Mayor Ed Lee has appointed Angus McCarthy, who went from sleeping in Golden Gate Park soon after arriving in San Francisco in 1984 to building condominiums on lower Nob Hill, to the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission. McCarthy’s life story follows the course of millions of immigrants who came to this country to pursue the American Dream. Born in Ireland and coming of age during a period of mass unemployment, McCarthy’s mother bought him a plane ticket to San Francisco rather than Boston or New York City because she liked the scenic hills in the television series, The Streets of San Francisco. Arriving with $325 to his name, McCarthy scrounged for jobs and when his tourist visa expired became an undocumented immigrant. He never forgot the challenges of such status, and while serving as chair of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission fought to enact federal comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Today McCarthy will be sworn in as a Building Commissioner, the latest step in a life of public service to his adopted hometown.

There was a time not so long ago in the United States when immigrants were widely recognized as great assets to the country, rather than as liabilities that should be stigmatized and deported. Angus McCarthy is one such immigrant, and his contributions to the city will now include ensuring that tenants live in decent housing and that those in construction are dealt with fairly in the building permit process – two key functions of Building Inspection Commissioners.

An Immigrant’s Rise

After arriving in San Francisco, McCarthy first stayed on a cousin’s couch before spending two nights sleeping in Golden Gate Park. He then met someone in an Irish bar who offered him a couch, and he began sweeping and cleaning construction sites. There was not a lot of construction work in those days, and McCarthy lived week to week.

He eventually got a job as a furniture warehouse manager, and rose to become the company’s west coast sales director. McCarthy’s mother “could always sell,” and he would might still be in that field had the company not closed its west coast operation after business sharply declined following the 1989 earthquake.

McCarthy then got a job selling windows and doors to contractors. This required him to spend the day visiting construction sites, and was his first connection to the industry. He always wanted to run his own business, and got a chance to become co-owner of the Black Thorn bar in the Sunset.

While still selling windows and doors and running the bar, McCarthy studied to get his contractor’s license. He also noticed that many of the construction sites needed sewer lines, so he started a sewer line business.

Irish immigrants connected to the construction industry frequented the Black Thorn, and McCarthy regularly sought advice about breaking in to the business. He got to know members of the Residential Builders Association (RBA), and picked their brains on construction techniques and other strategies that would help him become a builder. McCarthy has become a leader in the RBA, providing the same mentorship to young people trying to enter the field that he received in the 1990’s.

McCarthy lived at 6th and Clementina in SOMA, and completed a six-unit condo project at 6th and Clara in 1998. He has been building housing ever since. He recently completed a project at Taylor and Bush Streets, and is currently building an 18-unit project in the Upper Market.

Remembering His Roots

McCarthy has never forgotten that he stayed in San Francisco beyond the expiration of his tourist visa, and for nearly five years was an undocumented immigrant who faced deportation if stopped by police. He has long fought to protect current undocumented immigrants from being denied the right to earn a livelihood in this country.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd recruited McCarthy to serve on San Francisco’s Immigrant Rights Commission. Angus applied the same energy he does to all of his projects, becoming the Commission’s chair and flying off to Washington, DC for lobbying visits in efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The Irish community has been extremely active in trying to protect undocumented immigrants, and McCarthy was central to these efforts.

Nor has McCarthy even forgotten what it means to be poor. He was a strong tenant advocate while serving for four years on the SOMA Project Area Committee, and has always supported vigorous code enforcement efforts to prevent tenants from living in substandard housing.

Other DBI Appointments

In addition to appointing McCarthy, Mayor Lee has strengthened the DBI Commission by appointing Reverend James McCray Jr., Executive Director of the Tabernacle Community Development Corp. The group’s mission is to reverse the out-migration of African Americans from San Francisco. McCray was Senior Minister of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church from 1983 to 2008.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu earlier made an outstanding new appointment to the DBI Commission in selecting Myrna Melgar. Melgar is a longtime tenant advocate who began working on code enforcement issues with the former St. Peters Housing Committee, and more recently headed the Mayor’s Office of Housing Lead Paint Abatement program. Melgar’s expertise will assist DBI’s code enforcement efforts, and along with her fellow new appointees and holdovers represents a Commission that will make all San Franciscans proud.