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Mitchell Park Library project delayed by a year

Original post made on Jun 5, 2012

The construction of Mitchell Park Library and Community Center has fallen behind by more than a year, prompting Palo Alto officials to prepare for a legal battle against the contractors handling the major project.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, June 4, 2012, 10:24 PM

Comments (37)

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 5, 2012 at 7:35 am

Projects go bad one day at a time, not over night.

Given the layers of bureaucracy involved in this project, it's no wonder these sorts of problems have developed--although from the scant detail offered in this article, it might seem that much of the trouble lies with the contractor.

That's the same contractor who was chosen by the City, by the way. Leopards don't change their spots, and neither do contractors. If this contractor is having execution problems here in Palo Alto, it most assuredly has had execution problems elsewhere. One can only wonder if the City did any due diligence during the contractor selection phase of this project?

It's interesting that this report of delay was offered by the Assistant P/W Director, and not the P/W Director, himself. And of course, we don't have a City Auditor--and haven't had one that is effectively on the job for well over a year.

If this situation does go to litigation--the proceedings will end up being conducted behind closed doors, with only tiny bits of information being made available--certainly not the whole truth.

And as to this project's being under budget--how does one delay a large construction project for a year, and not incur a fairly heft cost? All of the work left to do, and all of the re-work, will eat into the unspent funds. If we had a Council that had any idea what managing projects was all about, they would call on the City Manager to come up with a cost estimate to complete this project. If it's going to cost more money than is in the Bond's authorization--why not get that knowledge on the table now?

And what has the so-called Library Bond Oversight Committee been doing all of this time? Were they not billed as another reason people could vote for this project with confidence? Were we not told that the money would all be spent well, and effectively, with this Committee staffed with the Council's choices of community members?

No doubt the building will be finished eventually. But with the emergence of e-books, and the "cloud", it is difficult to see how this building will be of much value to the community in the coming years.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2012 at 8:30 am

When our own remodel was delayed for over a year, we blamed the City.

This is not an unusual call for Palo Alto, but it seems that whenever Mountain View and others start a project either City or private, the work goes ahead and gets completed in a timely manner. There seems to be something very inherent about Palo Alto and its process which is unabling. Every delay caused costs money, a lot of it, apart from the inconvenience and ugliness. Our town seems to be in constant disarray from half finished projects.

When can Palo Alto get itself sorted?


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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 8:34 am

"But with the emergence of e-books, and the "cloud", it is difficult to see how this building will be of much value to the community in the coming years."

But we are Palo Alto and we need 5 libraries. The PA library system is a local "treasure". People drank the Kool-aid put out by FOPAL and the "we cannot live without 5 libraries in Palo Alto" crowd and voted for the bond measure. Too bad.
What does this mean for Cubberley, since I assume the library will stay there for the extra year?


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Posted by pa_architect
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

I don't understand how the architect is not mentioned to be possibly at fault.

Where are the change orders coming from? The architect.

Who drew the construction documents to put out for bid in the first place? The architect.

Much of the disorderly conduct comes from the architect who failed to put together a complete set of documents. They should be judged against the standard of care. The contractors can't build anything until the architect provides proper drawings.

Yet the city continues to work with the same architect...


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Posted by Pecuniac
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2012 at 10:41 am

Thank you Resident.
As a former PA resident and a contractor, my experience with Palo Alto's building department process is that it is one of the most inefficient and byzantine of any jurisdiction in the Bay Area. Some inspectors are Old School adversaries of contractors. Add incomplete or faulty plans by the "design consultants" and you will have a perfect storm of project delays. Building can be compared to the layers of an onion. Each layer must be designed, put in place, inspected, and ready for the next trades to add their layers. Often, even what may seem like a minor change creates many downstream adjustments, delays and change orders. I'm not attempting to apologize for the contractor, only adding some perspective for folks who don't have any soiled knuckles in the game of building.


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Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 5, 2012 at 10:44 am

Wayne Martin,

Under the State Public Contract Code, The City is required to award the contract to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. The Low bidder then knows, after the Public bid opening, how much money he left on the table , and the change order process begins.

If you don' t like that, Go and try to get the Public Contract Code changed.


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Posted by Raymond Lucas
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

As a resident of EPA and one that works near the New Library, I'm not at all upset about a delay in the construction of a Library that I will not be welcome to visit. Tough Noogies!


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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:08 am

Wow...I am sooooo shocked and surprised! Who would have thought it?!
HAHAHAHA, what a joke!


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Posted by MossyBuddha
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

the problem stems from two areas. first, it appears that the architect really screwed the pooch at the beginning of this mess by leaving out important items from the bidding specs and needing further changes when the planned systems didn't work. the second problem stems from the city'd decision to bid this project without prevailing wage standards. this resulted in contractors willing to accept bids from less than capable firms who apparently can't perform as promised and these problems only snowball over the course of the project. in short the city decided to chase after pennies and instead tripped over dollars.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

Well, non of this surprises me. When you accept the cheapest bid you get cheap work. Just hope it doesn't collapse in a earthquake when I'm inside!!!!


