News

Council irked by errors, rising costs at Mitchell Park Library

City agrees to add money, oversight for construction of $41 million library and community center

Palo Alto's effort to rebuild Mitchell Park Library and Community Center -- the centerpiece of the city's $76 million bond package -- is facing heavy scrutiny from city leaders because of escalating costs and possible errors by project architects. (View a live video feed of the construction).

The City Council approved early Tuesday morning (Sept. 13) a request by Public Works to increase the construction and design contracts for the library project by $3.7 million. But while the council voted 7-0 to approve the change order, council members expressed great frustration about the rising costs for the project, which now has an estimated price tag of about $41 million.

Though the project remains on schedule and well within the budget, its price has risen after the city's contractor, Flintco Pacific Construction, Inc., requested a change order from the city. Officials from Turner Construction Inc., the city's construction manager, said Monday night (Sept. 12) that some of the rising costs could be attributed to details that were missing from the plans at the time that Flintco entered its $24 million bid. The bid was about 25 percent below the city's expectations.

The design plans, created by Group 4 Architects (the firm charged with designs for all three libraries in the bond) specifically did not include any details about the steel that would be needed to support various elements of the building's exterior, including stone cladding and window openings, said Greg Smith, the field supervisor for the project.

"The steel needed is not shown on any plan and is not shown on structural drawings," Smith said.

After realizing that it would need more steel to finish the project, Flincto submitted a change order requesting more money. Mike Sartor, the city's interim director of Public Works, told the council that staff is recommending increasing the contract to "keep the project moving on schedule and to avoid claims down the road."

During the course of their hour-and-a-half discussion, council members expressed frustration at the rising costs, the apparent errors and the fact that they were not alerted earlier about the problems at Mitchell Park Library. Councilman Larry Klein said he's "not happy with where we are" and told Sartor that he should have approached the council earlier and that he should have been more candid.

"We have to be frank with ourselves," Klein said. "We're not doing as well as we expected on this deal."

The council also agreed to increase the "contingency costs" for the project -- the costs that are tagged on to the price tag to account for unexpected developments and complications. Initially, the Mitchell Park project carried with it a contingency cost of 10 percent. The council agreed to raise the contingency cost to 20 percent, short of the 25 percent staff was requesting.

Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd scrutinized the details of staff's request and said she was "shocked" by the rising costs. City officials had expected the project to fall far below budget because of the tight construction climate.

"Quite frankly, I've been a construction accountant for about 25 years and I've never seen a 25 percent contingency factor in a construction project -- especially of this size," Shepherd said. "I'm deeply concerned."

Meanwhile, the city attorney's office is mulling a claim against Group 4 because of the errors in the design plans. Klein, an attorney, said it seemed like "we have a very serious claim against Group 4." Sartor agreed. He said the firm has "accepted the fact that the plans have problems" and has added staff to address these problems as quickly as possible.

"Whether its at the level of errors and omissions or not, we have not determined," Sartor told the council.

Group 4 did not return a request from comment Tuesday.

In approving the change order, the council tacked on a series of conditions strengthening its oversight of the project. The council directed staff to provide monthly reports on all change orders over the project and asked City Attorney Molly Stump to provide monthly reports regarding potential claims the city should file against Group 4 or other contractors working on the Mitchell Park project.

"We have to exercise a lot more oversight into what's going on to make sure the city is getting its money's worth and that we're being sufficiently aggressive," said Klein, who crafted the motion with the added oversight provisions. "If Flintco thought they'd be able to recoup their low bid just by putting in change orders, one of our answers will be that we won't let them do that unless where it's appropriate."

Stump told the Weekly Tuesday that her office is reviewing the roles of the various contractors do determine whether the city should file any claims.

Though errors in the design plans contributed to the rising cost, Flintco's low bid also played a part, Sartor said. The construction climate had prompted contractors to submit low bids and then look for ways to raise costs.

