Readers of this blog know good and well the many failures of the Pine Forest Stairs at Hillcrest Park, not to mention the $724,000 bridge to nowhere that will soon become reality.
What you probably don’t know about are the shenanigans used by City Hall to influence the City Council vote.
Funding for the bridge, fountain, and “Great Lawn” improvements was approved on a 3-2 vote (Whitaker and Sebourn: No) at the May 16 City Council meeting. A couple weeks earlier, I made a records request for documentation on Hillcrest Park.
Jennifer Fitzgerald’s appointee to the Parks and Recreation Commission, Gretchen Cox, made public comments in support of the project. Having skimmed through the e-mails provided by City Hall the day before, I thought to myself, wait a minute, portions of her comments sounded awfully familiar.
As it turns out, my suspicions were correct. A week prior, Parks & Recreation Director Hugo Curiel had one of his employees, Doug Pickard, e-mail Gretchen Cox a list of “talking points” to assist her in making attacks on Councilmembers Sebourn and Silva:
Portions of the e-mail were in fact used by Gretchen Cox during public comments. Let’s go back and compare the e-mail to what she actually said. This ought to be fun! (more…)
During our series on the ill-fated, $1.6 million dollar “exercise stairs” in Hillcrest Park, some of our Friends correctly noted the problem of the wood support posts that had been poured into the concrete caissons that hold the whole structure up. Obviously, something went wrong. Notice how none of the posts are centered on the caissons, and some are barely two inches from the outside of the concrete, leading me to wonder how they managed to fit a rebar reinforcement inside the caisson.
From the project drawings, here is how the caisson and post are supposed to be aligned. The post centers on the caisson with 4 rebars equally spaced around it. Please notice the 3″ minimum clearance from the rebar to the outside of the concrete.
Clearly the footings and posts were built incorrectly. Obviously the caissons holes were drilled in the wrong places – and the construction manager must have agreed to let this pass. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what happens. If the footings crack them may have to be replaced – and they weren’t built to be replaced.
This whole mess made me wonder about why the posts were sunk into the concrete in the first place – a very odd situation given that the expansion and contraction of the posts, when wet, could lead to potential concrete cracking and spalling, especially when the post is near the outer rim of the caisson.
It turns out I wasn’t alone. Here is a string of e-mails from the contractor, construction manager, and the architect discussing the redesign of the caissons and posts to a hardware connection – a solution that would make the replacement of the posts significantly easier. The contractor was willing to do this and add the necessary cross bracing at no cost to the City.
I wonder what will happen when the concrete caissons crack, or when the posts rot out. The architect seems to think the posts will outlast the rest of the rickety framing. I wonder which will go first.
A while back some anonymous Friend dropped off what appears to be leaked financial statements from Rusty Kennedy’s non-profit, the Orange County Human Relations Council. The files didn’t receive much attention from FFFF at the time, but this week one of our readers recently pointed out Rusty has been down at the county begging for a new $250,000 infusion to fund additional employees for his private non-profit.
OK, let’s take a look at his financial statements. If you believe that this leaked budget is authentic (I do), an additional $250,000 per year from the county taxpayers would conveniently cover the Council’s projected loss for 2016.
Now that’s not very good, is it? Running a non-profit at a 20% annual loss is cause for concern. But of course this is a private 501(c)(3), so that’s normally a problem for Rusty’s private board members to worry about.
Or is it? What if Rusty is groveling for cash at the county just pay for existing expenses, rather than hiring the three new people as promised? The group already receives substantial funding from the county and local cities. Why should the county give more money to a group that can’t balance its budget? Furthermore, it’s hard to tell if there’s any real value in Rusty’s services, or if his organization offers any sort of efficiency. Program expenses aren’t identified in this budget at all. Why not?
Here’s one clue hidden within the documents: Salaries, Benefits, and Payroll Taxes account for 98.1% of their budgeted revenue. With salaries eating up the entire budget, one might wonder if this whole operation isn’t just some make-work project for Rusty and his friends.
There’s one more concern. Rusty has collected a lot of donations over the years by pretending that his non-profit is actually an empowered county agency. Many of his donors are misinformed, which is why the county recently insisted he stop using the county logo and misappropriating the name of the similarly-named Orange County Human Relations Commission. Furthermore, there is at least one board member who hold seats in both organizations – a glaring conflict of interest that the county has yet to resolve.
Altogether, these documents paint a pretty dim picture for Rusty’s personally lucrative public/private amalgamation. Will county supervisors continue to dump money into Kennedy’s opaque and unaccountable mess of an organization? And how much are individual OC cities paying into Rusty’s perpetual self-employment apparatus? Do Orange County residents receive any real value from this public/private partnership, or is it time to scrape this useless barnacle off the county barge?
Friends, here is another in a series of posts about Fullerton’s ill-fated “Elevators to Nowhere” series by “Fullerton Engineer”
In following the trajectory of the new elevator project at the Fullerton train station I have described a project that the public neither wanted nor needed, that had its genesis in the simple availability of “free money” way back in 2011 – six long years ago.
Although the design contract was let in 2013,the project was not bid until 2015when the low bid came in 22% higher than anticipated. The construction contract was awarded anyway. With numerous ancillary “management” contracts, the project budget had grown to $4,000,000. By 2017 that figure had ballooned to an astonishing $4,600,000.
And yet construction didn’t start until February, 2016 and when it did it was only for some minor ADA toilet room modifications adjacent to the AMTRAK ticket office.
