SAME SECRET BROWN ACT EVADING “AD HOC” COMMITTEE SCHEME USED FOR TAJ MAHAL CREATED THE DOCK TAX
The Orange County Register has written a scathing story (below) on the Taj Mahal and how the cost has exploded to $140 million – the most expensive city hall ever build in the Orange County’s history. (BTW … the land was free). Over 30 years we will pay over $225 million for a building few will ever visit. The Register reports the cost could reach $278 million if the Obama Bonds used to finance the project are revised by Congress.
How did a city of 85,000 of the nation’s most educated and wealthy residents let it happen? We didn’t know about it.
Utilizing the same Brown Act evading scheme they used to hatch the Dock Tax, the Taj Mahal secret ad hoc committee if councilmembers Steve Rosansky, Mike Henn, and Ed Selich reviewed and approved all budgets, change orders, and payments. No agendas, public meetings, or debate. Usually on the consent calendar, the city council rubber stamped the secret committee’s recommendations. They were in a rush to cut the ribbon before Councilman Rosansky’s term expired – the day he cast his last vote as a councilman to levy the Dock Tax.
We were given numerous assurances that the Taj wouldn’t cost more than $60 million and selling the old city hall site would be sold to help pay for it. Then-city council candidate Rush Hill, local architect and Taj Mahal citizens committee member, arrogantly chided residents for asking tough questions about the cost of the project. He pledged to keep the Taj cost at $90 million – I guess in government being off by $50 million is close enough.
The Dock Tax is how they will help pay for it. $8 million per year in mortgage payments for the Taj for 30 years … we have been complacent for too long.
It’s time for a change.
P.S. Soon we will be taking depositions in our lawsuit to overturn the Dock Tax. You can help us keep up the fight by donating for this important lawsuit here.
How Newport’s City Hall cost $135 million, or more
NEWPORT BEACH – The city’s new $135 million Civic Center, dubbed the “Taj Mahal” by many, was not envisioned in a day.
Nor will it be paid for in a day. By the time the city pays for its dream home – and the cost of financing it over 30 years – the total bill to taxpayers will be at least $237 million, city finance documents show.
“The amount of money spent here is obscene for a Civic Center,” said Denys Oberman, a longtime resident and a vocal critic of the project. “With all the infrastructural needs we have, the council, with this project, has indebted our city. This is an example of irresponsibility.”
City officials defend the Civic Center and park project as a good investment. Designed to be both smart and beautiful, the finished product will be energy-efficient and durable enough to last a century, officials say.
“We get defensive about it because we see it as a once-in-a-lifetime project – and five or six projects in one,” City Manager Dave Kiff said. “People forget that. They say, ‘It’s just a city hall.’ … I think some of them will change their minds when they see the site, use the building, walk in the park. I would hope people would withhold their judgment until they see it and use it.”
A review of the project’s planning documents, contracts, invoices and change orders by the Orange County Register shows how the cost of the project tripled from an estimated $46 million in 2005 to a final projected cost closer to $139 million today.
•The scope of the project expanded from a new city hall, parking garage and upgraded fire station at the site of the old city hall on Balboa Peninsula, as envisioned in 2005, to a sprawling Civic Center on a park-like plot of ocean-view land just below Newport Center. Voters approved the site change in 2008, paving the way for the more ambitious project.
•City interest groups, including law enforcement and library officials, the public, and council members, asked for expensive additions to the project, including a community room, an emergency-readiness center, an expanded library, sculpture gardens, a pedestrian bridge, and a dog park.
•The city is funding most of the project with certificate-of-participation bonds that will cost taxpayers at least $225 million to repay principal and interest and will not be retired until 2040. If the city fails to get expected federal subsidies on the bonds, the cost will climb to $278 million.
For its money, Newport Beach will get a 95,000-square-foot, energy-efficient office building that includes council chambers and a community room, an emergency-readiness center in the basement, a 17,000-square-foot expansion of the Central Library, a 450-space parking garage sunk into the ground to preserve ocean views, 16 acres of parks including a pedestrian bridge, a Civic Green and public art, according to a presentation available on the city’s website.
The sprawling glass and steel Civic Center will be topped with a wavelike roof and furnished with high-end furniture and fixtures, including 204 leather Herman Miller chairs designed by modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames, at a cost of $1,073 each, according to city invoices.
Even the lawns will be carefully decorated, according to cost breakdowns prepared by the city. The city plans to pay $902 for professionals to pose15 rabbit sculptures at the site.
Assistant City Manager Steve Badum, the project manager for the city, said the project is being built at a time when construction and finance costs are low.
“When we look at this project several years from now, it will seem like a pretty good bargain,” Badum said.
