A Trip Up and Down Memory Lane…AKA The Pine Wood Stairs.

“Pine Wood Stairs” looked a lot better in concept than in reality…

Back in May, FFFF documented the lamentable construction disaster of the Pinewood Stairs, a $1.6 million boondoggle created by City staff, whose construction defects were so bad and so plentiful that a reasonable person might even inquire about how we could get our money back. In fact, City Councilman Sebourn mumbled something about getting our money back, then said he was just kidding. Bruce Whitaker said nothing at all. On Facebook City Hall bureaucracy advocate Gretchen Cox cooked up a story about some alleged City “report” that exonerated all concerned.

Nine months have passed and I thought it might be interesting to revisit the site of the fiasco and share a visual tour to take another look.

Here’s a typical example of a project with nobody in charge and nobody who knows what they’re doing.

The caisson footings with the wood posts are almost all cracked; some of the posts aren’t even vertical. Some of the caissons are out of plumb, too.

Aspects of the construction reveal building that was cobbled together to make the contraption fit together.


Now, as then, the wooden rails are extremely rough and splintiferous.

Rough cut

The lack of quality workmanship, structural and cosmetic remains in evidence. And those fraying cable ends? Why, they’ve been taped! Of course the tape is falling off.

Simple things – like removing the cardboard tube form from the caissons seem to have eluded the City’s crack inspection team. Crack. Get it?

Basic design oversight problems were jerryrigged and never addressed properly at all.

Weird features that are nothing but potential for risk management headaches and taxpayer payouts are still much in evidence – like this trip hazard. Shrug, indeed.

Loose cables. Down the hill goes the toddler.

As usual, maintenance of  public property remains a challenge for the City. Loose ends are not their specialty.

How hard is it to keep a tree alive? Don’t bother asking. You won’t get an answer.

The effects of the inevitable pedestrian shortcuts betray both design and maintenance failure. It looked better on paper.

We have been assured by people who don’t know what they are talking about that everything was just grand about this grand failure; but, the evidence did and still does point to the exact opposite: a project that suffered from fundamental design shortcomings, incompetent and careless construction, a construction manager whose only function seems to have been to cash our check, and inspectors who were (and probably still are) a disgrace to their profession.

As you can see driving up Harbor, the City is now building its splendid new entry to the park – including a bridge – costing millions and accomplishing nothing but wasting park construction resources. Apart from the obvious uselessness of the project I have to wonder if it will suffer from the same dereliction that informs the so-called “Pinewood Stairs.” Nothing leads me to hope for the contrary.

27 Replies to “A Trip Up and Down Memory Lane…AKA The Pine Wood Stairs.”

  1. It’s very clear to me that the City was not informed by the architect or the engineer of all the structural flaws. They were summarily ignored by Griffin Structures, too. The only reason I can think of is that they knew the City Engineer didn’t give a damn about such trivialities.

    Then there’s the problem of the lack of quality that suggests a disastrous punch list process – if any existed at all. Again, how this could have happened on a project that is nothing but wood framing, some handrails, cable and electrical conduit is unfathomable.

    If our politicians had any consideration for us they would have gone after the errors and omissions insurance of both the architect/engineer and the construction manager. The contractor of course, should not have got a dime after it was obvious that the footings were drilled in the wrong places.

    My suspicion is that the City Engineer is about to retire.

    1. The Engineering Department wasted million pumping MWD water into Laguna Lake even as it was leaking away. It is a Culture of Incompetence that Don Hoppe inherited and nurtured. And don;t forget the Parks Department – run by Hugo Curiel – carrying on the fine tradition of Susan Hunt and Joe Felz – building unnecessary faciliteas then refusing to maintain them.

      But in the end the responsibility is our drunk-driving former City Manager, Wild Ride Joe Felz and the City Council that has consistently and stubornly turned a blind eye to the string of disasters and all the negligence.

    2. *Intelligent Engineering anywhere to be found? Heck, let’s torture test this sucker. Try putting 150 people on it and see if it survives that. Then have three inches of rain……and see if it survives that. Then check the geological report tht was filed to be sure it has sustainable underpinnings…eh? Then go back and check for the cracks, voids and spaces without support. Heck some kid will probably fall off the last step and collect the whole bundle from the city… But, before that happens let’s get the City Manager on the job….and ask for a minority report of the City Council for good measure.

  2. Who the hell did they hire to do the job?
    Trainees or Home Depot day workers?. The bolts are sticking out instead of being recessed. The wood is of extreme low quality. It will have to be replaced at most a year and a half.
    Years ago I went to San Felipe in Baja I noticed the similarities in workmanship in these worthless stairs.
    Why haven’t the elected nimrods and code enforcement etc. step up to the plate on behalf of the taxpayers to have real inspectors. Fullerton does not need paper inspectors or contracted paper inspectors?

  3. The elevators fiasco at the depot is now almost a year old and they haven’t got out of the ground yet. I watch inactivity day after day. More excuses, more dodging of accountability, more do-nothing from our city clowncil thatis completely worthless.

    It’s Fullerton, Jake.

  4. Comparing these photographs from those taken a year ago and its clear these defects are getting worse, and will continue to get worse until the stairs are no longer safe to walk on. Lets not have a retread of the Laguna Lake fiasco, where nobody tried to fix the problem until the statute of limitations has run against the contractor. Get a lawsuit filed promptly.

    1. Exactly right. Most engineers and architects don’t even worry about repercussions to bad design. Go after their E & O insurance.

      It’s too late to attach the contractor’s performance bond or retention, probably, but that workmanship should become a byword for incompetence.

  5. ‘ . . . Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair . . .’ “Ozymandias” . Hey, civic pillars of Fullerton, Fullerton’s city council, your million dollar bridge to nowhere is crumbling down, and our tax dollars pay for your frivolous decisions.

  6. These pictures will be great evidence when the first injury lawsuits get filed.

    BTW, Hoppe had little to do with the stair construction. Kevin Kwak from the City (another engineer) and Griffin Structures are the responsible parties.

    1. Bozo, isn’t Hoppe paid to be in charge or something?

      Can you tell us anything about Griffin Structures – other than they were/are buddies with felz and contributors to Ms. Fitzgerald?

      1. Griffin Structures is to blame for not doing their job.

        They have tentacles all over other city projects, such as the train station elevators, and the relocation of Fire Station 5 if that ever happens at all. Griffin was pimping a $6 million fire station design, similar to one in Orange.

  7. Here’s an interesting thought.

    Suppose that you lived on a hill side and pulled a permit to build similar stairs. Assuming similar workmanship, what would the city inspector say when he showed up at your house to sign off the job? Would he just say “Hey, it’s your house. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for the city”? Or would he say “I can’t sign off this mess. Fix it and call me back when it’s done right”?

    Somehow I can’t help but think that you and I could never get away with schlock construction like this if the city was inspecting anything but their own property.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *