Port Commissioner Resigns Following Allegations of Illegal Real Estate Conversions

A San Francisco port commissioner and real estate developer resigned from his post today roughly a week after he was accused of illegal real estate conversions.

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office added new allegations on July 28 to a civil suit against Port Commissioner Mel Murphy. The complaint accuses him of violating city planning codes and failing to disclose his ownership of properties with illegal units and other violations.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee asked Murphy to resign from the Port Commission in April, after City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed the initial lawsuit.

The Port Commission, governed by a five-member board, oversees the seven and one-half miles of San Francisco waterfront adjacent to the San Francisco Bay, which the commission develops, markets, leases, administers, manages and maintains, according to the commission website.

Amy Quesada, manager of the Port Commission and Executive Services, said today that Murphy had resigned from his post and that his replacement would be up to the mayor to appoint. Appointments are subject to confirmation by the city’s Board of Supervisors.

The commission, now comprised of only four commissioners, has a quorum and its proceedings can continue uninterrupted in Murphy’s absence, Quesada said.

The City Attorney’s Office began its investigation into Murphy, a developer who 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 alleged.

Murphy’s attorney, Andrew Zacks, said in July that all violations have been remedied and all fines paid on the Crown Terrace project.

Zacks described the collapse as an unfortunate accident and said that as far as he knew, the city had no proof of any wrongdoing by Murphy.

Murphy was appointed in 2013 and his term on the commission was not set to expire until May 2016.

But on July 28, the City Attorney’s Office amended its complaint, adding allegations regarding a fourth property, located at 1025 Hampshire St., to which 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 into 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,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement last month. “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,” Zacks said in July.

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.

The complaint also alleges that Murphy started construction on a building at 3418 26th St., which was 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.

The four remaining port commissioners are President Leslie Katz, Vice President Willie Adams, Kimberly Brandon and Doreen Woo Ho.

Hannah Albarazi and Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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