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.

More Pine Forest Steps Fail

In case you needed any more evidence of the slipshod way the “exercise stairs” at Hillcrest Park were built, I offer in evidence some images taken by the FFFF Construction Field Documentation Team (CFDT) that has been awfully busy lately examining the many failures at the “Pine Forest Stairs” to nowhere.

Here is what the foundations are supposed to look like:

Here is what happened at one location. The top of the caisson was too high and had to be broken out to accommodate a post or cross beam supporting the stair stringer. Unfortunately the rebar in the caisson has been exposed to rust away and eventually spall the concrete.

Here’s a location where a large chunk of the caisson has mysteriously broken off. Here there is no reinforcing steel in sight.

And finally, here’s an example of what can happen when you decide to sink a big 6″x 6″ wood post into concrete:

Apparently many of the caissons are already cracking just like this one. Are these structures even safe? Will our common seismic events cause serious problems? I’m not privy to those answers, but I can tell you that there’s no way I’m getting on those things.

And just for fun, note that the contractor reworked the top the caisson to get water to run off. This sloppy effort is going to flake off – exposing the post to a permanent puddle.

It’s hard to believe that “professionals” inside and outside of City Hall were extremely well paid to oversee this hodgepodge of construction horrors, but there you have it. $1.6 million dollars and this is the best Fullerton can do.

 

How the Newman Recall Could Kill the Gas Tax

Take a second and watch recall leader Carl DeMaio explain how recalling Josh Newman is the first step in a three stage plan to rescind the new car tax and fix California’s roads without new taxes.

To sum up his plan:

  1. Recall Newman and eliminate the 2/3rds Democratic majority in the state senate.
  2. Give legislature 30 days to rescind gas tax before additional recalls commence.
  3. Pass statewide initiative to commit existing tax dollars towards road repairs.

Now that’s pretty ambitious. But remember that this tax is just the first test case for the Democrats, who are working on other tax hikes as we speak. They’re now desperate to fill in the enormous financial gap left by the public pension crisis. Even just the elimination of Newman has the potential to stop the state from reaching back into our pockets over and over again.

Who Was in Charge?

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.

Something didn’t quite line up…

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.

Request denied.

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.

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

Moonbeam’s Money is Coming to Fullerton

That’s right. Governor Brown just announced that he is personally raising money for Fullerton. Not IN Fullerton, mind you.

And well, it’s not for the people of Fullerton either.

Brown is inviting his lobbyist pals to a $4,400 Sacramento dinner in order to raise money to defend Fullerton’s hapless Senator Josh Newman and the car tax Newman helped secure. You know, the one that he recently dumped on Fullerton motorists (along with the rest of California) because the answer is Sacramento to government malfeasance and bad behavior is always MOAR Money.

Bend over
Here’s the story (contains egregious LA Times popups. Do not click).

Brown is headlining a fundraiser on May 23 at de Vere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento, billed as an event to support Newman’s reelection campaign. Donors are asked to give up to $4,400 to Newman’s 2020 Senate campaign committee, although the money can be shifted to fighting a recall measure if one qualifies.

Give to “Newman’s 2020 campaign committee, although…”. Isn’t that cute? It’s almost as if this isn’t specifically FOR the recall. Once he’s out of office maybe Senator Newman can save some of those $4,400 donations to buy himself another posh vacation in Saint Lucia after the recall is over. If he’s lucky maybe he’ll have the bad news before his trip this time around.

It’s always amazing to watch politicians and their lobbyist friends soak up booze while reaching for their wallets for the sole purpose of being able to continue to pick our wallets clean.

For those of you who cannot afford a $4,400 posh dinner and are actually impacted by this new highway robbery masquerading as a transportation tax feel free to sign the petition to recall Senator Newman. You can pick up and sign the petition if you’re a registered voter in District 29 this Thursday between 2-6pm (1400-1800). KFI’s John & Ken as well as KOGO’s Carl DeMaio will be live broadcasting from the ARCO Gas Station at 519 S. Harbor Blvd here in Fullerton.

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 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.