Elevators to Nowhere – The Rising Cost Hits Fullerton Directly

Here’s the final (for now) installment of the series by our Friend “Fullerton Engineer” documenting the sad history of the project to add a couple of elevators to the existing tower/bridge structure at the DepotRemarkably, none of our elected representatives seems the least bit curious about the downward trajectory of this project, or the ultimate tap into our Facility Capital Repair Fund, a fund that was never intended to pay for new construction, particularly for projects never needed in the first place.  

The best way of avoiding embarrassing information is not to ask embarrassing questions. It’s not their money.

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

It took over five years, but the astonishingly high cost of an elevator addition project at the Fullerton train station finally hit Fullerton taxpayers directly in 2017.

The project that the public never asked for and doesn’t need was initiated based not on necessisity, but on the availability of money from Sacramento; and later, OCTA came to the funding rescue. But the delays piled up – year after year, and OCTA would no longer pay the bill. So in March, the City Engineer, Don Hoppe, came hat in hand and asked the Fullerton taxpayers for money. Lots of it. Here’s the staff report.

Notice how the various and diverse issues are all thrown together into a single sum – $600,000. We see added cost for the railroad flagging for some unexplained reason; the curiosity of “unforeseen” utilities on a well-developed site; an unknown amount to pay for the escalated cost of the elevator subcontractor; and finally, an unspecified amount to cover “additional assistant (sic) in contract administration” a nebulous term, but a category clearly meant to cover the ongoing cost of someone in the Public Works department.  The final item is particularly ironic given the amounts already contracted with private companies for construction support and management on this very small project.

The simple fact that these items are lumped together can only be explained by an attempt to obfuscate the nature and trues costs of the ongoing delay. And those delay costs are increasing even now, as the project seems to have stalled again.

— Fullerton Engineer

Elevators to Nowhere – Construction Begins! Oh, Wait. No It Doesn’t.

Friends, here is another in a series of posts about Fullerton’s ill-fated “Elevators to Nowhere” series by “Fullerton Engineer”

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

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 2015 when 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.

Woodcliff Billing #1

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.

— Fullerton Engineer

 

 

 

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

Elevators to Nowhere – The Expensive Death March

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.

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

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.

Hatch Mott MacDonald PO P001258

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.

Griffin Structures – Constructability Review PO P001678

Remember the name Griffin Structures. You haven’t seen the last of it.

 

 

Comment of the Month, Plus A Taxpayer Funded Movie!

Here is a recent comment from one of our Friends, Just Off Euclid, in response to watching another one of those super-expensive “State of the City” videos that we buy to make City Hall and the politicians therein, look good.

Thanks for sharing that nauseating bit of municipal self-promotion. I note:

Whitaker sitting in front of Laguna Lake where untold millions of gallons of prime MWD water were lost with no apology, no accountability, no responsibility. Fitzgerald brazenly bragging about the moronic stairs to nowhere. Donwtown stakeholders are committed she says. Committed to what? Profit at our expense. Sebourn, with his ass parked in the Corporate Yard as the streets of Fullerton crumble; “we’re ready” he boasts. ready for what?

And then the images of the vast Joe Felz/Karen Haluza stack n’ pack tenement blocks. Who is the target audience for that? Developers, I guess.

Jesus. How much did this bullshit cost?

We don’t know how much it cost. Not yet anyway. But here are some invoices that indicate the cost of 2015 and 2016 productions:

Kneadle 2 | Kneadle | Barron AV 2 | Pipeline Digital 2-2 | Pipeline Digital 2 | Pipeline Digital 1

Elevators to Nowhere – the Genesis

This is the third post in a series by our Friend “Fullerton Engineer” describing the elevator addition project at the Fullerton Depot. 

So you think the problem with transportation revenue is that there isn’t enough of it? Let’s see what happens when the State of California doles out grant money to localities, in this instance our very own town of Fullerton.

California transportation projects are very often driven by the availability of money spent in pursuit of a social agenda. Car pools lanes with fantastically expensive fly-over bridges? Check. Highly subsidized transit for upper middle class commuters? Check.