The final design for the project was a decade in the making, rooted in a humble request brought before council members by city staff in 2001: create more space for city employees to work. Initial options for the expansion included trailers alongside city buildings on Balboa Peninsula, according to a staff report presented to the City Council at its Oct. 11, 2005 meeting.
With 37,880 square feet of usable space spread among five buildings, the City Hall was 11 percent to 25 percent too small, an assessment of the city’s space determined in 2002. The layout was inefficient, and some buildings fell short of accessibility and earthquake-safety standards, the assessment said.
By the end of 2005, the working plans for the expansion included a new City Hall of up to 79,000 square feet, a 350-space parking garage, a community center, and an upgrade of Fire Station No. 2 – all at the site of the old City Hall, according to council documents. One preliminary cost estimate was $46.4 million.
Not everyone agreed that the new city offices should be on Balboa Peninsula. Debate about the best spot for the project prompted study of various options in 2006. The estimated cost to build the project on the ocean-view plot of city-owned land north of the Central Library was $55.2 million. (City manager Kiff says this estimate did not include some of the design costs and furnishings.)
Residents ended the debate by approving Measure B in 2008, voting by a narrow margin (52.9 percent in favor) to move City Hall from the Lido Village area to Newport Center. At the time, there was no price tag attached to the project, although critics such as Oberman say there was an understanding it was going to stay in the neighborhood of $60 million.
“They did not stay with the original plan and certainly not with the original budget,” she said.
A CIVIC CENTER IS BORN
City Council minutes and planning documents show the scope of the project changed dramatically after residents approved Measure B, and projected costs quickly mounted.
The library needed more parking, which increased the size of the parking garage to 450 spaces, according to city documents. The library also needed more space, which resulted in a 17,000-square-foot expansion being added to the plan. A connection between the library and the city offices made sense to city officials, so that was included. The cost of the expansion and the connector was estimated at about $12 million.
The bigger parking garage blocked “protected views” of the ocean, so it had to be sunk into the ground. The estimated cost of excavation and a large shoring wall was about $8 million.
Community arts and culture representatives wanted a big community room to hold lecture series and other events.
Residents wanted a park on the 12-acre patch of land, and that required an estimated $15 million for development including trails, bridges, viewing areas, and an off-leash area for dogs.
The City Council stipulated that the project must achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification of silver or better from the U.S. Green Building Council. To get the certification, the project’s energy-efficient design includes a raised floor system, advanced lighting and climate-control technology, and plentiful use of natural light and ventilation, the estimated cost of which was at least $1 million. City officials say they expect the energy-efficient design to generate $85,000 per year in utility savings for the life of the building.
The city held a design competition and selected five architecture firms as finalists. They gave the five finalists $50,000 each to submit a preliminary design, then chose San Francisco-based design firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
In November 2009, the city hired C.W. Driver as construction manager for the project. Total cost estimates for the project then ranged from $82 million to $140 million, with the city’s target pegged at about $105 million (or $109 million with a pedestrian bridge), according to a staff report and videotapes of the Nov. 10, 2009 council meeting.
The design was revised some more, and by February 2011, total costs were estimated at $131.4 million to $135 million.
THE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE
One of the most expensive and controversial add-ons to the project was the $2 million pedestrian bridge across San Miguel Drive. The bridge, which was added to the project during the Nov. 29, 2011 council meeting, connects the Civic Center park to the smaller dog park across the street. It was the subject of spirited debate among council members, and some people have pointed to it as a symbol of the spare-no-expense mentality among city leaders.
Councilman Ed Selich was a staunch supporter of the footbridge, which he described as a “capstone” of the Civic Center project.
“Having the bridge really helps the park function as one,” he said. “The Civic Center will be our legacy for future generations; it will be the symbol of our city. At this time, $2 million may seem like a lot. But it is only 2 percent of our project cost.”
Other council members disagreed, saying the bridge was unnecessary, expensive, and a possible magnet for problems, including liability and graffiti.
“This is a waste of $2 million,” Councilman Steve Rosansky said. “Who is going to use this bridge?”
Rosansky cautioned fellow council members about getting carried away with the project.
“We can gold-plate this thing, we can put solar on the roof, we can do many things,” he said. “But we don’t have an unlimited budget. I don’t want to fritter the money away.”
Instead of adding the cost of the bridge to the project’s bottom line, council members opted to creatively finance it by taking advantage of C.W. Driver’s offer to contribute $1 million from its contingency fund – the wiggle room in its budget – if the city contributed $1 million from the city’s contingency fund.
The deciding vote on the matter was cast by Mike Henn, who previously had opposed what he described as “a bridge to nowhere.”
