One of the leading candidates for San Francisco mayor has collaborated over the past decade on a series of construction projects with a cadre of people who are now embroiled in the city's corruption scandal.
On one project, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí partnered with a who's who of the scandal, including developer Sia Tahbazof and engineer Rodrigo Santos, who were both accused of arranging illegal payments for a disgraced building inspector. On two others, Safaí invested in properties with companies managed by Bahman Ghassemzadeh, Tahbazof’s nephew and an engineer who allegedly bribed the same inspector. Most recently, Safaí remodeled his home with help from Tahbazof's design firm, Sia Consulting.
Safaí, who ran a public affairs firm specializing in urban planning and labor before he was elected as supervisor in 2016, has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing. But he is now facing tough questions about his associations with people who have come under federal charges as he campaigns to unseat Mayor London Breed next November.
“City Hall has become fertile ground for corruption,” Max Szabo, a campaign consultant for another mayoral hopeful, Daniel Lurie, said in a statement Tuesday targeting both Breed and Safaí. “This administration has failed to reform a bureaucracy that’s enabling those who bribe, cheat, and corrupt our public servants.”
Many of Safaí’s questionable connections center on Tahbazof, 72, an engineer, philanthropist and the patriarch of a powerful real estate family who once described Safaí as a family friend.
Tahbazof or his associates worked on five properties that Safaí owned in San Francisco since 2014, according to a review of property filings and building inspection records by The Standard. Safaí also received political contributions from Tahbazof and members of his family over the years and passed legislation while in office to support a Tahbazof project.
Tahbazof, who founded the design firm Sia Consulting and the development company SST Investments, was charged Thursday alongside his business partner, Reza Khoshnevisan, the CEO of Sia Consulting, and his nephew who also worked at the design firm, Ghassemzadeh, for allegedly bribing employees at the Department of Building Inspection.
Among the allegations against them is that Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh each paid a building inspector, Bernie Curran, $1,500 to conduct inspections.
Curran conducted the final inspection for the project Safaí worked on with Santos, Tahbazof, Ghassemzadeh and Khoshnevisan, building inspection records show. The project called for the construction of a single-family house on a vacant hillside in Bernal Heights owned by Safaí and his father-in-law.
Prosecutors have not named the specific inspections that Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh allegedly paid Curran to conduct. There are no indications in court filings that the inspection on Safaí’s project was among them.
Safaí declined to speak with The Standard about the charges against Tahbazof and his associates. Instead, his campaign consultant provided a statement saying that the alleged corruption within the Department of Building Inspection was a symptom of a broken system run by Breed.
“When you work in this city for 25 years, you’re going to know a lot of different people,” Safaí also said in the statement.
In an interview with The Standard months before the charges were announced, Safai said he had known Khoshnevisan of Sia Consulting and the Tahbazof family for a long time through the larger Persian community.
Safaí said he and his father-in-law hired Khoshnevisan and Sia Consulting as the architect for the project and Santos as the structural engineer.
Safaí said he was shocked when Santos was charged in 2021.
“It was just disappointing,” he said in the March interview. Safaí said he was unaware that Curran inspected the project.
Santos ultimately pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison this August. Curran also pleaded guilty to charges in federal and state court related to payments he accepted from people whose properties he inspected. He is currently in federal prison and not due to be released until next September.
The house Safaí built on Joy Street in Bernal Heights was one of five of his properties that Sia Consulting worked on over the years.
Safaí bought the property on the hillside in Bernal Heights with his father-in-law in 2014, property records show. Tahbazof was listed as the engineer or architect for the project on the initial building permit, while his nephew, Ghassemzadeh, and Santos, submitted building plans for it.
The house was finished by late 2017, when Curran signed off on it, and was sold shortly after for nearly $2.2 million, according to Zillow.
In and around 2014, Safaí was also one of the investors in two pairs of adjacent properties, on Valley Street in Noe Valley and Peralta Avenue in Peralta Heights, that were co-owned by an LLC managed by Ghassemzadeh.
Sia Consulting worked on improvements at each of the properties during the times that Safaí held an ownership stake in them, including on permits to build a pair of homes on the Peralta Avenue site.
Safaí disposed of his shares in the properties between 2014 and 2017.
Safaí also briefly owned a property on Peru Avenue in the Excelsior, where he planned to build two homes for his family. In 2017, he told the San Francisco Examiner that his father-in-law hired SIA Consulting to design the properties. However, Safaí abandoned the plans after facing backlash from neighbors.
He transferred his ownership to an LLC managed by his father-in-law that same year, property records show.
Then in 2019, Safaí and his wife bought a house on Winding Way in the Crocker-Amazon neighborhood. Sia Consulting has since helped with remodeling permits at the property, building inspection records show.
Both Safaí and Tahbazof have benefited from their relationship.
Safaí has received thousands of dollars in political contributions from Tahbazof and his family members over the years, including $2,000 from Tahbazof, his wife and his adult children in 2015 and $1,250 from Ghassemzadeh since he first ran for supervisor in 2008, according to campaign finance filings reviewed by The Standard.
Khoshnevisan donated $500 to Safaí on two occasions as well, once in 2015 and again this June to his mayoral campaign.
Beginning before he was elected as supervisor, Safaí also helped push forward a major affordable housing project developed by Tahbazof in the Excelsior neighborhood that Safaí would later come to represent.
Safaí was billed in a press release issued by then-Mayor Ed Lee in 2016 as the community activist who helped bring the development idea to the city. The project at 915 Cayuga Ave., later dubbed 1830 Alemany, was praised for the unusually high number of affordable units it was slated to include on-site.
Then in May 2019, Safaí introduced two pieces of legislation to advance the project that were passed by the Board of Supervisors, including an ordinance authorizing a development agreement between the city and SYTS Investments, a company owned by Tahbazof, his wife and his children.
The agreement called for the construction of a five-story, 116-unit residential development with 58 below-market-rate units on-site.
Safaí has since recused himself from voting on at least one project designed by Sia Consulting, saying in March 2022 that he worked with both the engineers and real estate agents involved in the matter.
In May 2022, Safaí joined Tahbazof, his wife and his children and other politicians to celebrate the opening of the affordable housing project at a rooftop event, where he was celebrated as a “staunch advocate” for the development since its inception.
“No private developer in the history of this city has done 50% affordable units,” Safaí told Tahbazof and his family at the event, according to a recording of his speech posted online. “You will go down in the history of San Francisco for doing something special.”
Michael Barba can be reached at email@example.com