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Top San Francisco building inspectors oversaw family projects, report says

Construction workers work on a building project in San Francisco.
The Department of Building Inspection confirmed Monday that it had launched an investigation into issues raised by a local news site. | Source: SF Chronicle/Getty Images

San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection confirmed Monday that it had launched an investigation following a media report that several of its inspectors had signed off on work done by their family members in the construction industry.

Three inspectors—Kevin T. Birmingham, Mark Walls and Sean Birmingham—oversaw jobs performed by members of their extended family on 20 occasions, the news site Mission Local reported Monday.

Both Kevin T. Birmingham and Walls are high-ranking chief building inspectors, while Sean Birmingham is a building inspector. Kevin T. Birmingham is serving in an acting capacity.

While the Department of Building Inspection would not confirm the targets or scope of its investigation, its spokesperson Patrick Hannan told The Standard that the probe “is looking into the issues raised during a media inquiry.”

Hannan confirmed that Kevin T. Birmingham, Walls and Sean Birmingham are all related. He said that none of the men had been placed on leave. The trio also has a fourth family member in the department who works as an electrical inspector.

Reached by phone, Walls referred The Standard to Hannan and declined to comment. Attempts to reach Kevin T. Birmingham and Sean Birmingham were not successful.

The news comes after The Standard’s reporting on alleged conflict-of-interest violations by another building inspector, Van Zeng, led to his firing by the Department of Building Inspection and spurred the District Attorney’s Office to file charges against him.

The Standard found that Zeng inspected work on his own home and on two projects done by his father’s company, Mutual Seiko Construction, shortly after Zeng became a building inspector. Zeng had worked for his father’s company until getting his job with the city.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins filed misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charges against Zeng last week over those inspections, saying, “San Franciscans should expect our public employees to act with integrity and not engage in self-serving behavior.”

Zeng also signed off on inspections at properties owned by his mother, although he has not been charged over them.

San Francisco’s financial conflict-of-interest law prohibits employees from making official decisions in which they have financial interests. That may include decisions that benefit someone who paid them $500 or more in the prior year. The law also prohibits officials from making decisions that financially benefit their spouse or dependent children but not other family members.

Department of Building Inspection rules direct inspectors to avoid conflicts. They say, “In no case will I use my title or position to advance personal or political interests, or secure advantage or favor for myself, my family or my friends.”

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com