The Elevators to Nowhere – Managing The Managers

It may be expensive, but it sure is unnecessary…

Yet another in a series about the depot elevator additions by our friend, Fullerton Engineer.

There is an alarming trend in public works construction, namely the larding up of the project with costly overseers to oversee other overseers. The justification is always the same – hiring essential “expertise” to make sure the project gets done on time and under budget. Forget the irony that no one in charge really cares if a project is late, or how much it costs, although they would prefer that no one find out. But what they really care about care about is the photo-op ground breaking and the bronze plaque with their name on it.

The consequences of this trend are two. First, the cost of the project goes up. Way up. And secondly, the overdose of management is guaranteed, when something inevitably goes wrong, to diffuse accountability by the sheer numbers of people potentially responsible for the problem. 

Exhibit A for the prosecution: the completely unnecessary elevator addition project at the Fullerton train station, a project that has already skyrocketed toward $5,000,000. Yes, you read that right. $5,000,000.

When last I left off my narrative, the City had hired Woodcliff Corporation in April 2015 to build the new elevators; and it had paid Griffin Structures to make sure the thing was “constructible.”

In August of 2015 the City employed the services of Anil Verma, a civil engineer and construction manager for vague “construction support services” with a contract worth about $154,000. Since the contract was not provided per our PRA request, we are left to guess what Anil Verma’s scope of work is; we do know they presented two large invoices in 2016 for $55,000, even though nothing had been started except the small ADA remodel adjacent to the AMTRAK office. Regular billing began this spring and the total paid out so far as of April 2017 has been $66,000.

Anil Verma PO P002068

As if the professional services of Anil Verma were not enough to oversee this small project, the City hired yet another construction management company in March 2017 – Griffin Structures, for another $154,500. Since the contract was not provided per our PRA request, we are left to guess what Griffin Structure’s scope of work is, but we know that they are not replacing Anil Verma because, as noted above, the latter seems to have begun regular, monthly billings.

Griffin Structures PO P902854

Now we come to the money that must be spent on our own city staff who makes sure the overseers are properly paid and ministered to. This money popped up in a budget transfer in March, money that is now coming directly out of Fullerton’s own Capital Budget. The total identified in the staff report is a lump-sum $600,000 for various items since the City Engineer, Don Hoppe, was not kind enough to share the specific amount for what is casually referred to as “additional assistant in construction administration.”

And finally, let us not forget the amounts that will surely be billed by, and require further contract augmentation for, Hatch Mott McDonald, the original designer of these two elevator structures, for on-site walkabouts.

Speaking of inspection, back in June 2015, the City hired the “as-needed” good offices of Smith-Emery, a construction testing/inspection lab. The contract is for just under $50,000, which is an awful lot of money for materials testing on a couple of elevator towers; so we’ll just have to trust our City public works department that the money will be well-spent. Our city council certainly trusts them.

Smith Emery PO #P001989

— Fullerton Engineer

8 Replies to “The Elevators to Nowhere – Managing The Managers”

  1. So the contractor was hired 2 years ago and nothing is built bit a toilet remodel. There is a two-year gap between design and contract bid. Another two yar gap between award and now. What the hell is going on?

  2. Mr. Alcazar,

    What has been going on? I really don’t know for sure because the City most definitely did not turn over all the responsive documents about this project. I am left to surmise and will consider my working hypothesis valid until somebody in City hall produces documents that can refute it.

    I believe the original design contract was executed based on State grants, but that the project was underfunded until OCTA helped out in 2015 when the City finally bid the project.

    In my next installment I’ll describe the half-start of the contract work – and more delays. Again, the delays have not been discussed in public by any of our elected representatives – which is pretty shameful given the amount of money involved but shame seems to be a rare commodity in City Hall.

    The March 2017 staff report mentioned above has some interesting language. The funding source for this project is now OCTA and no mention of the original State funding sources are even mentioned. This is telling as it suggests the State money was diverted elsewhere when the project budget fell short back in 2012-2015. Of course I don’t know if this is really what happened because, again, the City didn’t turn over responsive documents. It would be really nice (and very unexpected) if Mr. Sebourn or Mr. Whitaker actually came clean on this themselves.

    In any case what is indisputable is that the project has been delayed by at least FOUR YEARS, and as we speak appears to be delayed during construction – delays that will no doubt be thrown right back onto the taxpayers of Fullerton.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with the part about over-managing projects and thus watering down responsibility. This is exactly the the formula at the County of Orange where the Public Works “project managers” can’t relieve themselves without an outside consultant having a hand in it, so that when the urinal is missed, the two came blame each other, and each end up getting paid anyway. The taxpayer foots the bill to mop up the floor.

    1. Apparently the City didn’t feel like sharing. C’mon Hoppe, sharing is caring.

  4. Presumably the responsive documents for PRA requests come through the City Clerk; the non-responsiveness of Ms. Williams is not surprising – she was very responsive to PRA requests when she was working for Brea. A gentleman named Glenn Vodhanel can attest to that, I think.

    1. The City Clerk can only pass on what she is given by the pertinent department. Felz is gone, but there is still a cancer rampant in City Hall, symbolized by Atty Dick Jones, of course.

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