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Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

What's wrong with the "powers that be" at City Hall and their decision-making?? Aren't references and backgrounds checked? Guess we need to waste more money on hiring consultants to figure out this mess!


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Posted by Who profits?
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

With all of this incompetence going on for so long how come the city a few weeks ago just hired Group4 to build a road between the Art Center and Main Library.
Who in the city profits from these projects, that would good to know.


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Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm

This is totally predictable and the reason I voted against this extravagant solution. Cost overruns and delayed completion dates are common in projects of this kind particularly where you can expect second rate oversight. Contractors are notorious for winning bids by low balling and making it up with scope changes.
I dont believe we need 5 libraries at all and probably not even 4. The future of libraries is not in buildings with racks full of books, that will become only one component but still a significant component of the services provided.
As is common here a vocal minority can force the city to make poor long term decisions
Count on it: the cost will continue to increase


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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

"As is common here a vocal minority can force the city to make poor long term decisions
Count on it: the cost will continue to increase"

You are quite correct. this is continuing issue in the city--everything is important, are city "institutions" and we cannot live without them--5 libraries, PACT, animal shelter etc etc.
Just last week there was talk about cutting back on the summer concert series--then one of the council members said that we need to continue the series--so no cut in funding.
Will we ever have a city council that actually deals with our infrastructure issues, while realizing that we need to cut back on the above mentioned non-essential services? I doubt it. We have council members pushing for a $9million + bike bridge over 101 that will serve to show how wonderful Palo Alto is and on and on it goes.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm

PA = deep pockets, will pay anything - is this the way we taxpayers look to outsiders and contractors...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm


It looks like an Ikea store.
Yet another oversized, ghastly looking building for Palo Alto.


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

We seem to be a haven to these types of contractors, since we don't require prevailing wage payments on our city projects. Tends to attract the "bottom of the barrell" types. Seems like this is a sign to finally overturn that? Most of us in town look for quality, regardless of price for a car. Why not pay for quality contractors to build these structures that make up our community?


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Posted by Been there, done that.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Lots of old Library haters on this thread; they will come out of the woodwork any time there's a hiccup.

Someone said: "When can Palo Alto get itself sorted?"
When it changes the nature of a dysfunctional governance framework, and is "led" by someone. City Councils, by the very nature of their voting and re-election structure, cannot lead, even if they wanted to. What results is sub-optimal governance, by good people.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Did Palo Alto follow the "Big Dig" style of government planning? Come to think of it, this seems common in California nowadays.


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Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Palo Alto city government needs a total overhall. The planning department, building department and the architectural review board are especially in need of new guidelines, rules, and leadership. Palo Altans are unhappy with the mass, style and quality of many of the newly built commercial buildings. (Yes, I know, the library isn't privately owned.) It has become abundantly clear that developers only care about getting the maximum square footage on a piece of land. Gone are the days when developers had pride in what they built. Now, all they care about it "milking the golden goose" in PA and padding their bank accounts. The city needs to reduce the square footage allowed on a piece of land. Setback requirements need to be changed, too. The new buildings are too close to the street.


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Posted by One more mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm

@gail

I completed agree with you. It looks like an IKEA store... Can't we do decent looking buildings in this town?


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Posted by TA
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Gail is properly right.. It looks like it has a feng shui issue as well.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm

This comment is to question the professional conduct of Palo Alto Online News.

I happened upon this story last night shortly after it was posted, and added the first comment, which is now totally missing.

Given that I think the project is an ugly bloated mess, I posted a snarky comment suggesting the project be canceled, and the building demolished for scrap.

Sure, both sides of this issue are well represented here, but I question the integrity or bias of totally removing a post on either side.


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm

@ Terry--

This is a new thread on the Library that Wayne Martin started overnight. Your original comment is still in its own thread just following this one.


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Posted by sue
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 6, 2012 at 8:11 am

Sunnyvale is twice the size of Palo Alto and has ONE very good library. There is no reason for numerous branches in our town. I knew this project would be a boondogle and am not surprised at the latest news.......


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2012 at 8:31 am

> State law requires projects to be awarded to the lowest bidder.

Well .. maybe yes and maybe no. The law provides a number of exceptions, which are generally reviewed in the link below. One exception is for Charter Cities, which Palo Alto happens to be. Another exception seems to revolve around the "poor performance" of the lowest bidder--

12.3(b) Standard of Review

Most public entities are required by statute, code, or city charter to award contracts through competitive bidding to the "lowest responsible bidder." Often the second or third lowest bidder on a project will complain that the public entity has erred in determining that the low bidder was "responsible."

