Attea wrote back, “At present, I am planning to attend the celebration. Bill”
The original start date for corner lot development was April 2011. However, due to continued contactor-related scandals and leadership changes at the college, the lot is still nothing but 2.6 acres of dirt.
Many people interviewed over the past year have suggested that the flood of bond money ushered in a new way of doing business in the South Bay and may account for the troubled tenures of both superintendents. Yehudi Gaffen, chief executive of Gafcon, likens the construction culture in the South Bay to Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s.
In both school districts, the program managers who successfully handled the earlier bond money were summarily dumped after passage of the new bonds — Proposition O at Sweetwater and R at Southwestern. Maas Companies had managed construction for Southwestern, and Gafcon and Harris & Associates had managed construction for Sweetwater.
Gafcon had been selected by a panel of staff and outside experts to handle Proposition O construction. However, Gandara complained of mismatched stucco and twisted rain gutters and chose Gilbane/SGI (Seville Group Inc.) to do future work, although the panel had ranked Seville next to last. In a recent interview, Yehudi Gaffen said, “We were selected by a handpicked, blue-ribbon panel to be the program manager for Proposition O, and then we were unselected by Gandara. This practice [of ignoring the ranking] is unusual, unorthodox, and usually means that someone higher up did not like the result. What’s particularly vexing is we had nothing to do with the buildings singled out for shoddy work.”
Both Gandara and Chopra hired the same man, Henry Amigable, to manage their districts’ multimillion-dollar bond projects. Amigable worked for Gilbane Construction from February 2006 to March 2008, managing Proposition O construction at Sweetwater, and then in April 2008 he slid over to Seville Construction to manage Southwestern’s Proposition R construction.
Last year, the Union-Tribune exposed a wine and golf junket taken by Henry Amigable with then-Southwestern vice president Nicholas Alioto and Chris Rowe of Echo Pacific. Rowe had bid $15,000 for the trip at a silent auction held during a gala put on by the college’s foundation.
Part of Amigable’s job as program manager involved “assisting in evaluating bids” and making recommendations “concerning the acceptance or rejection of bids.” After the trio returned from their weekend of golf and wine tasting, Rowe’s contracting business, Echo Pacific, was awarded a $4 million contract for work on the corner lot. In January 2011, Southwestern trustee Tim Nader confirmed that Amigable was no longer Seville’s program manager. Amigable now works for Echo Pacific.
A tantalizing invoice, acquired through a public records request, casts doubt on the integrity of the college’s bidding process. The invoice was submitted by Seville Construction to Southwestern College requesting reimbursement for binders and paper that Seville had ordered for the bond oversight committee. It was dated June 2009, five months before Seville was hired to manage Prop R funds. The call for bids did not go out until three months later, in September 2009. Seville was hired to manage the bond construction that November. A call to Jeff Flores, chief executive for Seville Construction, concerning this invoice was not returned.
While Chopra and Gandara walk away with their pockets full of taxpayer dollars, their regimes are reportedly under investigation by the district attorney’s office. Southwestern has called for an extra audit of Proposition R spending, and Sweetwater is considering another audit of Proposition O spending.
Meanwhile, Southwestern College is conducting a new $26,000 search for a superintendent using an executive search firm called Community College Search Services. Sweetwater Union’s board has not discussed search firms yet, says board member Ricasa, but she is “open to looking, reviewing, and interviewing a variety of firms.”