richards’ company did a shoddy job fixing up said building and that they were simply doing their jobs as well.

Meanwhile, the commissioners on the appeals board looked baffled as sparks flew.

Per city records, a limited liability company called Six Dogs bought the four-unit, three-story Italianate building at 3426-3432 22nd Street for $2.7 million in June 2018.

Richards is one of several people who own Six Dogs, but as he told Mission Local in October, he’s not a majority owner.

In January of 2019, the city issued nine permits for upgrades on the building; per Wednesday’s appeal paperwork, the plan was “to remodel the four-unit building, repair rear stairs, front facade, and soft-story seismic work.”

However, the city revoked and later suspended those permits in September. According to the findings report submitted to the Board of Appeals ahead of time, an inspection found several instances of work performed without a permit.

Inspectors accused Six Dogs of “a pattern of misrepresentation” and “a complete unwillingness to acknowledge the breath and severity of the violations.”

Richards and his partners balked, appealing the decision in October. Writing on behalf of the company, attorney Scott Emblidge alleged that DBI retaliated against Richards specifically for some of his decisions on the Planning Commission.

“DBI’s sanctions followed directly after Commissioner Richards publicly criticized DBI,” Emblidge writes.

“It’s unheard of,” said project engineer Pat Buscovich at Wednesday’s hearing, arguing that the errors in the build are minor. He went on to say that he had never seen the city go so far as to pull permits over what he calls trivial issues.

Richards didn’t mince words. “What the hell was so wrong with the building?” he fumed, calling DBI “a cancer on this city” and a form of “Trumpism.”

He then told city inspectors to “go fuck themselves.”

Richards even leveled accusations of corruption at the appeals board itself, saying that Commissioner Darryl Honda had pushed a quid pro quo deal to make the permit problem go away.

Honda protested the charges before the hearing but ultimately recused himself.

Inspector Joe Duffy defended DBI by testifying that work had been completed that was not on the permits. For example, contractors replaced 14 windows not covered by permits, and on one side built an eight-foot exterior wall instead of a permitted six-foot fence.

He also said that Six Dogs “refused to work in good faith” to resolve the problems.

Some appeals board members appeared potentially receptive to Richards’ complaints, noting that, while there were violations at the 22nd Street site, the severity of the punishment seemed unusual.

“I’m not seeing things that are super alarming,” said Commissioner Rachael Tanner, pointing out that the board frequently deals with worse problems.

Others appeared bemused. Commissioner Eduardo Santacana admitted, “I don’t understand this case,” suggesting that the conflict over permits could have been resolved without a hearing. He told Emblidge that corruption charges belong in court.

In the end, the board ordered all parties to negotiate a truce over the alterations to the 22nd Street property and return next year.

Meanwhile, the work on 3426-3432 22nd Street is evidently long finished; the building recently hit the market for $7.5 million for the whole package, down from more than $7.8 million earlier in the year.

“These homes were thoughtfully reimagined,” says realtor Zhane Dikes, employing decidedly more deft terms anyone at City Hall applied to the renovation all week.