You can see in the project billing submitted by Woodcliff Corporation, the contractor, a few items related to bonds, mobilization and the bathroom work in February 2016 – a year after the contract bid. Nothing was billed against the elevator items at all, except for crediting the structural steel shop drawings for $55,000. Over 14 months later the structural steel has not been erected.In fact, the foundations for the steel structure haven’t even been built, as the site sits empty with minor demolition having taken place and some lighting conduit rerouted.
If any delay claims have been submitted by Woodcliff, those documents have not been shared, although delay claims are certainly coming, and escalation costs are already starting to accrue, although we don’t know how much because the costs were intentionally lumped together with other completely unrelated items in the March 2017 staff report.
As I noted in an earlier post the cause of all these delays is not known by the public because the Public Works staff doesn’t want the public to know that things have obviously gone wrong, very wrong; and, that the inexplicable and unexplained delays have finally cost the taxpayers of Fullerton directly. The money is no longer free.
Since at least 2013, Fullerton’s EV Freemegachurch has been paying for and hosting a lunch as a gift to City of Fullerton employees. Probably not coincidentally, 2013 is when EV Free congregant Jennifer Fizgerald began her first year on the Fullerton City Council. Last year the event included a tri-tip lunch and “prizes and a raffle to win gift cards to local Fullerton businesses.”These events must cost the church thousands of dollars.
It should be crystal clear why it’s wrong for an organization to buy lunch for city employees, one or all. This church frequently petitions the city on land use issues, and it even hires city police to manage its parking. If a business like Chevron or Red Oak Development or Renick Cadillac tried to glad hand City functionaries and employees like this, the public would be outraged. It is a clear conflict of interest for city employees to accept gifts like this.
For its part, the church ought to revisit Scripture as it relates to Pharisaical behavior. I don’t remember Jesus Christ or his disciples buying lunch for the Romans, but then Jesus didn’t have two denarii to rub together.
The action of the city government, led by City Manager Joe Felz, in accepting these gifts, is appalling and not only exhibited a complete lack of judgment and awareness, but placed the City in the position of a gift-receiver from an entity that does substantial business in Fullerton. If an individual were the sole recipient of this largess questions of integrity would immediately follow. That Joe Felz entangled the people of Fullerton in this situation is deplorable.
And where has our City Council been on this? MIA, as in so many other things.
They say the wheels of justice turn slowly. They would be right. Today a pre-trail hearing for Joe “Burt” Felz’ DUI caper was on the docket over at North Court. Joe sent his attorney to handle the matter, who promptly asked the court to continue the case to a future date. That date is June 20.
There isn’t much else to talk about, so enjoy a little photo fun courtesy of the FFFF courtroom reporting team.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the latest installment in a series by our Friend, Fullerton Engineer, describing the sad story of the ruinously expensive elevator additions at the Fullerton train station.
In my previous installments I described a project that nobody outside City Hall wanted or needed, a project that would never have been contemplated without State transportation grant monies, and that had been “designed” under a 2012 contract that had ballooned to a jaw-dropping $460,000 – including a mysterious increase of 28%. The engineer – Hatch Mott McDonald completed their efforts in 2014, per their purchase order billing record. And there the project sat for a year.
Why? The answer is not immediately forthcoming and naturally the public wasn’t informed; but the cause of the delay can be reasonably inferred from the staff report accompanying the request to award the construction contract to Woodcliff Corporation in April, 2015. For the first time we read that the OCTA is going to authorize a shift of a million dollars from transportation parking funding – money, presumably, needed to actually build the project. And we may surmise that without the funding, money spent on the engineering/design work, money authorized over three years earlier, would have been wasted.
Please observe the complete lack of transparency in the staff report, and the omission of any history that would indicate that staff and the city council in 2011-12 had committed the City to this project without adequate funding.
And note that the staff report lazily repeats the casual assertion of increasing train ridership as the justification for the project, but offers no data to substantiate the need.
The report does indicate worrisome information. The low bid, by Woodcliff is an alarming 22% over the estimate. But remarkably, this fact does not faze city staff at all, who nevertheless recommend award; nor does it alarm our city council who approved this fiasco unanimously. Staff even admits that there are potential cost savings that could be realized if the project were rebid. But nobody cared.
What the public is also not told is that toward the end of the design completion in 2014, a firm called Griffin Structures was given $6000 to provide “constructibility” services, a function that questions the competency of both the designer and the contractor whose job it is to design and build these elevators.
One of the more startling examples of stupid waste at Fullerton City Hall has been the exorbitant expense of Behind the Badge: fifty large ones a year for former bad OC Register “journalists” to publish and disseminate pro-cop propaganda pabulum. It was all phony crap meant to obscure the real news about the FPD: a litany of bad behavior and criminal activity that over the past decade has spanned the breadth of the California Penal Code. Fortunately, thanks to the Friends this ridiculous waste is coming to an end. We wanted to make sure, too, so we requested the good bye letter.
And here is our temporary police chief Dave Hinig, hand-wringing over the loss of what can only be described as no loss at all for the taxpayer:
Is this some sort of sick joke? Value? To whom? Certainly not for the people who were paying out almost $250,000 over the past four years.
And what’s really laughable is all this lachrymose bullshit over a contract that was made in secret, was grossly mismanaged, and that had no actual requirements for performance – even if Joe Felz had had any inclination to oversee what he initiated.
Well, anyway, Behind the Badge is going away although why we have to pay another $8000 for two more months of this unadulterated literary manure is beyond me.