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Hot construction market stalls fire station project in Palo Alto

Original post made on Jul 24, 2019

A sizzling construction market has dampened Palo Alto's effort to replace the Rinconada Park fire station, which is now slated to be completed nearly a year behind the initial schedule.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 4:14 PM

Comments (30)

14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2019 at 4:17 pm

Is this going to be another Mitchell Park library fiasco?


9 people like this
Posted by tom kearns
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 24, 2019 at 4:35 pm

tom kearns is a registered user.

The empire state building was built in 1 year, 45 days. That was 103 stories. The fire house is
2 stories. What am I missing ?


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 24, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Seems like the average McMansion style homes are taking upwards of 5 years to complete around here.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast - custom homes are completed (with the families moved in), within a year. Tract homes even faster.
Sheesh


15 people like this
Posted by Low Bidder Problem
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 24, 2019 at 5:47 pm

Just another example of how the City loses when it picks the legally mandated low bidder.

The low bidder is low because they do not understand the project complexity and have a poor relationship with sub-contractors. Simply obtain a CA Contractor's License and a Bidder Bond and whatever stupid price you come up with the City is required to accept.

CPA needs a better vetting process for their contractors.

We saw the low bidder disaster at the Mitchel Park Library, and this is much the same.


25 people like this
Posted by Chris C.
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 24, 2019 at 6:11 pm

I finished rebuilding our house a couple of years ago, and the market was hot then too. As far as I can tell, in a hot construction market the process of getting work done often goes like this:

a) solicit bids.
b) pick the lowest bidder amongst subs who have a reputation for good work.
c) have them show up and start doing work.
d) someone else offers them a bit more. They go away and start working on that project instead.
e) they promise they are still working on your project, but have a series of excuses for the delay.
f) either your contractor guilts them into coming back through the promise of future work, their other higher paid work runs out and they return, or you fire them and hire someone else at a higher price. Or you start paying them more than they originally agreed to.

There is no functional mechanism to get them to stick to their original price and schedule -- other than agreeing to a higher price than anyone else is willing to pay right now in the first place.

I'm guessing that this is why so many construction projects around here are stalling. The fundamental problem is too much work and not enough people to do it.


Like this comment
Posted by Question
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 24, 2019 at 9:37 pm

Question: if it’s an issue of unskilled or semi-skilled laborers shortage, why can’t some of those who say they’re out of work, can’t find work, receive public assistance and lots of outreach support, residing in tents, etc. take this work!


6 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2019 at 9:45 pm

I bet the City wished they didn't spend the $25,000.00 on painting Trees Blue at City Hall, they could have paid a developer and got the job done on schedule..


6 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2019 at 10:21 pm

What possible need was there to build a new fire station? To give the firefighters more comfortable sleeping quarters? $9.9 million? Why is the city and its unions continually soaking its taxpayers?


8 people like this
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2019 at 6:17 am

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2019 at 9:25 am

Posted by tom kearns, a resident of Charleston Meadows

>> The empire state building was built in 1 year, 45 days. That was 103 stories. The fire house is
2 stories. What am I missing ?

That is what the article is about. For me, this is a moment when I say,
"I hate to say I told you so, but, I told you so."

The time for a city to undertake these projects is NOT during a hot economy with an ongoing building boom. That is when you put money into a -reserve fund- for infrastructure projects. Then, during a downturn, you negotiate better deals and schedules. Simple. A few cities are smart enough to do it, but, most cities get caught up in the booms and want to build then, and, get cautious during the busts and don't want to build then. Exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. I guess we aren't so smart here in Palo Alto as we thought. But then, we knew that. ;-)


6 people like this
Posted by Earthquake Safe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:03 am

Earthquake Safe is a registered user.

The previous fire stations could not open their doors after an earthquake, so having a firestation that still allows the engines to get out and fight the fires in our neighborhoods is a big improvement.


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:30 am

> previous fire stations could not open their doors after an earthquake

After which earthquake was that?


6 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:54 am

The Firehouse in East Palo Alto on Runnymede and University also took far too long and was delayed several years due to contractor issues. It is surprising that the fire district did not learn from that experience and run this project more efficiently.


5 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2019 at 11:01 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

Public entities have to take the lowest bidder; it seems to be the law in the State of California. Stupid as it is - the law, that is.


7 people like this
Posted by Marge
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 25, 2019 at 11:23 am

What makes me crazy is the City requires to take the lowest bid. However they end up paying out just as much, if not more, as they would if they had chosen a better contractor. All of the delays, replacing of sub contractors, having to pay more money to hire someone to finish the product and then they get inferior work and have to redo stuff after the building was supposed to be completed. PAY FAIR COMPATIBALE MARKET WAGES take the middle bid and budget accordingly so you don't run into these issues.


