By Raquel White, Central Regional Compliance Manager. -
Emergencies are serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situations requiring immediate action. We never know when, how, or where that emergency will occur so we must take the necessary precautions to prepare ourselves.
In the case of an emergency, a public agency pursuant to a four-fifths vote of its governing body, may repair or replace a public facility, take any directly related and immediate action required by that emergency and procure the necessary equipment, services, and supplies for those purposes, without giving notice for bids to let contracts. A recent CIFAC investigation discovered unrelated repairs were added to an emergency declaration at the Capitola Wharf.
On February 13, 2020, the City Council declared an emergency as a result of broken pilings on the Capitola Wharf that occurred in January 2020. High surfs damaged two pilings located underneath the boat hoist which compromised the stability of the wharf. An assessment by the Public Works staff and Marine Engineers determined immediate action was necessary to prevent the hoist from falling into the bay. The council encouraged staff to include work from the larger wharf rehabilitation project scheduled next year. This gave me a reason for pause and prompted me to take a closer look at the emergency declaration details.
In addition to the two pilings that failed, the staff added a third piling to the emergency declaration. I notified the Public Works Director of my concerns surrounding the third piling and how in my opinion, it was unrelated to the emergency declaration. I also attended the City of Capitola Council meeting on March 12, 2020, and expressed CIFAC’s concerns about the third piling. The Public Works Director explained that the third piling located on the western side of the wharf broke several years ago, was not directly related to the emergency, and can be repaired in the wharf rehabilitation project scheduled next year. In response to CIFAC’s concerns, staff deleted the third piling from the emergency declaration scope of work. As a result of CIFAC’s involvement, the third piling will be competitively bid with the wharf rehabilitation project.
There is no denying that an emergency occurred that required immediate action. The City appropriately acted by declaring an emergency by a four-fifth votes and reviewing the action at subsequent regularly scheduled meetings to continue work under the emergency declaration pursuant to Public Contract Code section 22050.
Work intended for future projects unrelated to an emergency must be competitively bid, not added to an emergency declaration. Whether intentional or unintentional, agencies will try to add additional work that has nothing to do with an actual emergency to avoid competitively bidding the work. As Regional Compliance Managers we are actively working to increase job opportunities, maintain a level playing field, and ensure public works project are competitively bid.