Forget that carpool lanes make everybody’s drive worse and that commuter trains only serve a puny portion of the taxpayers that foot the bill. It’s the gesture that counts, you see, and the more expensive the gesture, the more it counts.

It might be expensive but it sure is useless…

Back in 2010, or so, the good folks whose livelihoods depend on putting the plans of our Sacramento social engineers into effect foresaw a big increase in rail transit through the Fullerton train station. But gee, thought someone, won’t that mean making it harder to get all those new travelers to other side of the tracks?  The solution? New elevators, and right next to the old ones. Forget the fact that most of the day the existing elevators were unused, or that most people just climbed the stairs; and forget the fact that a sensible set of stairs already existed under the Harbor Boulevard bridge to do the same thing. New elevators made no sense even if the new ridership tsunami was believable: after all – only two trains can stop in the station at the same time, the same as before.

But of course the real kicker was the availability of money from our friends in Sacramento to effect alterations in stations that accommodate “transit” modalities, and so the City of Fullerton was going to grab while the grabbing was good, and never mind that the idea was nonsense and that nobody needed or wanted it.

On December 20, 2011 our esteemed City Council voted to award a design contract to Hatch Mott MacDonald, an engineering firm to “design” two new elevators right next to the existing ones. The contract amount was $358,390, a remarkable amount given the scope of the task at hand – to replicate the existing bridge in two new, one-stop elevator structures. In case you are wondering, $358,000 equates to the billing of one $100 per hour person working on this project full-time, doing nothing else, for 1.7 years.

Here’s the Hatch Mott MacDonald Purchase Order record

And so the City embarked on this ridiculous project. HMM began work in march 2012 after the City had signed a master agreement with the State of California. Someone should have become alarmed the following year when Hatch Mott MacDonald’s design service billings eventually ballooned 28% over budget – almost a hundred thousand dollars. But no one did. It was someone else’s money.

Fullerton Engineer

The Infection of Unaccountable Money

This is the second in a series of posts written by our Friend, Fullerton Engineer.

Anybody who thinks the problem with transportation and “transit” funds  is that there aren’t enough of them, either isn’t paying attention or is profiting off of the notion – either as a government bureaucrat, a consultant, a lobbyist, or an engineering construction contractor. The partisan political yappers can be added to the list too.

California government is awash with money. It is also awash with the characters and interests listed above, who all stand to gain from the new Gas Tax that will be levied on everybody else. Sure, everybody benefits, right? And the mantra of “our infrastructure is crumbling?” It sounds dire and maybe it is. But the solution is not new taxes, but effective and accountable use of the resources we already have. Until our governments can demonstrate that they are responsible stewards of what they have, why entrust them with any more?

As was recently noted on this blog, governments are rarely penalized for their misuse of their property, and the same goes for misuse of existing funds; and it would never occur to the transportation lobby to shape up. Why bother, when a helpful Legislature is more than happy to raise taxes and then start handing out salvers of freshly slaughtered pork? The simple fact is that grant funds from a distant government attracts a long line of bureaucratic applicants willing to spend that money in any fashion that meets the bare minimum of requirements from other bureaucrats in Sacramento. This diffusion of authority and ultimately the lack of coherent oversight is at the root of California’s current infrastructure woes. The fact that every dollar sent off to Washington or Sacramento or even collected by OCTA comes back after a big whack has been taken off the top only exacerbates the situation.

And then there is the problem of “transit” projects, a bottomless well of bureaucratic mismanagement, political corruption, and misuse of public funds for pet boondoggle projects that provide minimal, if any benefit to the public, but lots of benefit to the people entrusted with spending the money and those receiving it.

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

Which brings me to case of The People of Fullerton v. the Added Train Station Elevators,  a study that will examine the long and painful (and ongoing) history of this completely unnecessary project that is quickly approaching a $5,000,000 price tag. This comedy of errors and overspending was to be paid for with funds from sources apart from Fullerton’s Capital Funds, namely State transportation funds Prop 1B and Prop 118,  and of course the completely mismanaged OC Measure M Renewal funds. When somebody else is picking up the check it’s a lot easier to lose sight of priorities and interest in accountability. In this instance the availability of this play money has acted like a disease that has rendered everyone senseless and indifferent – a sort of malaise in which no one seems to care about what they are doing or how much it costs.

