Palo Alto mulls lawsuit over Mitchell Park Library

City Council to hold closed session Monday to discuss legal action over $41 million project

Palo Alto's effort to rebuild the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center -- the centerpiece of the city's $76 million library bond in 2008 -- is facing greater scrutiny these days because of rising costs and possible errors by the project architects.

On Monday, the City Council will consider if these errors are severe enough to justify legal action.

One month after the council reluctantly agreed to add $3.7 million to the project and authorized a 20 percent "contingency" ceiling for unanticipated construction costs, members are planning to meet behind closed doors to consider the city's legal options. The Monday closed session will include discussions of both "potential exposure to litigation" and "potential initiation of litigation."

The $41 million project is one of three funded by a 2008 bond. The city has already completed renovations to the Downtown Library and is in the midst of planning for the expansion of the Main Library.

The Mitchell Park project, by far the largest of the three, drew attention on Sept. 12 when the council learned that some of the design plans were incomplete, prompting the construction company, Flintco, to request a host of change orders, increasing the bill for the library's reconstruction. The designs were submitted by the project architect, South San Francisco-based Group 4 Architecture.

The council directed City Attorney Molly Stump to consider whether the city should consider legal actions "all responsible parties."

The council also requested monthly reports about change orders for the construction project. According to the first such report, which the council will review Monday, the city has already approved eight change orders for Flintco -- changes that added more than $1 million to the cost.

A ninth change order, which would add $223,816 to pay for tube steel and "curb changes," is now being processed.

The project, which is about halfway done, remains about $8 million under the engineer's initial cost estimate.

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Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 14, 2011 at 10:18 am

And some of us are unhappy that the City allowed the refuse from that site to go into the dump, thus forcing the closure of that facility three years earlier than originally projected.

Like this comment
Posted by really need?
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2011 at 11:34 am

Pretty Pricey!!

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Posted by huh??
a resident of Monroe Park
on Oct 14, 2011 at 11:51 am

does the "all responsible parties" group include city employee(s)? They are just as responsible for allowing Group 4 to turn in incomplete design plans. does not public works have an engineer or project manager who signed that final payment approval? if so, that person(s) should have known the design was incomplete and paid in full anyway OR they did not verify the design was complete, OR Group 4 did as much work as there was funds in the contract. It would be hilariously funny to know if they didn't finish design work because their contract ran out of money and they city would not submit a CMR to request additional funds.

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2011 at 12:43 pm

To huh?
I hope it includes the city employees that approved the project without confirming everything...dotting i's and crossing t's!

I think some palms were greased and someone knows more than they are letting on.

EIther that, or we have very incapable and irresponsible business people, handling business for the city, that apparently should not be there.

Like this comment
Posted by paloaltotreewatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Oct 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

What about the city council member which voted for these contracts?
I expect my council to scrub every detail of each contract and not rely on the city manager opinion.
Does the buck stop anywhere?

This problem is another example of why we need FULL time councilors
who can spend their best energy walking into each and every office of city government (you know - the HP way) and getting the job done right.
Full time councilors could have caught this problem.

I am even willing to support a portion of local taxes to pay their salaries commensurate with their needs.

Like this comment
Posted by Clean Up Time!
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm

It's past time to clean up City Hall, beginning with the head of the Public Works Department!

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2011 at 3:12 am

REMEMBER ENRON!!! When is this going to stop? How long do we have to put up with this mis-management? How long do these 'managers' still stay on the payroll? Will there be a 'door open' to build a sludge -methane burning factory in the Baylands for mega millions of dollars? Palo Alto is the laughing stock of the Peninsula.

Like this comment
Posted by Suszanne Mitchell
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 15, 2011 at 8:27 am

The Compost Feasibility Study invested $200,000 in studying a non-existing technology and Public works recommended that a technically absurd solution would be the most cost effective. Also, for their recommended alternative, even with the most favorable assumptions (free land, generous financing) the estimated price range was $60M-$202M, but staff report shows only $60 and ignores the risk ($202M.
So - City Council sees only what staff wants it to see - low costs and a feasible solution. They do not see the risk, and the absurdity of recommending an inferior, un-vetted technology.

