Flouting laws he was charged with enforcing on the Building Inspection Commission, Murphy’s actions ‘were an egregious betrayal of the public trust,’ City Attorney says
SAN FRANCISCO (April 1, 2015)—City Attorney Dennis Herrera today filed suit against San Francisco Port Commissioner Mel Murphy after an investigation initially spurred by the suspicious collapse of a hillside house Murphy owns uncovered a far-reaching pattern of unlawful business practices and rampant violations of building, housing and safety codes.
The 26-page civil complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court this morning alleges that the longtime real estate developer and former Building Inspection Commission president knowingly flouted state and local laws at three development projects in San Francisco, and repeatedly failed to disclose his ownership of an illegally-developed four-unit Alabama Street property in the Mission District. As a building inspection commissioner between 2006 and 2012, and port commissioner since 2013, Murphy has been required to report income from such assets annually on his statements of economic interest. Murphy served as president of the Building Inspection Commission from late 2009 through early 2011.
“Mel Murphy flouted the very same laws he was charged with enforcing on the Building Inspection Commission, and he did so persistently for a number of years,” Herrera said. “Murphy’s actions make plain that his unlawful practices were willful and, more seriously, an egregious betrayal of the public trust. With my office’s lawsuit today, we are moving aggressively to penalize Commissioner Murphy’s wrongdoing, and send a clear message to private developers and public officials alike that there will be a steep price to pay for this kind of lawlessness in San Francisco.”
Herrera’s investigation initially focused on Murphy’s unpermitted work on a vacant Twin Peaks house at 125 Crown Terrace, which partially collapsed the midst of a major renovation and expansion on Dec. 16, 2013 — after Murphy had failed in his attempts to obtain a demolition permit. Once underway, the investigation led by veteran prosecutor and City Attorney Public Integrity Chief David Pfeifer identified numerous additional violations at two of Murphy’s other development projects in the city’s Mission District.
The City Attorney’s Office’s investigation remains ongoing, and further actions may be forthcoming.
Herrera’s civil complaint alleges that Murphy illegally converted a two-dwelling project at 1346 Alabama Street to four residential rental units prior to 2005. In doing so, Murphy flouted Planning Code provisions limiting the zoning district to one-family and two-family homes. He is alleged to have also performed extensive building, plumbing, and electrical work without the requisite inspections and approvals from the department he oversaw for years as a building inspection commissioner. The illegal conversion suggests a deliberate pattern of fraud, according to the complaint, given the extensive planning and permit documentation Murphy filed to maintain the fiction of a two-unit project, and his consistent failure to meet government ethics requirements by disclosing income from the Alabama Street property. Building inspection commissioners are required to report all official business before the Department of Building Inspection, or DBI, and to disclose their economic interests in statements filed annually with the San Francisco Ethics Commission. Murphy has done neither respecting his Alabama Street property.
Additional violations alleged in today’s civil complaint involve another of Murphy’s development projects at 3418 26th Street. The violations involving Murphy’s Bernal Heights project, which were largely reported by local news outlets, involve the residential developer’s illegal installation of parking equipment, and defiance of laws requiring adequate parking facilities for residents with disabilities. The project, similar to others detailed in Herrera’s complaint, involve allegations that Murphy performed work without requisite permits; failed to follow city-issued permits when he obtained permits; and shorted permit fees by tens of thousands of dollars.
Herrera’s civil suit seeks a court order requiring Murphy to submit to comprehensive inspections of all residential properties, and tough, enforceable injunctions to enhance civil penalties on Murphy from continuing to engage in unlawful and unfair practices. Under California law, Murphy could additionally be liable for civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each act of unlawful or unfair competition, and attorneys’ fees and costs for the City Attorney’s action.
Also named as defendants in the case are Murphy’s wife, Nuannoi Murphy, who shares ownership and involvement in Murphy’s businesses, trusts and limited liability corporations, together with the business entities themselves.
The case is: City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. Mel Murphy et al., San Francisco Superior Court number 15-545031, filed April 1, 2015. Additional information on the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is available at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/.
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