As part of the widening probe and criminal investigation into San Francisco’s former Director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, the City Attorney’s Office has just issued 14 subpoenas related to the (waylaid) Hayes Valley development at 555 Fulton Street.

Six (6) of the subpoenas were issued to companies linked to Zhang Li, the developer of 555 Fulton Street; five (5) were served to Walter Wong, a permit expediter and contractor, and Wong’s businesses with ties to the 555 Fulton Street project or City contracts in general (including W. Wong Construction; the Jaidin Consulting Group; and Alternate Choice, LLC); two (2) were served to firms that invested in the development of 555 Fulton Street; and one (1) was issued to BKF Engineers, which provided engineering services to the project.

The subpoenas seek a range of records, “including documents that could show things or services of value being provided to a City employee or official, or to a City employee or official’s family member,” including “money, material goods, travel, meals and accommodations,” along with communications related to the development of 555 Fulton Street and interactions with the City’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI).

UPDATE: The ongoing probe has uncovered additional allegations of misconduct within San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and since snared the Director of the DBI, Tom Hui, as well.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by L'UrbanistaSF

    Where Walter Wong goes there is usually a trail of corruption, lies, deals and intimidation. I can’t believe that guy is still in business.

  2. Posted by Brisket

    Is that project still waylaid? It looks complete.

    • Posted by maurice

      Will it ever open?? It’s been suspiciously frozen in incomplete-ness for what, 3– 4 years?

      • Posted by daved

        The developer has at least finished the exterior (after years with an open, then plastic wrapped, then open envelope). There is no truth to the rumor that the half-built ruin of 555 Fulton was up for historical preservation.

        • Posted by daved

          Also, the window along Laguna carries their slogan: “Hayes Valley isn’t just a state of mind; it’s a state of being.”

          “unfinished” is what I would add…

  3. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    If you make your permit process ridiculous, you get “permit expediters” and corrupt bureaucrats. That’s just one of the many reasons why the city and all California cities should have easy-to-understand objective standards for planning and zoning and over-the-counter permitting for almost all projects.

    • Posted by Karl

      Exactly!

    • Posted by Michael

      I agree that all California cities should have easy-to-understand and objective standards for planning and zoning but a lack of easy-to-understand and objective standards isn’t the reason “permit expediters” exist. Expediters exist because developers want to cut the line or skirt a standard they don’t like and departmental corruption enables the practice to exist.

      Expediters would cease to exist if every permit seeker was held to the same standard and timeline.

      • Posted by longtime listener

        Nah. As long as the DR craziness continues as is, these guys will still get hired to try and ensure that things dont go haywire in front of the planning commission.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        And at risk of being obvious, it’s in the interests of every person at DBI to make the process as confusing as possible. They all know that after staying at DBI long enough to get a pension, they can “retire”, become an expediter, and rake in cash.

        I would love to see the process shaken up, but the problem has been well known for decades and no mayor has done anything about fixing it.

        • Posted by Jake T

          Much like some of my friends who worked at Goldman, built some option pricing models for the firm, and now have retired trading against the flaws in their own work.

      • Posted by Chris

        Expediters are legal, so long as they are not engaging in bribery, etc. A lawful expediter does not allow you to “cut the line” or evade any legal requirement. But, of course, if you want engage in bribing city employees/elected officials and they are will to accept it, you are just participating in run-of-the-mill corruption, with all of its attendant risks and potential benefits.

        The city needs a sane and clear approval and permitting process. Until and if that happens, you will not only have people frustrated, and even for smaller projects choosing to ignore, the expensive and grueling approval process, but you will have a small number of individuals willing to risk prosecution and attempting to game the system through bribery and other illegal activity.

    • Posted by ST

      No one wants to give away his/her hard earned money to bribe another person, that is, unless he is at his wits end and has no other choices…

      CPC and DPW and DBI put people in that position that they HAVE to bribe….

  4. Posted by Jim

    The expediter is an absolutely necessary function: No one in any department has the authority or ability to get permits moving in some other department, no matter how clear the process is. When permits are needed from Planning, DBI, Fire, Police, Health, etc etc some one person has to be on top of them. Otherwise large complicated projects would never happen. In Los Angeles, the City pays the expediter (out of permit fees paid by the developer) which is intended to assure that everyone gets the same, honest, open service. Problem solved. And lets not forget there are responsible honest expediters in SF as well as those who might not be so.

  5. Posted by Oholone Californio

    Yeah, let’s not forget the ridiculous faction that is the residential design review board. Their sole purpose is a subjective rule OUTSIDE SF DBI CODE. Do folks understand how messed up that is? and you cannot speak to them one on one, either.

