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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Letter to the Tattler: Shirley Enomoto

Recently received from Shirley Enomoto (references are made to the Tattler story of May 9th and earlier stories about how the School Board is refusing to audit Turner Construction for irregularities residents, students and teachers have noted in the recently finished Emeryville Center of 'Community' Life):

I [recently] received the video from Ken Bukowski of the May 10 School Board meeting.  Since my name came up, I want to respond.
Paid expenses for Measure J began April 7,  2010, before voters approved Measure J in November 2010.  The Measure J Citizens Oversight Committee (COC) was formed in March 2011.  During the five months I was a member, the committee did not see any reports of paid invoices.  It was at the June 2011 meeting, held at the Emeryville Senior Center, where a "facilitator" was paid (with Measure  J bond revenue) to acquaint COC members with each another that I decided to quit the committee.  We were forced to sit at round tables with assigned seating,  as if we were in kindergarten.  I had  asked then EUSD Superintendent John Sugiyama (and incoming Superintendent Debbra Lindo seated beside him) what exactly the protocol was for COC members to see paid invoices and what were our responsibilities.   Mr. Sugiyama replied, "I don't know."  This was the night I decided to quit, after mulling it over for three months.  If you check the minutes of the COC meetings, the responsibilities of the COC were discussed for almost a year after the committee was formed.  If you were to ask the original 17 members if they saw each and every penny spent, I'm sure they would tell you "no."
The first report was a manually typed spreadsheet.  No explanations were offered and no account numbers were assigned for each expense.
The monthly reports I did receive, I entered in my personal quickbooks software program.
After leaving the committee, I requested that minutes, agendas, and the monthly report of paid invoices be sent to me.  I had to request this each and every month.  Either my request was not received or the person responsible for the distribution was not there, or the person responsible "forgot."
I strongly feel a financial audit is in order:  specifically to make sure that paid expenses were legitimate Measure J expenses.  The ballot measure states "no administrative salaries will be paid."  Project Director Roy Miller,  Community Involvement Director Hayin Kim, and her assistant, were all paid from bond revenue.  All three have since quit their positions.  Vehicles were purchased.  Almost $200,000 was paid for I-pads, five years before the Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL) had opened.  They are probably obsolete now, if the school district still has them. Brian Donahue stated at the May 10 meeting that they went missing.  Where were they stored?  Was anyone arrested for theft?

Shirley Enomoto
Former member of the Measure J Citizens Oversight Committee

Shirley Enomoto lived in Emeryville for 20 years (she recently moved away) and was a "trouble maker" she says, to City Hall for as many years.  A long time member of Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE) and volunteer for the schools, Ms Enomoto also long rallied for fair treatment for senior citizens in our town.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

'Maz' Building Burns Again

San Pablo Apartment Building Burns Down 2nd Time

Despite two armed guards and 12 security cameras on duty, 'The Intersection' apartment project, also known as the Maz Project burned down Saturday night.  This is the second time for a suspicious fire in the controversial building happening before fire sprinklers were installed, the first fire happening at about the same point in the construction process 10 months ago.
Mayor Scott Donahue noted at least 35 ATF agents will be investigating the fire and he said of the developer, Rick Holliday who plans on building the project a third time, "I admire Mr Holliday's determination. He's probably the most Sisyphean developer in Emeryville history."

Demolition fire crews pulled down the construction crane Sunday night, creating a spectacular scene as the 44,000 pound counterweight crashed to the ground.  The Mayor said the neighboring Avelon senior housing building was evacuated in case of a possible trebuchet effect from the massive crane that could have impacted the Avelon building.

The apartment building has been criticized by many in town owing to it's lack of affordable family units and 100% market rate rental status.  The Tattler called the building a "men's dorm" and a "techie dorm" because of the large number of studio and one bedroom apartments in the approved but yet to be built apartment building.

Video credit: Lillian Schroth

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

School Board President Insists NO Audit of ECCL Project

Rift Between City & School District
Audit Latest Imbroglio

The City Council has suggested the School District Board of Trustees audit Turner Construction, the builder of the Emeryville Center of 'Community' Life in order to claw back some money the district might have overpaid for the building project but the Board President is demurring, indicating he is more inclined to try to get money out of its ECCL partner, the City of Emeryville instead.  It's part of a growing rift between the District and City Hall born out of differences in how to divide up cost overruns in the contentious schools/community center project.

The City/Schools Committee, consisting of the membership of the City Council and the School Board, met May 4th and the frosty relations were evident when Vice Mayor John Bauters suggested going to construction giant Turner, who has recently been indicted for bilking clients, to see if there may be recoverable costs to help offset the cost overruns of ECCL*.  The idea was embraced by the entire Council but Board President Merriam oddly said it would not be appropriate, a position he has held for quite some time even as he has refused to properly elaborate.
Mr Merriam joined with former Board President John Affeldt last summer in quashing an attempt to audit Turner, citing the existence of the Citizens Oversight Committee (COC) makes it unnecessary.
Emery School Board President
Donn Merriam

'Even though Turner Construction
has been caught overcharging 

clients, we must not audit them'.

