Alleged arsonist, vandal pleads not guilty to DUI charge

A man accused of setting fire to a historic San Francisco home of the fire chief pleaded not guilty Monday to driving drunk on a San Mateo County stretch of highway the night of the blaze, prosecutors said.

Lance Farber, 47, allegedly toppled furniture and smeared tomatoes on walls before igniting a mattress inside the Dennis T. Sullivan Memorial Fire Chief’s Home on Bush Street the night of Feb. 22, according to police.

Farber’s attorney, Randy Knox, said his client had been embroiled in a lover’s quarrel with domestic partner and housemate John Rahaim, 52, the newly appointed San Francisco planning manager, on the night the landmark 86-year-old residence was damaged.

After he allegedly set the fire, Farber drove southbound on U.S. Highway 101 and was pulled over and arrested in San Mateo County for driving under the influence, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. Farber’s blood alcohol level tested at .13 percent, prosecutors said.

Farber was taken to San Francisco jail, where he remains on $1 million bail. Late last month, he pleaded not guilty to felony arson and vandalism in a brief appearance at the San Francisco Hall of Justice. Knox represented him at Monday’s plea hearing at a South San Francisco courthouse, according to Wagstaffe. The drunken driving case is set for trial May 22, Wagstaffe said.

Farber, a chiropractor, and Rahaim had been living together in the historic fire chief’s building under an arrangement organized by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge. Rahaim began working for The City in January and previously worked as planning director for the city of Seattle.

The fire chief does not live at the residence. Talmadge said the Mayor’s Office has agreed to stop using the building for employee accommodation.

Historic antiques and “toppled” pieces of furniture in the building were undamaged, according to Talmadge, but she said new carpeting and an interior paint-job would be needed throughout the three-story building because of smoke and water damage. She said repairs are expected to cost $30,000.

maldax@examiner.com

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