Fullerton Engineer

The Fullerton DUI Machine. An Essay

Fullerton Mayor Greg Sebourn, third from left, with Fullerton PD officers being honored for their contribution in getting drunk drivers off the road. FPD officers include Miguel Siliceo, left, Corporal Ryan Warner, Mayor Sebourn, Lt. Mike Chlebowski, Cary Tong, Jonathan Munoz and Timothy Gibert.
Fantastically overpriced taxpayer funded photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The constant public glorification by the city government of the Fullerton cops who hand out the most DUI citations has become parody worthy: public awards ceremonies at council meetings, plaques, gushing adulation from representatives of MADD. And of course there are the saccharine and witless write-ups in the taxpayer funded cop PR outlet Behind the Badge.

It’s really pretty amusing, all that self-congratulation. But when it comes to the issue of how come the FPD didn’t arrest Joe Felz for DUI in the early morning of November 9, 2016, all we hear are the proverbial crickets from  Bill Rams and Lou Ponsi. Instead of arresting Felz, they deliberately refused to collect evidence, drove him home, and tucked him into bed. And that’s not amusing at all. That’s obstruction of justice – a felony – and absolute proof that there are two sets of rules – rules for the cops, and the rules by which they are only too happy to arrest citizens. It’s obvious that this big Fullerton DUI-fest has nothing, or very little to do, really, with public safety

What does it all mean? I think I figured it out. Arresting DUI suspects is comparatively easy. And the results are fun to trot out at council meetings. Since downtown Fullerton has all sorts of bars with lots and lots drunks the game is even easier. But does anybody propose curtailing the culture of booze, barf, and binge? Of course not. Arresting drunk drivers is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s easy.

It’s profitable to provide the liquor to get the losers get drunk, and it’s profitable for the cops to haul ’em in. Except when it’s one of their own. Or the City Manager.

It’s also an excellent distraction from all the bad news generated by bad behaving Fullerton cops, including, ironically, many who have been publicly honored for their DUI heroics. It sure seems like the celebrations of DUI arrests have risen parallel to the numbers of Fullerton cops identified for their own lawlessness.

Being a good cop is really hard, supposedly. At least that’s what Behind the Badge and all the police apologists keep telling us. So let’s talk about other sorts of crime – apart from the barrel fish, that is.

How many crimes does the FPD halt or reduce? How many crimes does the FPD prevent? Who knows?  More easily quantified: how many legitimate crimes (not “resisting arrest,” sorry boys)  are actually solved? How come the FPD never publishes such statistics? I am much more interested in a statistical analysis of the FPD’s success in solving crimes than I am in the number of drunks they pull over. But we never ever hear about that. Why not? As we pay out ever greater salaries and benefits to cops whose jobs are getting demonstrably safer, is there any indication that these extravagant increases are getting us anything other than a bigger unfunded pension liability?

Honored by MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) for their efforts in getting drunk drivers off the road are Fullerton PD Officers Cary Tong, left, Timothy Gibert, Jonathan Munoz, Corporal Ryan Warner and Officer Miguel Siliceo.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC
*** Officer Siliceo’s name on the plaque is misspelled as Sihiceo. ***

Please review the picture of Fullerton’s DUI Heroes, above. You may recognize some familiar faces. On the left, Cary Tong. Second from left, Timothy Gibert.  Over there on the right, Miguel “Sonny Black” Siliceo. 

Famous Miguel “Sonny Black” Siliceo and his good pal, on-duty sex perv “Officer” Albert Rincon enjoying downtown hospitality. Hat courtesy of Roscoe’s Famous Deli and Bar.

The parade of DUI dog and pony shows at council meetings will no doubt continue. Of course the next one will be acutely embarrassing for the cops, and for people like Jennifer Fitzgerald and Doug “Bud” Chaffee – unswerving loyalists of the FPD Culture of Corruption; and embarrassing even for Bruce Whitaker, no friend of bad cops, but who seemingly lacks the courage to confront the issue of the taxpayer funded Behind the Badge, as it peddles its bullshit in the face of embarrassing reality.

The Torpedo

There is an old saying: “it’s the least I can do.”