Like this comment
Posted by silly me
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2011 at 10:29 am

"A ninth change order, which would add $223,816 to pay for tube steel and "curb changes," is now being processed."

So when I submit a plan to upgrade my home, there are curb, gutter, sidewalk, driveway guidelines that I have to meet. In fact, there used to be a Public Works person at the permit desk to sign-off on my plans. Now here you have a change order for "curb changes"? Curb work is already standardized and it was missed??

And yes Ms. Mitchell (Greendell) City Council only sees what a City Manager wants them to see. Council is fed baloney and they take it as gospel. This city manager cannot accept all the responsibility for that. His predecessors set precedence with former councils too. The fox started watching the chicken coup leading up to a (current) demoralized workforce while upper/middle management staff continue greasing their palms on tax payer dollars.

Like this comment
Posted by Change Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2011 at 11:00 am

Silly me has a point. The system over there at Palo Alto City Hall is that the City Manager feeds the Council baloney while he and his department directors feather their own nests. Blame for any foul-ups is shifted as far down the organizational chart as possible. All the while the staff morale tanks.

Competence, who needs it? The latest scandal in Public Works cries out for new blood in that department. Change needs to take place at the top with a competent new director from outside the organization.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Voters approved San Francisco’s Branch Library Improvement Program in 2000 to remodel or replace 24 branches for $106 million. Web Link

How come Palo Alto needed $76 million for one new and 3 renovated libraries?

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm

This is reminiscent of the $8.8 million spent for online utilities billing, which “included such pesky glitches as confusing computer-screen displays and bills that don't add up.” Council was then asked for an additional $223,725 to resolve a list of "post-implementation issues." Web Link

> “City Council sees only what staff wants it to see…”
They don’t see because they don’t bother to look. There’s no oversight at City Hall. No one ever gets fired, no matter how badly he might mess up.

Council may be “irked by errors” Web Link but do they ever take Jim Keene aside and say, “Jim, you’ve got a problem. We’ll expect a resolution at our next meeting.”?

Council seems to forget that they represent us voters/taxpayers and should be acting in our interests.

Like this comment
Posted by EarToTheWall
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2011 at 8:19 am

A “little bird” who was present at a city management meeting discussing the Mitchell Library cost over-runs told me that a large portion of the overage was due to City of Palo Alto Planning Department fees. If one portion of the city government is gouging another, what are the ramifications? Is the money returned to the city coffers and therefore the over-runs are not a big as claimed, or is the money squandered in planning department bureaucracy?

Like this comment
Posted by Change Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2011 at 8:55 am

If Ear to the Wall's account is correct, why weren't these fees known about and figured into the cost in the first place?

Even in the best case explanation, there appears to be a great deal of managerial sloppiness in City Hall, the Public Works Department being a poster child for slovenly leadership at the top.

Like this comment
Posted by Gotta Laugh
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2011 at 9:06 am

"Changing Needs" and "Ear to the Wall"

You have it 100% wrong. City fees had nothing to do with the cost over runs. Your little bird has a matching little brain.

Look at the actual accounting of the change order requests. The contractor needed to purchase additional materials and systems to complete the building core and shell.

Deficiencies in the construction documents were the overwhelming cause of the project change orders. A secondary expense has been the re-engineering/corrective design work required to obtain a set of construction documents suitable to erect the building.

While the City may have made a poor decision to select an architect who was a good designer but poor at converting the design into construction documents...the Architect did not execute their services with the standard of care required to construct the project in a public setting.

It was the Architect....not the City here.

Like this comment
Posted by Been there
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

No matter what architects do, they get caught just as badly as whomever is paying for a project when the contractor goes after more. Contractors kow where they can get away with pretending they didnt know something or that it wasnt specified and asking for more. They know when yo choose an outrageous color to paint the house and lame it on the architect, because most of the time the contracor makes more money, and either nothing happens to the architect, or the architct rather thn the contractor is blamed.