    SFDBI is a mess. A mess. A mess, and, um, a giant freaking mess. You have every tom, dick and susy weighing in with their overly democratic garbage complaints, that, even if totally decrepit, they do not have to pay to lodge, which, 99/100 times boil down to: “Don’t change my view” and “I don’t want noise on my block” and “Don’t change my street parking.” And then you have the residential design review board, who say things like, “Yes, your project is within code. But we think that the street may become a designated historic district at some point in time. So, even though your project is exactly like the one permitted across the street, we’re going to ask for two setbacks and two light wells.”

    It’s a MESS.

    • Posted by Tor

      Possible contributor to a potential historic district. And by the way the windows are too large.

  6. Posted by What A Town

    The city’s process is one of the most complicated around. Every project cycle, there is 2 to 3 new pit falls in the process that will stop a project. Developers need professionals to stay on top of this process. Expediters are a result of the process but corruption is not a result of the Expediters. Anyone know why the facade was replaced?

    The comments on this website illustrate how so many people are ignorant to the industry. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that so many people bother to follow it with no stake in it.

    • Posted by rugbyarchitect

      The façade was not “replaced”. The unitized window system, assembled into “units” in Mexico, were, despite in-factory quality assurance monitoring by FPC, delivered with defects. The majority of the defects were discovered through on-site and post-installation water-testing, and portions of the installed units were opened up and corrected and re-tested. Pre-installation QA/QC on-site also revealed some more obvious defects that were corrected prior to the units being installed.

  7. Posted by MDG399

    No surprises – This City is so corrupt.

    The whole DBI, Planning, and frankly the Mayor and every member of the BoS should all be fired, they’re all constantly trading building permits between district (“You support the project, I’ll support yours.. etc”) – total scam and waste of MY MONEY!

  8. Posted by SF Architect

    I am an architect who is currently working on a project that has been delayed by the SF Planning Department for FIVE YEARS (and we’re no closer to getting approved despite doing everything they have asked) because Arron Peskin’s buddy is building a project nearby and doesn’t want to compete. Arron Peskin just walks over to the Planning Dept., has a conversation with a few people, and the direction come to not approve the project.

    The SF Planning Department is absurdly and hopelessly corrupt, incompetent, arbitrary with their decision making, completely unattached to reality or positive results, and all around the very worst. I truly hope that this FBI probe exposes some of the corruption and sends a slew of Planners and expediters to jail. As a matter of fact I think I’ll reach out to the FBI about this particular project and have them add it to their list.

    • Posted by MDG399

      do it

    • Posted by SFRealist

      Please do. That’s the only way it will change.

    • Posted by Jake T

      I will join the chorus of people asking you to blow the whistle on this.

    • Posted by J

      Do it.

    • Posted by scurvy

      They’ll never catch him. Peskin is old school. I bet he never does dirt over email, phones, etc. Wagering it’s all in “public” places where a judge wouldn’t grant a tap for fear of eavesdropping in innocents.

      Dude’s back for a second tour because he learned the game the first go round, and saw how easy it was if you’re not a complete idiot in a sea of idiots.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        They’re never catch Peskin. He’s not stupid and he knows all the rules and how not to get caught.

        But maybe they can strike enough fear into the employees and/or throw some of them in jail and the culture can be changed.

  9. Posted by Michael AG

    Get out of contract while you can or get ready to throw all of your money away

  10. Posted by Oh my

    If not too late, check out the bidding and subsequent project management of the new DPW building on 11th and mission. Something fishy, particularly with regard to following noise ordinace rules and site maintenace during consteuction. The PM and CM got byes on all ordinances and laws.

  11. Posted by Pablito

    As a person who gets permits – I have seen some ridiculously corrupt things happen at DBI. But much more common and frustrating is just general employee incompetence and laziness with no recourse to management. Don’t get me wrong – there are some honest hard working competent employees – but that’s only 50% of the time?

    The permit and project approval system needs to totally be redone.

    • Posted by Ohlone Californio

      “The permit and project approval system needs to totally be redone.”

      It does.

      The mayor needs to step in and do away with the system.

      Start with the practice that Residential Design Review and Planning can ask permit sponsors for divergent designs.

      That would solve a lot of problems, right there. Just go in and unilaterally make that change.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        I can’t remember a mayor stepping in and doing anything about fixing DBI. Has it happened within the last 30 years? They’ll talk about it, but no one really wants to dig in and solve the problems.

        • Posted by Ohlone Californio

          I cannot either man. But until these sorts of changes are made SF will remain, perhaps unnaturally, the most expensive real estate in the country.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            No one is surprised anymore. Everyone knows how the system works, everyone agrees it’s wrong, no mayor steps in and does anything or even tries to do anything, and worst of all it’s all in plain sight.

  12. Posted by jimmythekid

    very interesting. Walter knows everything. If they close in on him, what kind of deal will he make? and who will go down? A lot of folks are worried.

  13. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: The ongoing probe has uncovered additional allegations of misconduct within San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and since snared the Director of the DBI, Tom Hui, as well.

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