San Francisco sues former city official for permit fraud
- The city and county of San Francisco is suing Rodrigo Santos, the former president of the city's Building Inspection Commission, along with his business partner Albert Urrutia and their business Santos & Urrutia Associates, in relation to alleged construction work done under fraudulent permits. An unlicensed contractor and several city property owners and managers also face charges for unlawful business practices, non-compliance with the San Francisco building and planning codes and public nuisance regarding the alleged fraud.
- San Francisco authorities claim that Santos and Urrutia used their familiarity with the building permitting process to help property owners apply and secure permits for major excavation and construction work under the guise of simple improvements that did not require wide-ranging reviews or inspections. The alleged acts by one or more of the defendants include performing work beyond the scope of building permits of record (i.e. digging foundations to add lower stories to residential properties), therefore misleading and lying to officials; forging a civil engineer's stamp and signature on falsified inspection reports; using a contractor whose license was revoked in 2011; and jeopardizing the safety of workers, residents and those in surrounding properties.
- The defendants face up to millions in penalties and fines, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and the city attorney's office wants the court to appoint a receiver that will ensure the properties adhere to the proper building codes. Santos told the Chronicle that his company followed permitting regulations and blamed any deviations on the contractors performing the work.
With each building permit application, there is more demand placed on plan-review staff and the team of inspectors that will conduct several inspections during the course of the project, depending on the scope of work.
According to the Chronicle, San Francisco's planning process can take years but must be completed before owners can submit their applications for building permits. Currently, there are approximately 24 affordable housing projects that must be permitted by December in order to be exempt from a new law that would require the developers to build additional low-rent units. If they cannot secure the building permit in time, affordable housing advocates fear that the developers will kill the projects instead of spending the money to build the extra required units.
Under pressure to come through with more affordable housing options, San Francisco Mayor London Breed has called on building department officials to speed up approvals for accessory dwelling units, part of an initiative to ease pressure on the city's rental market.
Meanwhile, building departments around the country are struggling to keep up with the demand for inspections, a critical part of the construction process. In St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, there is a reported backlog of 59,000 building permits issued in the past decade that still need a final inspection.
- San Francisco Chronicle SF sues former building official for cheating on construction code rules
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