As Diana Washington alerted us on Friday, city council has an item for “discussion and action on the construction of San Jacinto Plaza” for Tuesday’s meeting. There are actually two items, item 16.3 is in open session and item EX2 is in executive session. Unless you have been living under a rock you know that the San Jacinto project is severely delayed and has been controversial because of missing bathrooms and rumors of contractor malfeasance.
Let me be specific from the onset, there is much rumormongering about the project and little facts to work with. Somehow, this seems to be the modus operandi from the city when it comes to controversial projects – lots of secrets and little facts. That the city allows rumors to drive the public discussion is a constant irritant to me. Rumors can be quickly squelched if the facts were released immediately. That is, unless the facts are inconvenient truths, then it would make sense that the city would want to hide them.
I am not sure if we will learn any new details about the San Jacinto project or if the agenda item is just an opportunity to pontificate about cost overruns and awarding bids on “best value” versus “lowest bidder” arguments.
As soon as the San Jacinto project was awarded in January 2014 to Basic IDIQ rumblings about how low the bid submitted by them was; started to circulate among the commercial contractors of the city. Because of this, it caught my attention and I wrote two blog posts about the issue.
In my January 20, 2014, post titled “Who is Basic IDIQ?” I introduced you to the company. The following day I published “San Jacinto Park Project; the Beginning of Another Corruption Scandal?”
In that blog post, I explained to you that the bid controversy might expose corruption within the commercial contractors doing business with the city. As you might remember, I outlined three possible scenarios with Basic IDIQ’s significantly lower bid. They either bid too low in order to gain business in the market place, much like a loss leader in the retail marketplace, or they bid too low out of inexperience. If they had bid too low out of inexperience or by mistake then future change orders would expose that, or the business would suffer financial problems as a result.
I also offered you another scenario whereby the work would be completed as required and it would show the possibility of collusion between local contractors in bidding government work.
As we now know, the project is severely behind schedule and there have been controversial design features such as the lack of public restrooms. Before anyone draws the conclusion that Basic IDIQ is an example of what you get when you go with the lowest bidder keep in mind that we do not have all of the details yet.
When I wrote the first two articles, I promised you I would keep an eye on this bid until the end.
On November 14, 2014, I updated you on the San Jacinto project with my post, “Follow Up on San Jacinto Project and Basic IDIQ.” In that post, I wrote about how city council received a status update by city staff on the status of the project. According to public discussion, the city had issued less than $70,000 in change orders to the company.
During the city presentation, it was revealed that the city marathon necessitated the resurfacing of some streets. This appears to have delayed the project and added to the cost. It was unclear from the presentation whether the marathon was an issue of the contractor or a scheduling problem with the city.
Remember that $70,000 in change orders added to the original bid is still significantly lower than the closest bidder on the project. The original difference was about $2.5 million between Basic IDIQ and the next lowest bidder.
However, the rumors kept coming in about significant problems and delays with the project. There has been news media reports of the necessity to repave areas and work modifications into the project because of previously unidentified cables and other underground municipal conduits. There was also a change to move electrical cables underground after the project was underway. This electrical work was not part of the original scope of work.
There is also the ongoing issue about there being no money to add public bathrooms to the project. Additionally, let us not forget that there was an issue with a tree that may be dying, as a result of the work on the project, but now appears to have survived.
On May 8, 2015, an anonymous blogger posted “San Jacinto problems started with City” on the Newsies site. The anonymous blogger alleges that the problems with the project are a direct result of the city’s ineptness in managing the contract. The blogger adds that there has been some friction between the city’s engineering department and the architects hired to design the project. The anonymous blogger also alleges that cost overruns are a result of expensive design features like cables being shipped from Germany to hold the canopy in place over the Largatos sculpture.
There is no way to verify what the blogger has alleged because the city is never forth coming with specific details about projects, especially controversial ones.
Another blog, El Paso Speak posted a blog post on May 16, 2015 alleging that the two items on the city council agenda alleges that the contractor has defaulted on the contract. A comment on the blog’s post seems to indicate the default rumor came from Jim Tolbert’s El Paso Naturally blog.
As I already stated at the start of my blog post, we have very little facts to work with. It is possible that Basic IDIQ defaulted on the contract. However, if they did default; did they default because they abandoned the job site, refused to work under the current conditions or if they simply ran out of money.
As is typical for the city, we are likely to witness a lot of political pontificating with little facts. The facts will be discussed in executive session under the guise of pending legal action. By the time the facts come out through the legal process the story will be long past and the political pontification will frame the public discussion.
As I originally promised you, I will continue to keep a close eye on this controversy. I will file additional open records requests in an attempt to find the underlying cause of the issue.
There is also the slight possibility that Basic IDIQ will defend itself publicly exposing us to more facts. Of course, that is assuming that the problem is the city’s incompetence and the company wants to expose it.
However, do not be surprised when the whisper campaigns begin about how this project is an example of how low bids are detrimental to the city. Only one entity benefits from expensive bids – the company that gets city work. Keep an eye on who pushes forth the argument about doing away with the lowest bids and replacing them with best value bids. As always connect the dots.
The San Jacinto project looks like it might become the scapegoat for this latest attempt to keep certain companies in business. Just remember there is not enough information yet, just lots of rumors.