Web Link

The following are two examples of cases where a bidder was not considered to be responsible:

In Raymond v. Fresno City Unified School Dist.,267 the Board of Education determined that the low bidder was not responsible because of numerous complaints and poor workmanship by the contractor on a prior school project. The appellate court affirmed the award to the second lowest bidder, finding that the Board of Education had not abused its discretion in determining that the plaintiff contractor's bid was not the "offer which best responded in quality, fitness, and capacity to the particular requirement of the proposed work."

In a second case, R. & A. Vending Services, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles,268 the lowest bidder was not entitled to the contract because he had a reputation for poor performance on similar projects.
------

It's not clear at this time, if the City did much due diligence at the time of this bid being let out for response. It's also not clear to what extent they will learn from this experience about the possibility of not having to accept the lowest bidders in the future.


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Posted by Hmmmmm
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Any delays on the multiple NORTH Palo Alto library projects? No? Hmmmm.


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Posted by fighting amongst themselves
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm

of course they're under budget, the work isn't getting done, now its time to hire lawyers, pretty typical scenario for palo alto


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Posted by TA
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

In the North, it doesn't look like they have a schedule to make. Workers show up very late and leaving early. No weekend or overtime activities are observed.


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Posted by Anne
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I wondered what the new building looked like. Now I know. It's an IKEA store for South Palo Alto.


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Posted by Save our City
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I talk to my friends about the atrocious new, huge, commercial buildings being built in Palo Alto and we all feel powerless. Does anyone have ideas as to how we put a stop to this madness? Who makes the decisions on square footage guidelines, setbacks, etc? How do Palo Altans get a voice this matter?


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

The Palo Alto City government seems incapable of doing anything competently.

Spending money like crazy within their good-ole-boy network never stops that is the real Palo Alto, we, the real real Palo Alto have been just as disenfranchised in what goes on in this city as Americans have been in what goes on in the country.

I am so disgusted by the Palo Alto City government, they have ruined this city, except for the financially well-connected who are cooperating to rip the rest of us off.

Probably the same reason too, money paying for special interests to usurp the rights and sense of the rest of us.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 7, 2012 at 8:19 am

Despite my belief that Palo Alto should not have five public libraries, certainly not for a city our size, on that point I will not complain. The issue went to the voters in the form of a bond measure and was approved. Out of respect for the democratic process alone, what would we accomplish by mulling that over? It's a done deal.

I just hope that we as Palo Altans use this latest episode as a reminder of the ongoing mismanagement that takes place at city hall. They struggle to get anything accomplished without unnecessary process. When it's all said and done, this library project will not only be severely late in completion, but also wrought with cost overruns and budget issues.

These are the same city leaders and elected officials who despite declaring a fiscal emergency are seemingly incapable of stopping their irresponsible spending or saying no to the special interest groups. They decry annual budget deficits, then continue to spend on non-essential, fluff and feel good projects and services. Their practice has driven the city into this financial crisis, and tell us that we have no money left to pay for our vital infrastructure and public safety needs. Then to top it off, they have the audacity to suggest another tax increase in order to pay for these needs which they have essentially ignored and failed to address. Honestly, what did they think was going to happen?

We need to recognize and consider how and why city hall operates and chooses to allocate our public funds. They are slaves to the special interest and niche groups. Their desire to not offend anyone, or to appear uncaring, has left them incapable of demonstrating the necessary ability and courage to say no to these groups and apply some common sense. Will they ever do the right thing and just focus on the greater good for once?


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Posted by peacemaker
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2012 at 11:42 am

Amen Marrol. There is a malignancy without cure in PA.


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Posted by Contributing A Memory
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm

The reason given by City Hall's top brass, to City Council, per "The Excutive Summary" (the internal gathering of information about the California Ave. tree project, by the PA Human Relations Department, illegally leaked to the press) was all the work staff had to do on the library caused a snafu in PW communication before commencement of the Streetscape Project.

Does everyone on this blog remember that no one in the whole city knew the work was happening? Not even all 9 members of city council? To a person, each elected official was surprised, as was all the staff in the City Manager's office, et al.

So what's PW's excuse for the library delay? I'd not be so quick to blame the contractor, at least not without an EXTERNAL evaluation of what went on, and day by day, as Wayne wrote in Comment #1.

Marrol and Peacemaker's comments are well said. The voters voted, and we need to move forward. But doing things the same way gets the same results. It is not acceptable. It's time to be accountable.

My guess is retirements in the city played a part in this, as well as other issues. During long-term projects, with so many hands seasoning the pot, sometimes broth becomes jeopardized.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2012 at 10:49 am

Wayne: my mom worked in Streets & Traffic for City of San Jose for over 20 yrs. She always told me they do not take the lowest bid. Just for that reason.


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Posted by Confused
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I don't understand why the contractor is allowed to submit change orders to the City. This is new construction and the project already has a bid. Did the City change its' mind about some aspect of the project that added to the cost?


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