On May 27, Shifflet advised Hanson to pursue these deeper inquiries through a Public Records Act request. She even supplied him with the number of the bid that Heffler won.
But the next day, Shifflet wrote Hanson that she had “to make a correction to the method of how we hired Heffler.… In April 2006 the Park and Recreation Department requested the Contract Services Department to provide a sole source contract for the Beyer Boulevard project.… Several projects were submitted…for the use of the [$1 million grant] money but were turned down by the State. In 2005 the State agreed to the Beyer Boulevard Ranger station and trail, but the money had to be paid out by June 2007. City [and other] permits were obtained in September 2006. One of the permit conditions was that construction could not occur during the bird-breeding season. This only allowed construction to occur from September 16 to March 15. [Thus] the construction schedule…did not allow for a three month public bid process and…a sole source contract was requested and approved.”
Shifflet sent one final email to Hanson. It included an amendment to Heffler’s cost summary sheet for the Beyer staging area. The amended summary detailed how the project reached its $500,000 overrun. Perhaps many costs had been anticipated from the project’s beginning, for the summary showed that $382,639 was administrative expenses, including $215,910 to the City. But $135,053 was new construction costs. Of these, $104,536 came in two project “change orders.”
The Heffler Company, Inc., of National City, founded by contractor Patrick Heffler, has completed numerous projects for the San Diego Park and Recreation Department. The company has often gone back for “change orders,” according to the minutes of the San Diego City Council. At city council meetings, one often sees change orders approved for construction projects. After searching meeting minutes, I am unable to find approval of the change orders Heffler received for the Beyer staging area.
Costs are one thing, quality of what you pay for quite another. George Hanson tells me of a different San Diego County open-space park facility he recently visited. The Goodan Ranch/Sycamore Canyon Visitors Center, a 3200-square-foot building near Poway, opened in November to replace a center that was burned to the ground in the 2003 Cedar Fire. “The new building has a mini theater and a number of green aspects, such as solar paneling on the roof. It’s very impressive.”
(Costs increased in the Goodan Ranch project as well. When I called Mina Nguyen, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department, she was tight-lipped about the project’s final costs. But North County Times’ reports had put the bill originally at $1.4 million, then $1.5 and $1.7 million. The most recent figure I found came from the San Diego Union-Tribune, a little over $2 million.)
Hanson says that during meetings of the Otay Valley Regional Park’s Citizen Advisory Committee, his inquiries into finances were met with less than enthusiasm. At mention of possible irregularities, he said, one member’s “whole face looked like it dropped.” In the give-and-take of the committee’s June meeting, Hanson tells me, vice chairman Kevin O’Neil admonished him that it is not the charge of members to raise such questions. It gave Hanson a new metaphor for understanding what a citizen advisory committee is. “Remember in the old days,” he asks, “those play steering wheels for kids in cars?”