Just two years ago the County of Santa Clara held Turner to task for cost overruns and delays.  Turner blamed the city for the issues.

Mr Merriam's odd assertion of no Turner audit brings into question who's interests he has at heart.  The ECCL budget went significantly over budget and is still not complete.  Board member Brynnda Collins, when expressing her support for a Turner audit, questioned the quality of the work stating, "Big chunks of metal (are) falling and almost hitting a teacher."  There have been multiple suggestions of design flaws like lack of storage, concrete poured too thin and poor drainage.

It is clear to many there are enough reasons for an audit.  City Council member Bauters stated it could find enough savings to cover the remaining $370,000 the district owes Turner.
Los Angeles Unified School District routinely audits projects.  It should be noted LAUSD is so large that they have a group that audits every project. Turner recently was found to have overcharged them $190,000 on a $98 million project, almost exactly the same size project as ECCL.

Conflict of Interest?
Clearly audits are done and effective tools to protect taxpayer funds.  Which leads back to the question, does Board President Merriam have a Turner connection in his work as an employee of the architecture firm of Deems Lewis Mckinley (DLM)?  A Tattler search of their projects and Turner's revealed no direct overlap.  However it did turn up a project that involved Swinerton Management and DLM.  Swinerton worked on the ECCL project and frequently partners with Turner.

South San Francisco Unified passed a large bond project and used Swinerton to manage the project.  DLM bid on and was chosen to do the work. It is not clear if the Emery Board President personally worked on the project but the appearance of impropriety is evident.  Of course, an elected official should not be in the position to have to chose between what is best for their constituents and their pocketbooks.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss auditing the ECCL project at their May 10th meeting and Mr Merriam should leave the room while this is being discussed.  If he stays in the room, he should disclose the firm's relationship with Swinerton and have the legal counsel provide guidance.  It should be noted President Merriam has been caught violating simple rules of transparency because he claimed he was unaware of the conflict.

*NOTE: Although Turner Construction is a 'primary partner' with Turner GROUP Construction, it was Turner GROUP Construction that was indicted for bilking it's clients.  Turner Construction, the builder of the ECCL wasn't indicted but they were found to be overcharging their clients as the story states.  The Tattler apologizes for the mix up.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Emeryville Noise Ordinance Fails Relevancy Test (Again)

Favored Developer Tests Noise Ordinance,
Residents Lose

Wareham Breaks Law Four Times & is Rewarded By Council

Emeryville's Noise Ordinance, a 2003 law designed to protect resident's reasonable desires for some peace and quiet in a massively re-developing town, traditionally has not been able to stand up to the interests of developers and Emeryville's new progressive City Council, like their conservative predecessors showed us Tuesday they also have no interest in enforcing the ordinance.  In a 5-0 vote, the Council granted a waiver to Wareham Development to work Saturdays starting in May to help the corporation as they work on the controversial 'Transit Center' office tower project on Horton Street.

The waiver now gives official permission for Saturday work to Wareham who has already been busy working Saturdays in violation of the ordinance.  And tellingly, beyond simply granting a waiver for no reason other than helping Wareham increase its profit margin, the Council also saw fit to pardoning Wareham for the four previous violations of the Noise Ordinance over the last six Saturdays in which the police had to intervene to stop work at the site.
Wareham Gets a Pardon
The City Council is so incensed with
Wareham constantly violating our
Noise Ordinance, they're getting
rid of the ordinance so Wareham won't
have anything to violate. 

Emeryville's Weakest Law
The Noise Ordinance has never been enforced.  Indeed, the whole thing has served a different function; making City Council members look good to the cameras as they feign support for the ordinance.
Usually when developers seek to get a waiver for the Noise Ordinance from the City Council, a reason 'beyond their control' is offered such as an unusual amount of rain (even during a drought year as embarrassingly was the case for Turner Construction and the ECCL).  However Wareham on Tuesday only offered that certain jobs they need to complete for the construction of the Transit Center (welding, pouring concrete) are especially impactful and these components should be done on weekends because...well, no reason was given to that question.  The fact that these components of the job being loud and impactful (precisely the reason why the Noise Ordinance was passed; to protect our weekends from this) was not seen as something the community would object to by the Council, illustrates how inconsequential the ordinance is.

The four recent violations of the ordinance by Wareham have been assigned police department 'event numbers' but no provisions within the ordinance itself provides for a remedy for the residents or punishment against violators, leaving the resident's interests unsupported except by the City Council, if it were of a mind to support them.  However Tuesday's Council action, rewarding lawbreakers, tells the developer and business world that regardless of recent City Council elections, their interests are still sacrosanct in Emeryville at least when it comes to crashing and banging on weekends in our town.

Caught Again!
Transit Center workers get caught working on another Saturday in violation of our Noise Ordinance.  The workers tried to palm off the loud concrete form work as "cleaning" but they were cited (no fines) by police for violating the ordinance.  Wareham Spokesman Geoff Sears told the City Council Tuesday that workers have merely been "dewatering" the site after rain storms, a claim not supported by the observations of the Emeryville Police.