Dennis Richards is in a dispute with the Department of Building Inspection over work done on a property he owns.

Dennis Richards is in a dispute with the Department of Building Inspection over work done on a property he owns.

Embattled planning commissioner to take leave of absence

After publicly criticizing the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection and allegedly violating tenant law, Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards will be taking a leave of absence from his duties on the commission, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Richards has not been present for the last two meetings of the commission, which is currently in the midst of vetting candidates for the vacant position of planning department director, a spokesperson for the department confirmed.

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee told the Examiner on Friday that Richards, who was appointed to the commission in 2014, notified him of his intent to take some time to tend to personal matters and address permitting issues at a Mission District property he co-owns.

The Examiner reported previously that Richards had nine permits revoked in October on a house at 3426-32 22nd St. he initially purchased with an LLC for $2.7 million and planned to sell for $7.5 million. Richards was reprimanded by DBI for allegedly performing work on the house that exceeded the permits he had obtained.

Richards is also accused of failing to report tenant buyouts at the property in accordance with local law.

Richards pushed back against the allegations, describing DBI as “a cancer on this city” at a recent Planning Commission hearing, and even indicating that he would sue the department. He also defended violating a 2014 tenant buyout law by describing his failure to report deals struck with four tenants of the property as an “oversight.”

Richards did not respond to the Examiner’s request for comment on Friday.

In his role as a commissioner, Richards is required to work closely with the DBI, and his statements have led Yee to question whether Richards’ continued tenure on the commission could lead to a conflict of interest.

Yee told the Examiner Friday that Richards informed him during a phone call earlier this week that he needed a temporary break from his duties.

“He asked whether it makes any sense for him to take a leave from the commission for a short period, so he can clear personal issues …and address some of the permit stuff,” said Yee, who added that Richards penned a letter with his request that he planned to submit to the Planning Commission.

On Friday, the commission’s secretary said that the letter had not yet been submitted.

Commission President Myrna Melgar said that she also has not yet received Richards’ written communication, but confirmed that she spoke with him on Wednesday evening and that Richards “told me verbally that he had this conversation with Supervisor Yee and that he would be taking a leave of absence from the commission.”

Melgar said that Richards had told her he would be out through February.

Both Yee and Melgar were confident that Richards’ absence would not impact the ongoing selection process for planning director.

“Right now there are six people on the commission,” said Yee. “If they are working together to get the best director, what they should do is have some consensus regarding the person they want. It shouldn’t be a three-three split. If it is, in my mind, whoever [the candidate] is shouldn’t be the one they decide on.”

Melgar declined to disclose details about the selection process but said that the remaining members of the commission “are still going at it.”

In regard to the open question of whether Richards should step down due to a possible conflict of interest, Yee said that Richards’ leave of absence “provides breathing room for me to think about that.”

“There are allegations, but you don’t want to base a decision just on allegations,” he said.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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