The Parks & Rec Manipulation of Public Comments

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…)

Can We Get A Refund For The Stairs?

It happened pretty quickly, just like a UFO sighting, and just as rare: a Fullerton councilperson suggesting accountability. But here you see Greg Sebourn raising the embarrassing subject of the lamentable Hillcrest Park “stairs to nowhere.”

If you’ve been paying attention, you know very well by now that these rickety looking wooden “exercise” stairs are a $1.6 million waste, a genuine Fullerton-type boondoggle that nobody outside City Hall wanted; a mess compounded by what can only be called substandard materials, workmanship and incompetent oversight – and that’s being charitable.

No, Greg, we cannot get a refund and good luck finding anybody to second a motion to do a full and complete audit of this project to find out how and why the whole thing went sideways so badly.

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

Photo Fun: SparkyFitz’s $1.6 Mil Stairs to Nowhere

Being a political creature means keeping your happy face on – even when your happy speech is done. On Saturday our lobbyist-councilperson Jennifer Fitzgerald happily talked up her moronic wooden stairs that don’t do anything – $1,600,000 worth of nothing. She was soooo excited (twice). Even her pal Jan Flory was there to help put a shine on this smoking road apple. But when her talk was done, Fitzy sure looked grim walking away from this monumental misadventure in government waste.

Quick, get clear of the impending collapse…

Maybe the enormity of the waste actually set in? Shame? Guilt? Anger?

(more…)

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 Grand Opening of the Stairs

The grand opening of the “Pine Forest Stairs” connecting Lions Field to Hillcrest Park was this morning.  I didn’t count but I’m guessing 30 people in attendance, about a third of which were City staff or elected/appointed folks.

A short 10-minute ceremony marked the grand opening:

Those of you strapped for time should watch this excerpt featuring Jennifer Fitzgerald.  Listen very carefully as she avoids using the word “bridge” when referring to the Great Lawn.  She’s so excited!

No other councilmembers besides Chaffee and Fitzgerald were in attendance, though former councilwoman Jan Flory joined them.

The event was somewhat unusual in that a number of people who probably see me as a City Hall adversary took it upon themselves to strike up a conversation, which was nice for a change.  Doug Chaffee and his wife Paulette Marshall were very friendly, as was Gretchen Cox, Parks and Recreation Commissioner.  From the City staff, John Clements and Don Hoppe were nice as well.

After everyone took a trip up the stairs, can you guess which councilmember found a reason to be nasty to me?  This isn’t a difficult question.

Desperate to Celebrate Mediocrity

This Saturday, 06 May 2017 at 10:00 the city of Fullerton is having a Grand Opening for the new “Pine Wood Stairs” at Hillcrest Park. To which the natural response should be something along the lines of “They’re stairs. Why do you need a ‘Grand Opening’ for a set of stairs?”.

Why? Because politicians and bureaucrats love to celebrate anything that can result in a photo-op, self-congratulatory award or chance to pretend to care about their jobs or city. In this case that celebratory nature has taken on the smell of desperation only slightly masked by Pine.

David has already posted a great piece explaining some of the many problems with Fullerton’s new Stairs to Nowhere, or in city parlance “The Pine Wood Stairs”. I decided to check them out myself and see what was what and I was, shall we say, less than thrilled with the experience.

All of my hilarious ranting aside there is one major thing that needs to be pointed out. Does THIS:

“Pine Wood Stairs” concept.
Look like THIS:

The Actual “Pine Wood Stairs”.
Different angles. Yadda, Yadda. Look at the design and construction. Except for both the drawing and the actual project having wood planks is anything the same? Or were we, once again, sold a lie? Celebrate! Cut a Ribbon even! Yay!

And before some bureaucratic bootlickers come on here to try and justify this misdirection and waste of funds, I’m looking at your Mrs. “We Held Oh So Many Meetings”, let me point out THIS:

Fitness Stairs?
That’s currently going around on Facebook announcing the “Grand Opening” to these stairs. Currently. As in the stairs already exist and people are still being sold the concept drawing and not what was actually built.

I like that there is a “FREE Intro Stairs Exercise Class” because nobody knows how to use stairs. At least they found a selling point for the stairs to nowhere – exercise! You too can get in shape after fighting for parking in order to use our stairs to nowhere. It’s a good thing we’ve cornered the market on poorly built stairs in a park we don’t maintain (and won’t maintain), otherwise people might want to exercise somewhere convenient and then how would we justify these stairs? I mean we had to spend the Park Dwelling money on something other than buying land in Coyote Hills or just maintaining our current parks. So Exercise Stairs. Pine Wood Exercise Stairs. To Nowhere.

Oy.

EV Free Lunch. Fullerton Megachurch Gives City Employees a Love Offering

Lunch is on me.

Since at least 2013, Fullerton’s EV Free megachurch 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.

http://www.evfreefullerton. com/2016/06/an-olympic- fullerton-city-luncheon/

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.

However, it is not our business to tell a church what to do, although we may well look askance – as when a Grace Ministries’ representative stood up at a public hearing and claimed his church’s members supported the bar owners’ districting map.

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.

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.