7 people like this
Posted by OldPA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 25, 2019 at 11:40 am

OldPA Resident is a registered user.

Empire State Building was built during the Depression so it wasn't difficult to employ 3000 workers for the project and obtain materials that no one else was buying.


6 people like this
Posted by No Shows
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 25, 2019 at 1:28 pm

“The fundamental problem is too much work and not enough people to do it.” Chris C. Hit the nail on the head!

I can’t tell you how many times I have waited hours for a contractor to stop by and give an estimate, and then not show up. Or they show up, then never get back to me with the estimate.


4 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2019 at 2:07 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

My question was always what was wrong with the old firehouse. The design was even pretty good (as if that should be a criterion).

So, now are fire protection is reduced while we wait for something I don't know that we needed in the first place.

I wonder how the new public safety building on Sherman will go. Thankfully, my company just completed a move from offices on Sherman to a facility that has real parking at no extra cost. Not even a structure, just open spaces, and a surplus at that.



9 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 25, 2019 at 2:24 pm

The city has to take the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. this is a requirement of the Public Contract Code. Get our state Gov't to overturn the PCC and that will help fix the problem. Then get our council to slow down on encouraging Companies to build in the City. Slow down the economy.


3 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2019 at 5:20 pm

Green Gables is a registered user.

The reason construction costs more is because of CHANGE ORDERS from the lowest bidder in public entities. Walter Hays elementary had MANY change orders when it was being renovated several years ago, and PAUSD was being stupid and did not know any better,


5 people like this
Posted by Re: Lowest Bidder Problem
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Anyone else thing $9.9 million is a lot to pay for an oversized garage with some bedrooms and ancillary office space above.

The notion that $9.9 million was a low bid is ludicrous. $9.9 million in just construction costs (no land aquisition costs were a part of this) is so unbelievably high. Ask around, people have built 10,000 square foot homes with incredibly complex and highly custom elements in neighboing Atherton and haven't spent $9.9 million on the cost of construction.

I'm flabbergasted. Sand the way the reporter suggests that at least the contractor hasn't asked for more as if that's some consolation is also laughable. I could have built this firehouse in less than 8 months for half the cost.


12 people like this
Posted by Low Bid Problem
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2019 at 8:38 pm

The project is $9.9M because it is critical infrastructure.

CA Building Code requires these buildings to remain in service during a severe earthquake. The doors must open, the walls must not fail, the plumbing and electrical systems must remain functioning, back up utilities must work.

In a few years, when the big one comes, and it certainly will, this firehouse will be operational and provide residents with immediate assistance.

Lets not lose track of why we need firehouses and other critical infrastructure to be built to a higher standard than typical commercial construction.

The fact that the low bidder is nearly always incompetent is a completely separate issue.

It is almost a maxim that a low bidder will be more expensive due to the additional soft costs necessary to manage the project and perform subsequent repairs. You almost never see our very best local contractors (Devcon/Butler/Vance Brown) bid public work. These contractors understand what it takes to complete a project on time and on budget and will not waste their time preparing bids against incompetent public contractors.


5 people like this
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2019 at 9:25 pm

10 million for a fire station and the city already owns the land. Crazy!


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:00 pm

The newest Menlo Park fire station cost $11.54 million to build.

"The new 8,335-square-foot station replaces an older 3,000-square-foot building that opened in 1953, according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

The new station cost $11.54 million to build, including design fees, construction, project management fees and other costs, according to a district release."

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by concerned neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:31 pm

I think this delay is a disgrace. Isn't there a penalty clause in the contract that requires the contractor to incur damages/losses if they fail to meet contracted deadlines? And as for the comment that the project is on budget, I recall attending a City Council meeting not too long ago where one of the items on the budget was the allocation of additional funds for "project management fees" for this project. The city staffer said these types of additional payments were "normal" for a project like this. Really? Sounds like we're getting ripped off. And the article leads me to seriously wonder if the quality of the finished building has already been compromised. Someone needs to take a serious look at this project to make sure we don't end up with a lemon of a fire station.


4 people like this
Posted by He Must Go
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2019 at 7:47 pm

Here is the real problem. Things have really changed in Palo Alto. The downhill spiral started in November of 2017. The day James Keene allowed Peter Pirnejad to move part of the development services organization, split up if you will to 526 Bryant and to a mothballed fire station # 8 in the hills.

