New Allegations in Lawsuit Against Port Commissioner Allege Pattern of Violations

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office today added new allegations to a civil suit against a San Francisco Port Commission member accused of violating city planning codes and failing to disclose his ownership of properties with illegal units and other violations.

The amended complaint filed today adds allegations regarding a fourth property at 1025 Hampshire St., to which Port Commissioner Mel Murphy allegedly added an illegal third unit some time prior to 2005, after obtaining permits for only two units.

The allegations are similar to those made in the original complaint regarding a property at 1346 Alabama St., a four-story building Murphy allegedly converted to four units after only obtaining permits for two units.

In both cases, the City Attorney’s Office alleges that Murphy failed to disclose his ownership of the properties, as is legally required for all city commission members, until June this year, two months after the first complaint was filed. Nor has he taken steps to legalize the unpermitted units, the complaint alleges.

“Murphy’s illegal conversion schemes demonstrate a pattern that is well devised, carefully executed and, above all, willful,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a statement today. “He flouts laws for ill-gotten profits; he deceives city agencies at every possible turn; and he goes the extra mile to conceal his wrongdoing even years later as a city official.”

Murphy’s wife, Nuannoi Murphy, who shares ownership of the properties, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The amended complaint was filed after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay on June 29 granted a motion to dismiss portions of the complaint brought by Murphy’s attorneys on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired for some of the allegations. The judge’s ruling allowed the city attorney’s office to amend the complaint with additional information spelling out how Murphy had concealed evidence and failed to report the violations, negating the statute of limitations, according to the city attorney’s office.

“The things the city has been complaining about happened primarily about 20 years ago, long before Mr. Murphy was involved in public life,” attorney Andrew Zacks said today.

Zacks argued that the city was pressuring Murphy to get rid of the illegal units at a “time of remarkable housing shortage” while other city officials are working to legalize additional units to create more housing.

“What the city attorney is doing is in pretty stark contrast to city policy,” Zacks said.

The City Attorney’s Office began its investigation into Murphy, a developer who previously served on the Building Inspection Commission from 2006 to 2012, after a property he owns at 125 Crown Terrace collapsed and slid down a hill in December of 2013. Murphy misstated the value and scope of the project and failed to take the necessary engineering precautions he had agreed to, the city attorney’s office alleges.

Zacks said all violations have been remedied and all fines paid on the Crown Terrace project.

“That was an unfortunate accident that happened up on the hill and as far as we know the city has no proof of any wrongdoing on Mr. Murphy’s part,” Zacks said.

The complaint also alleges that Murphy started construction on a building at 3418 26th St. purchased in 2004 before obtaining the necessary permits, underpaid fees based on a large misstatement of the value of the project and failed to provide accessible parking spaces.

When the city declined to issue a certificate of completion on the project because Murphy had installed parking stackers designed to allow more than the permitted number of cars in the garage, Murphy removed the parking stackers but later put two of them back, the complaint alleges. Space that is supposed to be designated for accessible parking is being used for additional regular parking, the complaint alleges.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee asked Murphy for his resignation from the Port Commission in April after the initial lawsuit was filed by Herrera. Murphy, whose term on the commission does not expire until May 2016, has not resigned and Zacks said he was not aware of any further communications from the mayor’s office on the matter.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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