Henn said he decided to vote for the bridge because the city had an opportunity to take advantage of C.W. Driver’s offer, as opposed to waiting and deciding to build the bridge later at a greater cost.
As of Wednesday, the final cost of the bridge had not been determined because work was not complete and change orders were pending.
The change order for the bridge involves “zinc panel cladding” – a type of textured finish – to cover the concrete on the bridge’s elevator tower, Badum said. The city’s building committee recommended the zinc finish as “economical” compared with other decorative touches, including landscaping and other finishes, he said.
Why zinc panel cladding as opposed to bare concrete?
Said Badum: “Because it looks nice.”
STILL ADDING UP
The final cost of the project still has not been determined because work is still under way. The city plans to do a final cost analysis once the project is complete. In the meantime, Badum said, he would rather not speculate.
The council also soon will consider a request from former mayor Don Webb to add the original colors on the city seals at the new Civic Center. Webb pointed out during a recent council meeting that a modernist, brushed-aluminum disc with the city seal engraved on it lacks the original colors – splashes of blue, gold, red and white – used by artist Rexford Brandt, who was commissioned in 1957 to create the seal for the city.
Council members agreed that the modernist interpretations of the seals seem dull, so they will look into revising all four seals at the new Civic Center or at least the one hanging in council chambers. These revisions could end up costing thousands of dollars.
While the city may realize savings in some areas, an Orange County Register review of contracts and change orders determined that some projected costs have increased from estimates on the city’s website. For example, a change order dated Dec. 7, 2012 increases C.W. Driver’s contract to $107.9 million – about $1.4 million more than the amount originally approved.
Other contract amendments and invoices also show costs greater than the projections stated on the city’s website.
Invoices for furniture and fixtures for the project as of June 26, 2012, show costs of about $2.6 million – about $600,000 more than the projected cost listed on the city’s spreadsheet. The council approved an additional $500,000 for furniture and fixtures for the library expansion, bringing the grand total for approved spending to $3.1 million, or $1.1 million greater than the projected costs on the city’s documents.
Added onto the bottom line, the changes bring the total projected cost closer to $139 million, which was the top end of an estimate in a staff report presented to the City Council as the design neared competition in November 2009. But city officials say it’s also possible that there will be cost savings, unexpended contingencies and other last-minute changes that reduce that final total.
Councilwoman Leslie Daigle says the city has done a good job of controlling costs and shepherding the project.
“I’m happy with the way the project was managed,” she said. “The city is strong financially, we have steady sources of revenue and a AAA credit rating. We did the project correctly by entering into a fixed-price agreement with the construction manager.”
Other council members also have defended the city’s management of the project and its need for a spacious new home – despite the recent downsizing of staff and the possibility of more staff reductions if the city outsources services as proposed in recent months.
Badum said he wasn’t concerned that the city would have too much space. He said the city could lease out any extra space to local organizations and businesses.
Still, some residents have questioned whether the finished product is excessive and whether residents knew what they and council were approving as the project grew in scope and cost.
As a comparison, the city of Laguna Niguel built a city hall in 2011 at Crown Valley and Alicia parkways. Although Newport Beach and Laguna Niguel had the same construction manager, C.W. Driver, Laguna Niguel paid $4 million to acquire the land from the county and spent about $24 million on construction. The entire project was paid for in cash because of years of saving by city officials.
Despite more than 40 community meetings held by the city to discuss the Newport Beach Civic Center project, some residents did not get a clear view of the costs each component added to the project, said Ron Hendrickson, one of several people behind the ballot measure to put the Civic Center in Newport Center.
Hendrickson, formerly an architect and planner with the Irvine Co., said those who voted for the measure did so under the assumption that the budget for the project would be $60 million, as originally estimated.
“I still support the project, but I have questions about several superfluous features such as the dog park, pedestrian bridge and that sail which we could have lived without,” he said. “Although I’m supportive of the project, I don’t think the project was ever well-explained to residents.”
The sail Hendrickson mentioned is another one of the Civic Center’s architectural features – a giant, glow-in-the-dark, fabric sail created by a scrim of Teflon-coated mesh draped over the council chambers to evoke a flying spinnaker.
Badum said the City Council wanted an iconic building, and that became an “extremely complex” project. Ultimately, the cost of the City Hall building works out to about $600 per square foot – or about $660 per resident, according to the Register’s calculations – a hefty sum, but one that is reasonable for the quality of the once-in-a-century office building, he said.
“I don’t think (the City Council) or the public for that matter realized what they asked for when they asked for this building at this location,” Badum says. “This is no cheap tilt-up. This is a high-quality building, something that would last a century. In the end, you really get what you pay for.”
Register Staff Writers Mike Reicher and Taylor Hill contributed to this report.