Millions Lost Due To L.A. Force Account

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Millions Lost Due To L.A. Force Account

A series of recent expensive failures by the City of Los Angeles public works force account workers highlights one of the main reasons CIFAC exists—to save taxpayers a fortune spent fixing issues caused by incompetence. We believe that public works should be built by private at-risk contractors—under the banner of the California Public Contract Code (PCC) and other applicable laws.Michelle Tucker, Executive Director

The most recent examples of these pricey failures come to us courtesy of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the Street Services division of the City of L.A. Public Works Department. Within the past year, these two agencies demonstrated a level of incompetence that will end up costing citizens more than $6 million.

While it makes no difference, these tales of two massive agency foul-ups beg for an explanation of the cause—we know about the cost.

In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stuck LADWP with mandatory purchase of millions in “mitigation credits” and an additional fine for violations of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA). These penalties stem from findings of a 2016 inspection of the Van Norman Complex in the San Fernando Detention Basin. The EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife inquiry found “extensive vegetation clearing and soil displacement on the property.” In 2013 and 2016, almost eight acres of open water and adjacent wetlands in the basin had been graded, filled and channelized without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Under the terms of an EPA order, LADWP will purchase $5.3 million in “mitigation credits” at the Peterson Ranch Mitigation Bank for damaging wetlands on its Granada Hills property and pay a $94,000 “administrative” penalty. Mitigation credit “banking” is used by environmental agencies “to preserve, enhance, restore or create a wetland to compensate for adverse impacts to similar nearby ecosystems.” This imaginary currency, paid for with real money, this time supplied by the ratepayers who get water, gas and electric power from LADWP.

While CIFAC repeatedly challenges LADWP’s force account work, we haven’t been able to get the Agency, with 9,400 workers, to hear reason on this issue...but, we keep trying. Mistakes like failing to get an Army Corps 404 permit for what they called “maintenance” work is the latest example of why the work should go to private contractors. If they make mistakes like this, the cost of making things right fall on the companies—not the four million customers of LADWP—which is why they do not.

Sidewalk Tricks

The L. A. Bureau of Street Services bills itself as the “Custodian of the City’s Street System,” but last year city workers made such a mess of simple sidewalk replacement projects that they will have to be torn out and replaced—paying double for the same work.

This snafu was reported on by a local television station in January 2018 when they ran an expose regarding problems city workers were having to perform the work needed to comply with a settlement of a class action lawsuit (Willits v City of Los Angeles) to make sidewalks compliant with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement which is the largest ADA payout in the city’s history, requires the City to spend at least $1.367 billion over the next 30 years to make its public sidewalk and crosswalk system accessible to persons with mobility disabilities.

It will require the City to install, repair, and upgrade curb ramps; repair sidewalks and walkways damaged by tree roots; repair broken or uneven pavement; correct non-compliant cross-slopes in sidewalks; install tree gates and missing utility covers, and remediate other inaccessible conditions among the main conditions.

As the TV report discovered, the force account employees had significant difficulties meeting the federal standards required to make a sidewalk. They even hired their investigators to measure things like wheelchair ramp sidewalk slope and whether ramps were built across from each other to facilitate disabled travelers getting where they needed to go.

The experts, certified ADA professionals and private civil engineers, all said that much of the work would have to be redone. Again, if a private contractor had failed on a project at such a massive scale they would have to pay for necessary repairs themselves and probably be barred from doing similar projects for the City in the future.

CIFAC is actively trying to get the City of Los Angeles Public Works Department to recognize their inefficiencies and we will continue to advocate the work going to bid.