The building has a beautiful 2nd floor office which of course was Peter's office they put all of the building inspectors in the basement a completely non accessible building. Within a few months there was the fire at the 530 Bryant on January 15th 2018 which is actually connected to the 526 Bryant address well it flooded out the basement in that space. The building inspectors who worked there had no space for the almost next 6 months because of the incompetence mostly of George Hoyt. He would let the inspectors back in then there would be something else that would force them out like 4 more leaks that flooded the same space.

Fast forward a little George Hoyt has announced to so many that he plans on moving all city staff in the Development Center to contract staff. ie: 4 Leaf you see these cars all over the city now, we’ll they are contractors performing what used to be city building inspector positions. But what is the best is that George Hoyt worked for 4 Leaf before he became the building official. Conflict of interest you tell me. I guess there’s not much oversight in Palo Alto anymore.

Continuing with the disfunction is George Hoyt’s best friend & number one enforcer 4 Leaf employee Korwyn Peck, this gem works only 4 days a week. He flies back and forth to Utah every week for a nice 3 day weekend every week. This is the part you have been waiting for besides being a sudo building inspector he is the one who is really managing the construction of the Rinconada Fire Station he was assigned the project from George Hoyt.

If you really look you can find out this information like I did. This city is so corrupt with the back slapping and back room deals people like George Hoyt and Korwyn Peck Must Go people like Michelle Flaherty have been complicit in all of this since she was assigned to oversee the development center after Peter Pirnejad left.

Go to city hall and demand that HE MUST GO. It’s hard to believe that one person could be responsible for so much dysfunction but it’s true. Look at all the turn over this person has caused within the past year all of the managers have left the development center they have all told me one thing I’m leaving because of George Hoyt.

HE MUST GO


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 27, 2019 at 2:28 pm

@ No Show

Let me ask you a question? Would you stop work to look at a project that you might get? Knowing that the person has eight bids already, or more. On the residential side their are a lot of owner builders, they just want to pick your brain, then have their guys from Home Depot do it. Furthermore, whoever "wins" the bid usually has made a mistake and will lose their shirts. Or they are unethical and knowing going into it the the plans were incomplete and capitalize on it by making change orders, in order to get the job in the first place.

This whole scenario has driven a lot of good people out of business. One of the inspectors from 4 leaf told me a while back: "Between the homeowner who wants twenty bids for $15,000 with line items, and the crooked contractors waiting to capitalize on change orders, the deserve each other."

Back in the day, the lowest bid was thrown out automatically.


4 people like this
Posted by @Question
a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2019 at 7:22 pm

"Question: if it’s an issue of unskilled or semi-skilled laborers shortage, why can’t some of those who say they’re out of work, can’t find work, receive public assistance and lots of outreach support, residing in tents, etc. take this work!"

If one is making $17 an hour and has four kids and a wife, with government benefits they are making over $100,000 a year.

1) free health care for a family of six
2) free education for the kids
3) free food stamps
4) free housing through section 8
5) the kids of undocumented workers get healthcare until they are 26
6) There are medical grants out there for folks who do not qualify for Medi- Cal, this is the clincher, it is only for undocumented workers.
It is a grant that does not need to be paid back. U.S. citizens do not qualify for this grant.

Why is this relevant? 90% of unskilled labor in the bay area is undocumented.

Unfortunately, this is why Trump will be re-elected again.





4 people like this
Posted by He must go
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2019 at 8:33 pm

I get some of the questions after my comment. Most contractors make money on change orders. True.... But in this case I know for fact that the ones guarding the hen house were asleep at the wheel. There were many standard codes / practices that occurred at the fire station, that were in fact on the plans that did not get executed. Only after it was brought to the powers to be ie: Korwyn Peck , George Hoyt’s hand pick enforcer did it get resolved. You need to realize that items I’m talking about were on the plans, this is how it was to be built, but there again is no oversight on this corrupt regime. When your in control of an orginization like this you can do and say anything in order to cover yourself. But the fact of the matter is that your in control of a vast number of subcontracted employees whom you previously worked for your slightly tainted. Tell me your not? This is how we get into messes like this....
He Must Go


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 27, 2019 at 9:23 pm

You are right, you would be amazed at how many folks in the industry can not (or will not) read a set of plans. A lot of these guys have a background as a general B contractor ( above ground), most have do not have much experience as a general A (below ground).It takes hours to study just a basic set of house plans, let alone a commercial site. And there are constant revisions, as- built, elevations that are incorrect.... ect.


But in this case I believe you are correct.


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