I am not an architect and only know about this firm from attending community meetings and looking at the plans. I can say that this firm has been incredibly good at designing for function, incorporating feedback, and being creative. I am worlds more impressed by them than the architects doing our school work. I hope the city will be very careful to consider what is really going on. Some contrctors can't reform no matter how much oversight, but it would help if our city leaders had a better handle on the usual tricks of tge trade...

Like this comment
Posted by Susie
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm

WHEN schools are increasing class sizes, the state is about to slash funding, book stores are folding, ebooks are booming, and Stanfords libraries are being reduced to small rooms where you can log in to databases Palo silly Alto is building a huge and expensive new library.
Its is crazy. Do better with the ones you have and introduce ebook lending through downloads.

Like this comment
Posted by hmmm
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2011 at 11:59 am

Criticism in this case may be warranted, but you're just lobbing a grenade in the room because you think it needs stirring up.

Palo Alto is building a library and community center to replace seriously aging structures. When times are good, labor costs are through the roof, when times are bad, people like you complain we don't have the money.

People in Palo Alto voted for this construction, so it was a choice we made.

You can't take the money from that and give it to the schools, it's a completely different pot of money and completely different organization. It's like saying you think our schools need the money, so we're going to take our income taxes and give them to the school this year. Besides, the schools have more money than are being spent here to renovate the schools -- we also voted for a large bond to renovate the schools. Quibble about how that money is being spent, I think it could be spent much more wisely. But the building of the library and community center have nothing to do with the school projects.

If you want to quibble over money, perhaps you should talk to your neighbors in College Terrace who argued for keeping their branch open and renovated -- many people felt we should reduce branches to just the two main ones, the main branch and Mitchell Park (the one being rebuilt). I can see both sides, but realistically, are people in College Terrace paying the full cost of their branch?

I say this as someone who pays for my parcel tax in Palo Alto, but is also paying to use the Los Altos library because they have more books and better lending policies.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm

It is time to start cleaning out our city - starting at the top - they start a project, spend our hard earned money and then think about what the outcome will be in the future. We need people who will represent us fairly . . . not the yahoos controlling now!

Like this comment
Posted by Clean Up
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Yes, Sandy, a City Hall clean up is long overdue. Start at the top echelons and broom out the incompetent people, department by department.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Did the architect have a structural engineer?

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Posted by suzanne Mitchell
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Mr. Wallis - it is probably the same engineer who dreamed the Dry Anaerobic Digestion facility that Palo Alto spend $200,000 on in support of Measure E. Hundreds of pages and months of reiterations to find out that this would be an absurdly inferior process. Public Works promoted this waste and the public had to expose the folly.
If Measure E is approved, the city will continue to "study" follies such as using the p10 acres of arkland to process food. Again - a technology that makes no sense for a city the size of Palo Alto, and could exude odors well into the 101 corridor...
Vote NO on E

Like this comment
Posted by Bottom line
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Bottom line: There was a public citizen vote to approve the library bond. The vote was nearly 80% "yes" in favor of the bond. The Library is still under budget. The Weekly has always been a relatively lukewarm, and surprisingly rather uninformed "supporter" of the Library Bond (thus, these stupid reports that stir up dust).

Naysayers: you are going to love the new Mitchel Park Library and Community Center!

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I think this project is being supervised by the same person who supervised the children's library construction, and did superb job, I believe under budget, too.

If something had to be fixed, it's a good thing it was caught now. Take a closer look a the contractor, for sure. But lawsuits are last resorts.

Like this comment
Posted by lawsuit?
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:26 am

and when the city screws up royally like mismanaging public funds, who sues them? the city needs to accept their part of this fiasco, swallow their pride, be held accountable and do not sue anyone over this.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2011 at 11:08 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The error should have been caught during plan check before the job bid. Did the city do this in house, or did they job it out?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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