A quartet of supervisors today introduced a charter amendment that could cause voters to fundamentally redo – or, perhaps more accurately, to do – the supervisory commission of the scandal-ridden building inspection department.
Today’s amendment is sponsored by Supervisor Myrna Melgar – herself a former member of the Building Inspection Board – as well as Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen and Rafael Mandelman (who himself had a cup of café on the BIC ten years ago).
If their legislation is successful, voters in June 2022 would fundamentally change who sits on this commission and how they get there. Since its creation under Proposition G in 1994, the Building Inspection Commission has had seats reserved for members of professions regulated by the Building Inspection Department – among other landlords, architects, engineers and “home builders”.
Angus McCarthy, chairman of the commission since 2012, has served as “home builder”, as has Mel Murphy, who held that position before him.
This setup has led to accusations that the Building Inspection Department is tormented by “regulatory catch”- that is, it was co-opted by the groups it was officially created to oversee.
“It’s been a problem,” says Melgar. “The regulated are the regulators. You are expected to represent a specific group.
His amendment would remove the designated seats, opening them to the general public instead. And it would also change the current appointment mechanism from seven commissioners unilaterally appointed to the commission by the mayor to four appointed by the mayor and three by the chairman of the council. All applicants would go through a public confirmation process.
“If the mayor, as Gavin Newsom did, appointed Mel Murphy to the commission, and he had to go through a board of supervisors hearing, I guarantee you that none of the 37 supervisors I served with in 20 years would not have voted to confirm it, ”Peskin said.
“Gone are the days of closed-door meetings like Mel and Rodrigo Santos and the crooks who ran this commission. ”
Finally, rather than the Building Inspection Commission being the sole arbiter of who will run the department, the charter amendment would require the mayor to select the director of the DBI from among the candidates forwarded by the commission – this is how the Planning Commission and Police Commission are already functioning.
“Part of the problem that prop. G has created is that no one has any responsibility for the results of DBI,” Peskin said. “Now the mayor can no longer plead that he has no control.”
Peskin also said he hopes no permanent DBI director will be appointed before the June 2022 election – a prayer that will likely fall on deaf ears. The Building Inspection Board appears to come third in this process, with Acting Director Patrick O’Riordan running for the full-time job.
Both O’Riordan and McCarthy – the chairman of the body that appoints the next director – are currently under investigation by the city attorney.
Perhaps more important than any of the above changes, however, this charter amendment would partially override the previous charter amendment Prop. G of 1994 – meaning that future changes to the Building Inspection Department could be dictated by the council and the mayor without going through the voters.
In the 1994 Voter’s Guide, Rudy Nothenberg, then administrative director in San Francisco describes prop. G as “a blatant takeover by certain special interest groups who want to convince you that they are interested in public service.” … PROPOSAL G WILL POLICY BUILDING SAFETY DECISIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO. ”
And that’s what happened. Joined today, he said this amendment could be an improvement – he felt the method of appointment was important – but he still has other questions.
What kind of conflict of interest provisions would apply to commissioners? Where would you find knowledgeable people on construction, design and development who do not already do business with the city or who do not frequently interact with its construction department?
Unlike the present, Northernberg hoped for provisions prohibiting commissioners from interacting with DBI employees other than the director – something critics lament is a fairly common occurrence among commissioners active in the construction industry.
“This thing of having commissioners calling individual building inspectors is outrageous,” he said. “There must be considerable barriers between the commissioners and the day-to-day workers of the ministry. It must stop.
Internal DBI critics saw the charter amendment as a positive step – “can we start sooner?” One said half-jokingly. But they were still wary of his unanswered questions.
“There is no minimum age requirement; minimum education; and minimal knowledge of buildings, construction, building safety, accessibility, building and housing codes, administration, information technology, etc. One of them said. “How will these people be able to make informed decisions on permit calls, code requirements or citizen complaints?” ”