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Controversial developer wants to build high-rise on San Francisco’s waterfront

A modern gray building next to an older brick one on a wet street, with a person holding a red umbrella walking by.
A developer has proposed razing an office building at 1088 Sansome St. in San Francisco's Northern Waterfront and building a 17-story high-rise on the site. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

A former San Francisco official who was responsible for overseeing the Department of Building Inspection during a series of corruption scandals now has a major housing development in the works.

According to preliminary documents submitted to the city’s Planning Department last week, Angus McCarthy—an influential local developer and decadelong president of the Building Inspection Commission—is seeking to demolish a three-story, 116-year-old office building located at 1088 Sansome St. in the Northern Waterfront neighborhood.

In its place, McCarthy plans to erect a 17-story building, which would include 112 new homes and 15,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor. Michael Moritz, who is chairman of The Standard, is an investor in the project.

While he never faced charges of criminal conduct, McCarthy was subject to scrutiny after a 2021 Mission Local investigation highlighted some of his properties for permitting irregularities. Of note, disgraced former inspector Bernie Curran, who is now serving a prison sentence for accepting illegal bribes, signed off on permits and inspections for those properties. McCarthy left the commission in February 2022.

When reached for comment, McCarthy emphasized his plans for 1088 Sansome St. are in the early stages, and he is seeking a "relatively informal conversation" with the Planning Department as to how he would go about developing in a historical district.

"For local property owners, it is important to have flexible zoning so we can reinvent and reposition our buildings to keep afloat," McCarthy said. He referenced policy barriers such as a proposed ordinance introduced last year by Supervisor Aaron Peskin to modify density limits in the Northern Waterfront as a barrier to those goals.

According to public records, a McCarthy-affiliated company purchased the property at 1088 Sansome for $14.4 million in 2014. Afterward, his limited liability companies took out two subsequent loans on the property—one for $25.3 million with First Republic Bank in 2018 and another for $32.2 million with a Deutsche Bank affiliate in 2020. 

Built in 1906, the property once housed the Bemis Bag Company, which manufactured food sacks and other packaging materials.

A plaque contains historical info about the 1906 Bemis Bag Building in San Francisco.
A placard details the historic significance of 1088 Sansome St. The building once housed the Bemis Bag Company, which manufactured food sacks and other packaging materials. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

It was not immediately clear what the loans were used for, although online listings show that the building was renovated in 2016. Indie Wine & Beer Bar, which opened in 2021, currently operates on the ground floor of the building, where patrons have access to both indoor and outdoor seating. It is not immediately clear how McCarthy’s latest proposal will affect the business.

The preliminary application says the project will rely on the state density bonus program, which, if approved by city planners, would allow McCarthy to garner cost concessions and fit more homes than normally allowed under local zoning requirements. 

The potential redevelopment at 1088 Sansome is the second high-rise proposal to hit the Northern Waterfront neighborhood in roughly four months. In September, Aralon Properties pitched plans for a 16-story, 102-unit development at 955 Sansome St. 

Before the pandemic, McCarthy made headlines in the real estate industry when he paid $67.3 million for the historic Lion Building in 2018. The 150,000-square-foot industrial building in the Mission was subsequently refurbished and turned into a “creative office space,” according to online listings.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional information about the project's investors.

Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at knguyen@sfstandard.com