New building chief lays out ambitious reform plan

With less than two months on the job, the new head of The City’s Department of Building Inspection laid out plans to reform the beleaguered agency Monday, and received a promise from Mayor Gavin Newsom that he will have the resources to do it.

“It’s a new day at DBI,” Isam Hasenin told the Building Inspection Commission Monday morning.

A vice chairman of the California Building Standards Commission, Hasenin came to San Francisco in mid-March from The San Diego, where he was the chief building official.

The Department of Building Inspection, which issues permits for construction projects in The City, has struggled under reports that the department is rife with favoritism and inefficiency. It has been a hotbed for accusations of impropriety, and in the last five years, two employees have been arrested for charges related to corruption.

In 2001, an audit by Controller’s Office cited a culture of preferential treatment and called for reforms to overhaul the agency. In 2003, a grand jury report also slammed the department’s favoritism, calling it “deeply ingrained.”

In his presentation Monday, Hasenin said he spent the first 50 days “aggressively examining the nuts and bolts” of the department and found widespread deficiencies and weaknesses that included poor management and customer service, an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, lack of decision making and insufficient spending, among other problems.

As a result, customers were subjected to an inconsistent fee structure and a complex bureaucratic process that sometimes included conflicting requirements from different divisions.

Hasenin also outlined a list of specific “action steps” — more than 50 in all — including internal audit systems, revamping policies and procedures, more staff training, creating a single permit application form and bolstering a one-stop permit center.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who campaigned on a platform that included cleaning up the DBI, made an appearance at Monday’s commission meeting to express support for Hasenin’s reforms and promised that “the resources are going to be there for the effort that you need to make to get DBI back to where we all know it should be.

The mayor also said one of the problems plaguing the department was a culture where decisions were micromanaged — sometimes by special interests or for special privileges — which prevented permits from moving forward efficiently and equitably.

beslinger@examiner.com

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