And once in a while you get to see the least someone can really do without doing anything at all.

At the last “budget workshop” (cue: a sales tax is coming music), David Curlee brought up the idiocy of the worthless and mismanaged “Behind the Badge” contract – a 50 Grand per year repository of feel-good stories about our police department’s tender employees who, apparently, would rather be well-thought of for anything besides honest police work.

At this prompting, our mayor, Bruce Whitaker raised the issue – where, right on cue, it was peremptorily shot down by our $100 per hour Interim City Manager, Alan Roeder, as chump change that fell into the sofa cushions and isn’t worth digging around for. He warns Whitaker about “obsessing” over such loose change.

And there the matter seems to have died.

Of course if Whitaker had done his job in the first place and agendized the issue as a stand alone item at a regular meeting, this dismissive bullshit could not have occurred. The Behind the Badge embarrassment could not have been written off as an irrelevant, small-picture nothing instead of what it is – a blatant rip-off of the taxpayers that has run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past four years.

And consider this question: how many other loose change contracts, approved by no one other that Wild Ride Joe Felz, are still out there accomplishing nothing? And did any of our council stalwarts bother to make Roeder explain exactly what the monetary level of significance is before he will deign to consider it? We know it’s not $50,000 a year. Is it $100,000? $500,000? A million? Of course not.

Total leadership failure. The litmus test is done. Now we know why Roeder was hired in the first place:

He’s the Tax Man.

It Was the Fullerton Hunger Games

And the Odds Were Not in District Three’s Favor

Do not be fooled; Fullerton had it’s first Quarter Quell on Tuesday and Councilman Greg Sebourn was put up as Tribute and didn’t make it out of the games alive. Somewhere a canon is being fired in his honor.

The vote was all about self-interest and gerrymandering and anybody who says otherwise is either lying to you or is too dishonest with themselves to know the truth. I’ll explain quickly.

The city never really gamed this out or explored any options legal or otherwise. I had asked, several times, if the city could require sitting At-Large Council members to resign their At-Large seat to run in for a District Seat and the response I got was “We don’t know if that’s legal”. Gee, if only we had a lawyer in the room during Council to answer these things or research them.

I also inquired if it could be made random in order to take the horse-trading and politics out of the equation and again crickets. All of this means that the city never gamed these basic scenarios out.

To make matters worse we had no study-session or talks about how this would play out post-election. The election happened, with a gerrymandered council approved map, and voila they voted on who got to stay and who got to go.

The real meat about this crap is that it was all race based if you read the complaints and lawsuits that got us here. There hadn’t been an Asian on council since X-Date or a Hispanic since X-Date and thus we got sued and the council settled. So the Council voted to put up District 5 under the guise of giving the Hispanic vote a voice. District 3 means that the likely scenario is that the Hispanic vote will have 2 voices on Council while the Asian vote will have none until 2020 when somebody can run for Fitzgerald’s seat only to have the District Map change in 2022 after the 2020 census. It played out this way because apparently;

  1. Jesus Silva is not Hispanic?
  2. Silva living 2 blocks from District 5 is too far for him to understand that district’s “unique voice”?
  3. The Asian vote doesn’t matter as much as protecting Fitzgerald?
  4. Oh and Sebourn gets the bum’s rush owing to reasons Whitaker has yet to articulate publicly.

I’ll admit that I don’t like the way Sebourn votes on a lot of issues. Further I think Fitzgerald is the worst kind of tax-and-spend bankruptcy-inducing fiscally irresponsible politician the GOP can muster and that’s saying a lot. However — at least with the GOP you get the theory of a sliver of a chance of maybe some fiscal sanity. With the next few years of belt-tightening, thanks to the greed of public safety and the insanity of CalPERS, we’re going to require more budget allies and not fewer. Throwing 1/2 of our current 3-2 fiscally responsible minority out with the bath-water in the hopes that 2018 will maybe, possibly, hopefully and somehow see some balance seems foolhardy to me.

I still contend that the map should have been chosen randomly but I prefer governmental honesty to political expedience and crony gamesmanship.

Now going forward should a Republican decide to run in 2020 against Silva I can only offer one bit of advice: