The Big Three on the
CVESD School Board,
Patrick Judd, Pamela
Smith and Larry
held power for many
years. They have
shown disrespect for
the law, for
students and for
parents. They do,
however, get along
very well with
Builders, board members and superintendents
In November 2005 CVESD
lawyers Stutz, Artiano,
Shinoff & Holtz announced
a deal with builder
Stutz Artiano has made
public its intention to
move from its current
offices which are
four blocks away from
courthouse, to Corky
development at the
former Naval Training
What's the deal?
The lawyers can't be
happy about having to
drive to downtown San
Diego and then find a
parking space every
time they have to make
a court appearance.
They'll have to charge
the taxpayers even
more now, because
they'll spend more time
Did Corky McMillan
make it worth their
while to move? Why
this law firm? Could it
be because Stutz and
McMillan have so many
mutual close friends on
Does McMillan think
that Stutz can deliver
from public officials?
Lisa Briggs, former
executive director of
the San Diego
says Grossmont Union
High School District has
a "bunker mentality"
when it comes to
spending. See link at
CVESD named a school
after local builder
Why? Did board
contributions from him?
See below* for recent
Corky McMillan and
School Construction Firm
Faces Fine for Campaign
The Seville Group Inc.,
which is one of two
managing the bond
program for Sweetwater
Union High School
District, is facing a
proposed $44,500 fine
from the Fair Political
Practices Commission for
failing to file campaign
contribution reports on
The late reports include
several contributions to
campaigns for Sweetwater
school board members,
including Jim Cartmill,
Pearl Quinones and Greg
Sandoval, and for the
bond, Proposition O.,
itself. Overall, Seville
Group faces 19 counts for
late filings over the past
five years, some of which
happened more than
three years after the legal
The FPPC website does,
however, state that Seville
Group did take steps to
remedy the problems,
including hiring a
professional group to
statements, and reporting
its own violations to the
FPPC. The commission
will decide whether to
approve the fine at a
meeting next Thursday.
Seville was chosen to
manage the Sweetwater
bond program two years
ago in a process that
proved controversial with
some members of the last
committee. Read more
about that issue here.
-- EMILY ALPERT
September 3, 2009
Ranking High No Guarantee of Winning Work in
By EMILY ALPERT
Aug. 24, 2009 |
To decide which attorneys should help advise Sweetwater Union High School District
on its $644 million construction bond two years ago, employees and outside experts
interviewed four firms. They ranked them on their experience, their credentials and
Two of the four seemed unlikely to get the job. Bowie, Arneson, Wiles & Giannone
was ranked third. Garcia Calderon & Ruiz, was ranked last.
Yet two months later, both were hired over higher ranked firms. District staff said
Bowie had helped sit on the committee that proposed the bond and would charge
less than the competition. Garcia had "experience and knowledge of the district."
The interview committee decided to override its own rankings, Chief Financial Officer
Dianne Russo later explained.
It had happened before. As Sweetwater hired help to spend the $644 million that
Proposition O authorized for school construction, the district repeatedly ignored its
own rankings of consultants.
Superintendent Jesus Gandara pushed for an architect that built schools he liked,
even though it ranked lower than others. Sweetwater chose a company to manage
the construction bond that wasn't initially ranked first. Another company got points in
its ranking for being local, but still rated lower than nine other firms. School officials
moved it to the top anyway because it was a local company. Their recommendations
then went to the school board for approval.
To gauge how closely rankings were being followed, voiceofsandiego.org reviewed
the scores for five major functions of the facilities bond. Lower-ranked companies
won work four of the five times.
The rankings are compiled by employees and outside experts in
facilities, finance or the law. Firms are ranked on clear, agreed
criteria. But getting the highest ranking doesn't guarantee that a company will get
hired. School officials say rankings aren't final decisions, only the beginning of a
process in which numerous other factors can intervene. Interviews and records show
that Sweetwater often picked companies based on intangible factors that were not
included in the rankings.
Choosing a company based on factors that aren't quantified in a ranking "is the least
transparent (method) and it is the most subjective," said Tad Parzen, formerly
general counsel for San Diego Unified. "But the best decisions aren't always made
on quantitative information."
Those factors are often invisible to the public, unlike the listed criteria in rankings.
That makes it difficult to gauge why a company was chosen and whether the process
was fair. And when companies with lower scores are picked because of other factors,
it appears to render the rankings irrelevant.
The rankings became controversial when Sweetwater chose a program manager for
the bond. The program manager schedules construction projects, tracks costs and
documents progress. Nick Marinovich, a community member who sat on the
oversight committee for an earlier school construction bond, complained about the
process for picking the new program manager, Gilbane/Seville Group Inc., which had
ranked lower than another company.
"The superintendent steered it the way he wanted it to go. It was bogus," said
Marinovich, who has worked for more than a dozen years as a project manager with
the county of San Diego and briefly for the losing company. Marinovich said in his
experience elsewhere, it's "very rare" that the highest-ranked company wouldn't be
School districts and other government agencies have wide latitude to decide who to
choose when hiring professionals such as architects or attorneys. They do not have
to choose the lowest bidder, nor do they have to follow any particular process to pick
the winner. They don't have to rank candidates, as Sweetwater has repeatedly done.
The law says only that for architects and engineering services, government agencies
must use a "fair, competitive selection process" untainted by conflicts of interest.
No such conflicts are apparent in Sweetwater. Some seemingly unlikely winners did
donate to help the campaign convince voters to pass the construction bond in 2006
or elect school board members. But other winning companies gave less than their
competitors or not at all. Neither Gandara nor the school board members report
having any financial interest in the firms.
Unlike Marinovich and other community members who oversaw the last round of
construction projects, members of the new oversight committee for Proposition O
said they don't get involved in decisions about which companies to pick, nor would
they second guess them. Rudy Gonzalez, who leads the oversight committee for the
bond, said he ultimately didn't care how the companies were chosen as long as the
bond was run well.
Not every winner was an unlikely one. Sweetwater opted for the same financial
advisor that its panel of interviewers ranked as the best. But firms with lower rankings
were repeatedly picked:
* Sweetwater chose the two law firms, Bowie and Garcia, that were
ranked lowest by interviewers. One interviewer wrote that he
wouldn't recommend Garcia at all because the firm already worked
for the district in a different legal capacity and he wanted to see
"checks and balances."
Russo, the district's chief financial officer, said the rankings were only the prelude to
a discussion where the interviewers decided which firms they wanted to recommend.
They chose not to recommend the highest-ranking firm because it had been used
before, Russo said, and the school district wanted to give another firm a chance. So
it chose Bowie instead.
Russo said their recommendations then went to Gandara to choose the top
candidates to send to the school board for approval. When asked why the staffers
ranked candidates if the rankings weren't used to thin the herd, Russo said: "I don't
know. I guess we didn't have to." She said they were nonetheless useful because
they helped staff decide if any companies were ineligible.
* To pick an architect, Sweetwater first screened dozens of applications and
eliminated more than half. A panel then interviewed nine architects. Two firms that it
ranked at the bottom of the list were later recommended to the school board over
other, higher ranked firms, along with some of the top ranked firms.
School district spokeswoman Lillian Leopold said one architect was recommended
because it was local. Another winner, Ruhnau Ruhnau Clarke, had built two local
schools that Gandara considered better looking than most in Sweetwater. The
company was ultimately recommended to the school board despite having been
ranked second-to-last. It was founded in Riverside and has a Carlsbad office.
"If I wouldn't have participated in that process, Ruhnau Ruhnau and Clarke -- who is
local -- would have been cut out," Gandara said. "What a shame if that would have
* School districts with construction bonds typically hire a program manager, a
company that supervises the multi-million-dollar effort. An initial interview panel
comprising district staff and outsiders ranked Harris Gafcon first among the
companies competing to manage the bond. It was the program manager for the
district's last facilities bond.
But when the choice went to a second interview panel, another company emerged as
the winner. Gandara said all but one interviewer chose Gilbane/Seville Group Inc.
Meeting minutes indicate that then-facilities director Ramon Leyba said
Gilbane/Seville "had a better sense of what diversity meant" than did Harris, and
would do a better job of increasing minority hires among contractors.
Gandara said Sweetwater had good reasons for weighing other factors besides
Harris Gafcon's ranking. He was displeased with renovations done under the last
bond at Sweetwater High School. Stucco around new windows didn't match the
surrounding building. Rain gutters on the buildings were twisted.
"Here's the bottom line. You can talk about process -- should you have filled out a
form, could there be more transparency -- but the average person out there wants to
know, 'Are you giving me a better product at the same cost as before?'" Gandara
Not everyone was swayed. Marinovich wrote a letter to the school board questioning
the process. Dan Malcolm, who led the oversight committee during the previous
bond, said Harris had done a good job and it seemed unusual that the highest
ranked firm would not win.
* Sweetwater also needed a company to sell bonds to investors, known as a bond
underwriter. Among the bond underwriters who competed to work in Sweetwater, a
lower-ranked company, Alta Vista Financial, got moved to the top of the pack
because it was a small local firm, Russo said. It was pushed ahead of nine firms with
equal or better rankings, even though it had already gotten added points in the
ranking for being a local firm.
Sweetwater UHSD's Jesus Gandara strikes again:
inviting contractors to bring cash to bridal shower
Bridal Showers and Choosing Companies in Sweetwater
March 24, 2011
by Emily Alpert
The Sweetwater Union High School District superintendent invited construction
contractors who might benefit from his decisions to a bridal shower for his daughter
that mentioned a money tree on the invitation, the Union-Tribune reported today.
Arguing that there was nothing wrong with inviting them, Superintendent Jesus
Gandara told the Union-Tribune that he doesn't have final say over which companies
are chosen for school district projects; the school board does. The U-T reported:
According to district policy, the superintendent and his staff have the ability to reject
contract bids and to accept them, subject to board approval. He is also required to
"provide guidance to the board to assist in decision-making."
As part of guiding the school board, Gandara has made his preferences for
construction companies known in the past. A few years ago, we reported that
Sweetwater had repeatedly chosen companies that weren't ranked highest by their
own staff. Twice Gandara had weighed in, once pushing for an architect that built
schools he liked, once on which program manager to pick:
Nick Marinovich, a community member who sat on the oversight committee for an
earlier school construction bond, complained about the process for picking the new
program manager, Gilbane/Seville Group Inc., which had ranked lower than another
"The superintendent steered it the way he wanted it to go. It was bogus," said
Marinovich, who has worked for more than a dozen years as a project manager with
the county of San Diego and briefly for the losing company. ...
Gandara said Sweetwater had good reasons for weighing other factors besides Harris
Gafcon's ranking. He was displeased with renovations done under the last bond at
Sweetwater High School. Stucco around new windows didn't match the surrounding
building. Rain gutters on the buildings were twisted.
So while the school board does make the final decision, the superintendent can
influence that decision — and in the past his input has been important in deciding
Construction lobby’s members included state seismic
April 9, 2011
Corey G. Johnson
The state office in charge of enforcing strict earthquake standards for public schools
has been closely intertwined with the construction industry it regulates, records and
For at least a decade, top managers with the Division of the State Architect were
members of a lobbying group, the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, which
repeatedly has pushed for less regulation and oversight of school construction.
School construction regulators mingled at conferences, golf tournaments and
dinners and held policy briefings for the lobbying group and its clients at monthly
meetings. The majority of the group, known as CASH, is made up of school
architects, construction engineers, contractors and inspectors who have projects
under review by the state architect’s office.
Members of the group also have included the construction industry’s own clients –
including school districts in San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose and Pasadena – as
well as the Division of the State Architect, the chief regulator of school construction
Regulators were even told that taxpayers would reimburse their membership dues,
according to meeting minutes in 1997. Taxpayers also paid for a state architect’s
office booth at a CASH conference in 2007, according to e-mails reviewed by
This close arrangement lasted from at least 1997 to 2006, records show, during a
school construction boom fueled by billions of dollars in state bonds approved by
The entire state architect’s office also was listed until at least 2008 as a member of
CASH’s federal lobbying group, Californians for School Facilities, often joining
lobbyists on trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with chairmen of the House and
Senate education committees and with U.S. Department of Education officials to
push for more federal funding for school construction.
Tom Duffy, legislative director for CASH and former superintendent of the Moorpark
Unified School District, acknowledged that state officials had been members of his
lobbying group. He said the relationship helps promote “state and local
understanding and contributes to conflict resolution.”
“We believe that top-down, authoritarian state policy creation and control is
counterproductive to meeting local needs,” Duffy said.
Steve Castellanos, the California state architect from 2000 to 2005, became a
member of CASH two years after he took over the top regulatory job at the division.
He traveled to Washington with other members of Californians for School Facilities
on lobbying trips, records show. Castellanos said he saw the organization as a
useful partner to help improve the quality of school construction.
Top administrators in the state architect’s office and the Department of General
Services, its parent agency, said it would be routine for regulators to discuss new
programs and other issues with the lobbying group. But officials said they were
unaware that employees of the state architect’s office had joined the organization.
David Thorman, former state architect, ordered his office to examine more than
1,000 school construction projects completed withYuli Weeks/California WatchDavid
Thorman, former state architect, ordered his office to examine more than 1,000
school construction projects completed with unresolved safety problems.
“I never knew about this. … If I had known this, I would have told them to quit. I think
it has the potential to be a conflict, and it shouldn’t happen,” said former State
Architect David Thorman, an appointee of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But documents show that Thorman himself had been a member of the lobbying
group. He even listed it on his resume.
“I’m sorry, I did not remember this,” Thorman said in a later interview.
Thorman maintained that the relationship between regulators and CASH had not led
to any corruption. But, he said, “there is a real possibility” that lobbyists had
“captured” school regulators.
“You’ve got a system that’s broken,” Thorman said.
The lobbying group has a budget of about $2.2 million, tax records show, including
revenue of about $920,000 from its annual conference and $550,000 from
membership dues. Last year, the group paid its Sacramento lobbying firm, Murdoch,
Walrath & Holmes, $500,000 to represent its interests before various state
agencies, including the state architect’s office.
Even after the state architect’s office stopped paying membership dues to CASH,
the relationship between regulators and the construction industry endured.
The lobbying group met with Thorman in late 2008 and early 2009 about limiting the
legal liability of school districts and building contractors that didn’t comply with the
Field Act. A year later, in August 2010, the state architect’s office stopped requiring
that contractors verify that their work had followed state-approved plans – a
hallmark of the Field Act since it was adopted in 1933.
Acting State Architect Howard “Chip” Smith, who said he has never been a member
of CASH, said the changes simply eliminated unnecessary paperwork. “The
contractor’s verified report contributes very little to safety,” he said.
But a former chief structural engineer for the state architect's office, Patrick
Campbell, said that without the verified reports, the state loses an important tool to
keep contractors honest and hold them accountable.
“You will have nothing to go after them,” Campbell said, “if you later find out they did
In January, after California Watch began questioning whether the policy change was
legal, the state architect’s office reversed itself. Verified reports are once again
required from building contractors.
The ties between the lobbying group and state regulators have continued in other
The Department of General Services, the parent agency of the state architect’s
office, has been holding workshops since last year with key school district officials,
architects, engineers and builders on how to reform school construction oversight.
Duffy, the legislative director for CASH, was appointed last month as chairman of a
committee charged with revamping the Field Act certification program at the state
Troubled school inspectors slip through state’s
April 9, 2011
Erica Perez and Corey G. Johnson
As far as officials at the Rancho Santa Fe School District knew, Richard Vale had a
reliable work history when they hired him in 2009 to inspect a top-to-bottom
reconstruction of R. Roger Rowe Elementary and Middle School.
The Division of the State Architect had approved Vale to inspect public school and
community college projects four years earlier, without ever checking his
background. But Vale had been convicted of a felony in a construction safety case
and fired from the inspector program in Los Angeles.
Prosecutors had in the early 1990s accused Vale of knowingly overlooking unsafe
seismic anchors installed in the walls of numerous unreinforced masonry buildings
throughout Los Angeles. He pleaded no contest to conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Despite this, the state architect’s office allowed Vale to monitor the $37 million job in
Rancho Santa Fe, a wealthy San Diego suburb. Contractors built a new performing
arts center, music room, and technology and science labs. They replaced old
portable classrooms with two-story buildings – revamping a campus now large
enough for 850 students.
Courtesy Doug Devine/Los Angeles Department of Building and SafetyRichard Vale
was certified by the state to inspect school construction despite having a felony
conviction in a construction safety case. Vale is shown here on the day he was
served with a search warrant in the 1990s.
The state architect’s office in 2007 also approved Vale to inspect the $10 million
construction of a new gym, locker room and swimming pool at Palo Verde College in
Riverside County. And that same year, he worked as the welding inspector on a $2
million renovation project at Needles High School in San Bernardino County.
Vale declined interview requests, saying during a brief phone exchange that
questions about his past had been "put to rest." Others are not so sure.
“If they let this guy through, what else is going on out there that we don’t know
about?” said Doug Devine, an inspector with the Los Angeles Department of
Building and Safety, who assisted in the criminal investigation of Vale. “What other
corners are they cutting? What other safety issues are being ignored?”
Vale is not the only school building inspector who has slipped through the state’s
loose system of oversight, a California Watch investigation has found.
Nearly 300 inspectors have been cited by the state for work-related deficiencies. But
at least two thirds were allowed to keep monitoring school construction jobs, a
review of state performance ratings shows. For decades, the state kept these
ratings confidential until California Watch fought for their release.
Internal e-mails, project records and other documents show that multiple inspectors
working on school construction jobs have been accused of filing false reports with
state regulators and failing to show up during key moments of construction.
Some inspectors missed safety defects that were later discovered by state field
Inspectors overlooked unsafe wiring connections, unsecured anchor bolts, faulty
framing, and flaws in steel frames that “could have resulted in extremely unsafe
buildings,” according to inspector performance ratings.
Unlike standard construction projects, which use city or county inspectors, public
school and community college building projects are monitored by a special network
of 1,500 inspectors trained in the Field Act, California’s landmark seismic safety law.
School districts hire these inspectors. Field engineers, who work for the Division of
the State Architect, supervise their work. Districts pay $70 to $100 an hour for the
services of an inspector and pay the state thousands of dollars for field engineers
on each project.
One Bay Area district paid the state architect’s office nearly $6,000 for a field
engineer who never showed up during the construction of a dozen elementary
school buildings, records show.
In an interview, acting State Architect Howard “Chip” Smith said there is “room for
improvement” in the inspector oversight program, but he defended it as generally
"The field engineers, by and large, know their inspectors and their territory,” he
said. “They work with them on a regular basis. They know their capabilities,
strengths and weaknesses, and that has been predominantly how the system
But former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber said the state architect's office lacks
the will to discipline school inspectors – and that compromises safety.
“There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that as we sit here today that there are
situations going on where an inspector is pressured to approve something that they
didn't,” said Lieber, a Santa Clara County Democrat and frequent critic of California’
s inspector programs. “Or a project is kept moving when it really shouldn't be.”
In the past three years, the state architect’s office has revoked only a single
inspector’s license – a whistleblower from Fresno. Thomas Conway, who has since
died, admitted in a legislative hearing that he had overlooked potentially dangerous
problems. Two months later, then-State Architect David Thorman told Conway that
he could no longer work on school construction projects.
Smith said the office requires inspectors to meet basic standards before they are
certified. They must be at least 25 years old and have at least three years of work
experience. But the state does not run criminal background checks or screen for a
history of performance problems. It tests inspectors only on their ability to read
construction plans and their knowledge of building codes.
One longtime inspector said the oversight system is broken.
Bruce Tyson-Flyn, a project inspector in San Jose for more than 20 years, said the
division “shouldn’t be afraid at all to come out here and say, ‘This guy doesn’t have
a clue what he’s doing. Get him off this job. Shut it down.’ (That) doesn’t happen.”
Rating forms document poor performance
The value of sharp-eyed field engineers and experienced inspectors is undisputed.
Field engineers frequently catch problems that inspectors have missed. In an
earthquake, seemingly minor construction details overlooked by an inspector can
affect the way a building holds up.
“Ninety percent of the time, the contractor is trying to cut corners,” said David Bridi,
a certified inspector who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District until
budget cuts prompted the elimination of about three dozen inspectors last year.
“I’ve seen it in roofing material; I’ve seen it in flooring material; I’ve seen it in drywall
material; I’ve seen it in framing material, concretes, rebars, down to fasteners,” Bridi
Marjorie McAfee/California WatchDavid Bridi, an inspector who worked for the Los
Angeles Unified School District, says that contractors on school projects try to cut
corners "90 percent of the time."
The state has rated the performance of nearly 1,800 inspectors over the past three
decades. Most received passing marks for attendance, record keeping, knowledge
of building codes and plans, and communication with builders and with the state
Records show that 297 inspectors were written up for poor performance. They
either received “unsatisfactory” marks or were told their work needed improvement.
Yet, California Watch found, at least 66 percent were approved for additional jobs.
The state architect’s office has a written policy that says it can stop using individual
inspectors who receive poor evaluations. But inspectors routinely have been able to
avoid any kind of formal scrutiny.
On 43 percent of the rating forms reviewed by California Watch, field engineers with
the state architect’s office stated they could not assess the performance of
inspectors under their watch because of “insufficient contact.”
All of the Division of the State Architect’s regional offices are missing rating files on
active inspectors. The Los Angeles office has largely abandoned the practice of
reviewing inspectors. It filed performance ratings on only 210 building projects
during the last decade – out of about 4,500 renovation, repair and new construction
Across California, the state architect’s office has performance ratings for about
17,000 construction jobs during the last three decades. But since 1998, the division
has approved more than 25,000 projects, from fire alarm upgrades to new
construction of classrooms and gyms, leaving a large gap of projects without
inspector performance reviews.
Smith, the acting state architect, downplayed the ratings’ value.
“The rating form is simply a perfunctory role function at the end of the project,” he
said. “In the real world of interaction between DSA (the Division of the State
Architect) and the inspectors, they are continuously rated through the entire
Field engineers struggle with caseload
The state architect’s office operates with a budget of about $60 million, much of it
funded by fees from construction projects and inspector testing. The office employs
25 field engineers who oversee more than 3,100 active building projects.
Sandy Pringle, who runs a school inspection firm in Southern California, said he was
surprised by how little contact field engineers have had with the inspectors they are
supposed to be monitoring.
Click on the image to enlarge the graphic.Click on the image to enlarge the graphic.
“I think that needs to be stepped up,” he said.
The state architect’s office has acknowledged the failure of its own field engineers to
show up at worksites – blaming the enormous workload of its small staff.
According to a 2006 study by the Department of General Services, the parent
agency of the state architect’s office, visits by field engineers to construction sites
were “inadequate in number and quality to effectively observe and evaluate the
project inspector and construction.”
That same year, another internal report written by field engineers warned that some
school construction jobs had started without approved district inspectors on site or
with unqualified assistant inspectors.
The testing of concrete, masonry and soil was judged inadequate, while some jobs
were finished with unspecified “dangerous construction flaws,” the report found.
In one 2004 case, a field engineer failed to appear during construction of a dozen
new classroom buildings at Anna Kyle Elementary School in Fairfield.
The project file does not indicate any evidence of shoddy construction or
incompetent work by the inspector, but taxpayers took a hit: The school district paid
the state architect’s office $5,850 for the field engineer who did not show up.
The problems have mounted without any official response or discipline.
In 2002, Robert Marquez was assigned to inspect a $300,000 seismic upgrade to
the auditorium building at Newhall Elementary School in the Santa Clarita Valley. But
state field engineer Natwerlal Patel wrote in Marquez’s file that Marquez had not
been present for either of his two oversight visits – including when contractors were
installing the roof.
According to Patel’s notes, a contractor said Marquez was frequently absent and
stayed for only an hour or so when he did appear. Patel also discovered that
Marquez submitted post-dated reports outlining his work over several two-week
periods – before actually completing it.
In his review of Marquez’s performance on another project in 2002, at Hart High
School in Newhall, Patel wrote that Marquez appeared “unappreciative of code
regulations” and did not inform the state architect’s office when construction started
or when concrete was to be poured, as the law requires.
Marquez continued to work on at least 19 more construction projects in Southern
California over the next eight years – all but three of which had higher construction
costs than the Newhall Elementary project did. Regulators did not rate him on these
For two of the jobs – a fire alarm upgrade at Marlton School for the hearing impaired
in Los Angeles, and renovations to classroom buildings at Antelope Valley High
School in Lancaster – the state architect’s office has no documentation that a field
engineer ever visited to review Marquez’s work.
Seven building projects that Marquez inspected are lacking Field Act certification
from the state architect’s office, records show.
Marquez is still a certified inspector today. In an interview, Marquez said he showed
up at each job site whenever he was needed and that his work was thorough and
“I’m basically being judged on what one person said, and I never had a chance to
rebut or discuss (what) that person wrote about me,” Marquez said. “If this was so
critical, he would have called me and shut the job down.”
State worries about inspector’s workload
Under the state’s Field Act, public school and community college inspectors must
provide continuous inspection, sometimes working eight hours a day to make sure
the construction conforms to approved plans. The law requires inspectors to check
things such as the size of bolts and the strength of concrete and steel.
But the state has struggled to manage the workload of school inspectors.
Click on the image to enlarge the graphic.Click on the image to enlarge the graphic.
Consider the case of Wayne Edgin. In January 2009, a state field engineer gave
Edgin an unsatisfactory grade on an inspection at Fischer Middle School in San
Jose. The engineer noted that Edgin's work schedule was “excessive.”
That summer, the state architect's office denied approval to Edgin to inspect six
additional projects because the office maintained it was more than the inspector
could adequately handle. Edgin worked the jobs anyway.
Rather than discipline him, a regional manager with the state architect’s office and
other staff members met with Edgin to discuss his performance. Edgin signed a
resolution agreeing to follow code requirements.
A year later, the state discovered Edgin was in the early stages of inspecting nine
projects at schools stretching across a 60-mile swath of the Bay Area. Five of the
projects cost $5 million or more.
In documents, the state architect’s office noted one critical project where Edgin was
needed full time, all day for at least a month – a solar-power installation at two high
schools in Morgan Hill.
The state architect's office removed Edgin from three of the nine jobs. Edgin sued,
saying the division’s judgment of “too much work” was arbitrary and unscientific. The
complaint, which is pending, alleged he had lost $180,000 in potential income as a
Edgin remains an active, certified inspector.
In an interview, Edgin said he could have adequately inspected all nine of the school
projects because the timing of construction on each varied. And he contended that
the state architect’s office had given him permission in 2009 to inspect multiple jobs.
“They’ve never been in the (construction) field,” said Edgin, referring to the state’s
field engineers. “They’re structural engineers. I know how long it takes.”
State overlooks significant problems
The state architect’s office has repeatedly allowed inspectors to work on school
construction projects despite known problems with their work.
Supervising structural engineer Nathan Larson acknowledged as much in an
internal e-mail regarding inspector discipline in April 2010. “Denial or withdrawal of
approval based on poor past performance is almost non-existent,” Larson wrote.
Robert Sigman worked as the inspector on the relocation of five portable buildings
at Discovery Charter School in San Jose, without notifying the state architect’s office
when construction started. He failed to get approval from the state to act as the
inspector before construction began. Most importantly, he did not submit a verified
report attesting to the project’s safety before students moved in.
When he visited the site in January 2009, field engineer Michael Fretz questioned
whether Sigman had even inspected it, according to memos and field notes
obtained by California Watch.
That day, Sigman handed Fretz a final report saying the project followed approved
plans. But Fretz found a number of deviations: Two new gates were not accessible
for the disabled as required. A gate that was supposed to be installed for fire
department access was missing. Finally, the buildings weren’t installed in the right
location, according to the site plan – and Sigman wasn’t aware of the discrepancy,
In all, Fretz found 12 problems that needed correcting. An inspector hired for the
project after Sigman left the job found that an electrical grounding system for a
portable building at the campus had not been tested.
The problems remain unresolved, according to the state’s records.
Sigman told Fretz that he had inspected the project as a favor to his close friend,
the project manager, John Croswhite.
In an interview, Sigman acknowledged that he had broken the rules. But he insisted
that he had a strong track record. He said his transgression was an attempt to help
Croswhite meet the Moreland School District’s scheduling demands.
“I was wrong,” Sigman said. But, he added, “If you go through the rest of my file, you
will see that I have no other letters of reprimand from any of the field engineers that I’
ve worked with, and I’ve inspected almost $500 million worth of work for different
The state architect's office approved Sigman to inspect two projects totaling $19
million at Ross Elementary School in Marin County last year, records show.
The state architect’s office has overlooked other issues with inspectors.
Courtesy Doug Devine/Los Angeles Department of Building and SafetyThe Los
Angeles Department of Building and Safety found that a contractor had installed
these makeshift and faulty seismic anchors in numerous unreinforced masonry
In 1990, Doug Devine, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety
inspector, was investigating a problem. One contractor had been installing faulty
seismic anchors in numerous unreinforced masonry buildings. The thin, foot-long
anchors – critical to holding a building together during an earthquake – shattered
when dropped to the ground.
One inspector, Richard Vale, had approved them all.
Vale and the contractor, Jose Aguilar, denied wrongdoing when they were accused
of installing the makeshift and faulty seismic anchors during a series of earthquake
But after Vale and Aguilar finished, city officials required property owners to repair
the buildings again. The City of Los Angeles revoked Vale’s inspector license in
“I didn’t want him out there ever inspecting anything in our city again, especially with
school buildings with children in it,” Devine said. “That’s unconscionable.”
But that’s exactly what the state architect’s office approved Vale to do in 2005.
Vale got a project inspector job at Palo Verde College in Blythe. The district hired
Vale through Riverside-based Inland Inspections & Consulting Inc., which was paid
$315,000 for Vale’s services.
In 2006, Paige Vaughan, a construction manager for another private firm, alerted
the state architect’s office to Vale’s background in an e-mail obtained by California
“I really believe that individuals like this should never perform inspections again,”
Vaughan wrote in the e-mail. “This act of misconduct could have caused injury or
David Ritsher/California WatchSeismic anchor bolts such as this one are designed
to hold floors and walls to the foundation during an earthquake.
Vaughan’s note to Jeff Enzler, a district structural engineer for the state architect’s
office, was forwarded to top officials, including then-State Architect Thorman. The e-
mail included a stinging rebuke: “An inspector with poor integrity is pretty worthless.”
Yet the message was ignored.
After Vaughan’s warning, the state architect’s office allowed Vale to remain as the
project inspector at Palo Verde. Later, he was approved by the state as the welding
inspector on the Needles High School project and the Rancho Santa Fe job.
Meanwhile, on the Palo Verde job, Vale’s performance came into question. He often
failed to show up, said John Madole, director of facilities and operations for the
“He just wasn't here,” Madole said. “He was on-site, but he was over in our welding
shop; he was over in our auto shop fixing his car or his boat. Just really strange.”
Vale’s work also drew criticism from regulators. In 2007, field engineer Sergio Ferrer
noted that Vale did not observe masonry work when required. In 2008, Vale was
written up for failing to file required reports and for improperly testing masonry
Madole was surprised to learn of Vale’s conviction. The district did not order a
background check on Vale because officials assumed state regulators took care of
it, he said. The state architect’s office “should have been the one that nailed him
right off the get-go,” he said.
But Madole defended the safety of the buildings that Vale inspected.
“I’ve been in the construction trade ever since 1966,” Madole said. “And you pretty
much know when somebody’s trying to cross you up or not do something proper.”
Acting State Architect Smith acknowledged that entrusting an inspector who had
helped install faulty seismic anchors does pose problems.
“If that were indeed the case, I would have a problem with that myself,” he said.
Still, Smith said he did not know whether the state should conduct background
checks on inspectors in the future. Such reviews “could be explored through the
regulatory process, perhaps,” he said.
Vale and Aguilar sought for years, unsuccessfully, to withdraw their no-contest pleas
in the Los Angeles case. Marilynn Van Dam, a lawyer who represented Aguilar,
wrote in an e-mail to California Watch that the prosecution’s evidence was weak and
that the unapproved anchors had held up under stress tests she had commissioned.
During his brief telephone conversation with a reporter, Vale, 50, said the conviction
occurred many years ago.
“You’re talking about trying to smear me and also one of the finest agencies in the
state of California,” he said, “over something that was a long time ago and was put
to rest by a lot of people.”
Report: Schools Inconsistent in Choosing
April 15, 2011
by Emily Alpert
School districts in San Diego County are meeting most of their promises to voters
when it comes to completing construction projects, delivering 93.4 percent of the
projects that were planned when voters opted to approve the funding, a report by
the San Diego County Taxpayers Association found.
But the taxpayer group is worried that inconsistent practices for choosing
construction companies could open up school districts to favoritism or simply stop
them from choosing the best company.
"Several school districts seem to have a system that is set up to benefit
companies that know how to play the game," said Lani Lutar, president of the
association. Companies that donate to districts, for instance, might be able to get
an unfair edge in the selection process, she said.
[Maura Larkins' comment: The San Diego Taxpayers Association seems to
be one of the institutions that know how to play the game with school
districts. They gave an award to Chula Vista Elementary a few years back
without even looking at the school distrit's budget! My guess is that they
liked the politics of board members.]
"You're never going to be able to eliminate unfair practices and unethical
practices from occurring completely," Lutar added. "But through good public
policy, you can minimize it."
For instance, only one of the school districts it surveyed, South Bay Union School
District, includes information about how it weighs different criteria when it
evaluates which companies to use for construction work. Without that information,
the criteria are up for interpretation and "therefore provide little accountability,"
the report concluded. It recommended that school districts use "an objective,
standardized scoring system" when choosing companies that doesn't depend on
What happens without an objective system? Voiceofsandiego.org earlier delved
into how companies were ranked in Sweetwater Union High School District and
found that ranking high was no guarantee of winning work, rendering the rankings
The taxpayer group was also concerned that few school districts spelled out on
their websites who had donated to the district, elected officials, the bond
campaign or school foundations. While that information is available elsewhere —
campaigns have to list their donors on reports kept by the county registrar — the
taxpayer group argued it should be more accessible to the public...
[One can't help wondering whether San Diego Reader reporter Susan Luzzaro has an ax to
grind. It seems that the shenanigans she reports on below are minor compared to the
shocking behavior of Chula Vista Elementary School District personnel in their effort to re-
elect board member Pam Smith. See the Ana Stover v. Lowell Billings case. Susan seems
to go out of her way to keep wrongdoing at CVESD under wraps.]
Did Election Tampering Help Create Sweetwater Union High
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
Jan. 31, 2012
At the January 30 Sweetwater Union High School board meeting, the Vega report was
released. Parents, teachers, and students have been demanding the report for months. It
appears their suspicions had substance.
Attorney Greg Vega was commissioned by the board in May of 2011 to look into
work done by public relations professional Scott Alevy, who had been hired by
the district’s former counsel — Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz — to assist
with union relations. However, a Union-Tribune investigation of the invoice
submitted to the district by Alevy suggested that some of the meetings billed by
him did not take place.
A more serious part of the investigation pertained to the allegation of election
tampering. Many of Alevy’s meetings occurred shortly before the November 2010 election,
when Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa were reelected and John McCann was first elected to the
According to the Vega report, Alevy had a number of meetings with McCann in the months prior to his
election. On June 13, 2010, Alevy billed the district for a discussion with a Chula Vista City Council member.
Alevy identified the individual as McCann (and his wife).
On July 1, 2010, Alevy met with McCann over lunch. Alevy explained to the investigator that “McCann initiated
the meeting and that [McCann] wanted to run some ideas by Alevy. At the time of the meeting, Alevy believed
that McCann had announced or decided that he was going to run for the board.”
The report also tells us that “Alevy stated during his interview that he told John McCann, both before he was
elected to the Board and after, that he was a consultant being paid by the District to do public relations work.
Alevy had many conversations with McCann ‘bringing him up to speed’ on District issues.”
Alevy reported back to Garcia, the district’s counsel. Alevy told the investigator “that McCann
absolutely knew that Alevy was a consultant working with [Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz] and he agreed that
McCann was one of the people he believed he could trust to keep his engagement confidential.”
“On August 17, 2010, Alevy billed the district for a strategic meeting with John McCann and Garcia.” Alevy told
the investigator that McCann set up the meeting so that he “could gather information
about district issues necessary to be a better candidate for the board.”
McCann’s memory is different than Alevy’s. In the report, McCann said he didn’t know that Alevy was a
consultant and “did not specifically recall discussing political strategy with Alevy but would not be surprised
if it was discussed.”
The report goes on to say that “On September 24, 2010, Alevy billed the district for a
‘campaign issues discussion’ with two school board candidates. Alevy believed that
he had a discussion that day with Cartmill and McCann. Both candidates knew that
he was a consultant working with [Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz].”
Attorney Garcia remembered having a meeting with Alevy and McCann and giving McCann “the lay of the
Did all of the boardmembers know that Alevy was hired by the district?
The document states: “Alevy was asked if he believed he was obligated to tell Board members he was
working with the District. Alevy stated he believed that each Board member had a fiduciary obligation to raise
the issue with the Board in closed or open session. It was Alevy’s assumption that Cartmill or Ricasa had
been told Alevy had been hired….and it was their obligation to tell the board….”
There is a curious inconsistency about Alevy’s actions regarding boardmember Bertha Lopez. In the report,
Alevy “stated he asked Lopez about her feelings on the District and its issues. He did not tell her that he was
working for the district because he did not want to jeopardize the confidential nature of the engagement.”
A cursory read of the report shows that former attorneys hired, for
the district, a public consultant to consolidate and promote favored
candidates, among other things. It also appears that only some boardmembers were aware of the
nature of Alevy’s work; some may not have known that the district hired him.
The Vega report concludes with five findings. The fourth “find” is that “Alevy billed the district for meetings
and discussions with potential and actual board candidates in possible violation of California election laws.”
Charges Filed Against Current and Former Sweetwater Union
HS District Officials
By Susan Luzzaro
Jan. 4, 2012
...Former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara, former Sweetwater boardmember Greg
Sandoval, and current boardmembers Pearl Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa are charged with
perjury, filing false documents, and using their “official position to influence a governmental
decision in which [they] had reason to know [they] had a financial interest.”
The former program manager for Sweetwater’s Proposition O and
Southwestern College’s Proposition R bond construction, Henry
Amigable, is charged with “giving a bribe” and “obtaining a thing of value to influence a
member of a legislative body.”
During the question-and-answer period, Dumanis referred to the corruption as “systemic and
pervasive.” She said that the investigation is continuing and that a hotline will be established
later this week to solicit tips that could further the investigation.
Sweetwater interim superintendent Ed Brand called a noon press conference at which he
announced that he has suspended all activities with Seville Group, Inc., the
construction company that has been overseeing Sweetwater’s
Proposition O construction.
Several weeks ago, the San Diego district attorney’s office executed a search warrant on SGI’s
Pasadena offices. According to a December 20 Union-Tribune article, Jaime Ortiz, the
program manager for Proposition O, said he was informed that his company was
“not a target” of the investigation...
From the frying pan into the fire?
by Maura Larkins
The preceding article continues, "...Brand said that Proposition O construction would
continue and would be overseen by Sweetwater’s in-house facilities staff and by the County
Office of Education."
I don't see this transfer of responsibility as an improvement. It looks like the Proposition
funds are being handed off to some extremely dicey characters. Skimming money does
undermine an agency, but often it's a small potatoes operation. The folks who don't skim
from the agencies, but subvert the entire agency for their personal goals take vastly larger
For example, Diane Crosier and Dan Puplava at the San Diego County of Education benefit
from a corrupt system, and the SDCOE board and Superintendent Randy Ward do not even
require Diane Crosier to report gifts.
SDCOE is protected by the news media in San Diego ever since Emily Alpert was
forced to stop her investigation of SDCOE.
As can be seen in the 2009 article about Seville Group in the right column, Emily Alpert was
quick to report the early warning signs of what has become a large scandal. No wonder
Emily left San Diego.
Susan Luzzaro, the author of the above article, has for years refused to expose
corruption in Chula Vista Elementary School District
For example, on November 5, 2012, Susan asked the important question: Who do
developers back in Chula Vista elections?
But Ms. Luzzaro steered clear of asking this question about school districts. She seems to
think it's of no interest that CVESD board members love developer Corky McMillan so much
they even named a school after him. Susan wrote in the San Diego Reader, "McMillin's east
side Mellenia development includes 2,983 condos. Now that the bay front plan has passed,
west side development by Pacifica aims for 1,500 condos. Two developments currently in
process on the east side are Olympic Pointe with 427 condo/rentals and Lake Pointe with
384 condo/rentals. Are campaign donations to council member candidates an indication of
who the developers believe will best support their plans?..."
Then Susan gives some numbers that prove only that developers prefer to give money to
incumbents and likely winners.
I urge Ms. Luzzaro to be more even-handed in her reporting.]
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