"We had an extremely low bid in a very tight construction climate, which has created a situation where this contractor and other contractors we've been working with in the last couple of years really squeezed every opportunity they can to identify potential changes," Sartor said.

The city has received about $4 million in change-order requests from contractors, Smith said, and has settled requests totaling about $1.25 million.

The explanation did not entirely satisfy Councilman Pat Burt, who said he's concerned whether "we've been gamed and how aggressively we're willing to push back on a contractor who it seems like they low-balled us and they're coming back with change orders that on a fixed bid shouldn't be that big."

Sartor assured the council that he does not expect any other major additions to the contract. Staff, he said, does not take the contract adjustments lightly. He told the council he was "freaked out" about the latest changes, but said he is confident the increased contingency would be sufficient to pay for the project and to complete the project by fall of 2012.

"There's a lot riding on this project, particularly considering future potential bond elections," Sartor said.

The Mitchell Park Library and Community Center is one of three library projects that are funded by a bond voters passed in 2008. The Downtown Library was renovated and reopened in July, while the renovation of the Main Library is scheduled to begin once the new Mitchell Park Library reopens.

Comments

Posted by Unstated, a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2011 at 10:38 am

"There's a lot riding on this project, particularly considering future potential bond elections," Sartor said. Unstated is the fact that he is only interim and not yet permanent Public Works Director. The Council's anger at this muddle help his cause to become full-fledged Public Works Director.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 10:53 am

Why doesn't any of this surprise me?

The thing to me is that there were many of us who were against this from the start and many others who voted yes because they were fed up with the old facilities and thought this was the only way we could go.

We now have this huge project costing more and more and as soon as it is finished we will have a repeat performance at Main.

Why oh why, in this digital age, do we need so many libraries? Oh yes, so we can walk and bike to them. We have lost Borders because of the digital age, our libraries are an exorbitant waste of money.

Let's finish Mitchell and then scrub Main as a library. We need one good library and Main can become a community center with a drop off/pick up desk.


Posted by Clean House at Public Works, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:11 am

Public Works is well known for mismanaging construction projects. Clean house and start over. Get the City Auditor to do a thorough review and then implement the recommendations.

With the infrastructure backlog, we need to make sure whatever is spent is done wisely and efficiently.

Get a new competent Public Works Director first.


Posted by concerned, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

does anyone know what happens if they come in under the $76budget (realizing that the bond wasn't just for mitchell park). seems the bond should be such that anything other than the originally earmarked projects, should come off the bond - and as such the annual hit to taxpayers.


Posted by DV, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:25 am

I don't understand how someone could design a project or bid on said project with major infrastructure pieces missing. Where are the objective plan review experts that the city should be consulting prior to signing any contracts? If the Public Work's Director can't handle it, an independant 3rd party should be brought in. Someone- it would seem- should have caught this long before the contract was awarded.


Posted by Not Laughing , a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

The Architect is incompetent.

Absolutely..no doubt.

City of Palo Alto should never have selected them based on a beauty contest. The selection should have been based on their ability to not only design the look of the building, but also execute engineered drawings to construct it. Group 4 has a poor track record with construction drawings and no experience with projects of this size.

Had counsel asked that question....Group 4 never would have been selected.

Frankly...if it were not for the extreme competence of Turner Construction...the library would never get built.








Posted by shocked, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm

In my best Claude Rains voice:

I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED, to hear a city project is running over budget.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

How did the plans get a permit if it didn't meet the required building codes? Missing steel should affect load factors and it shouldn't have been permited.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

This picture, it is misleading.

It looks like it is overlooking the ocean backdrop! Where is Middlefield Road, where is the baseball field and where is Mitchell Park.

From driving by, the library looks like a huge building right up against Middlefield Road. From the sketches, artists impressions and even this picture, it looks like a nice building surrounded by space. I have a feeling that when it is finished it will look like a claustrophobic monstrosity from Middlefield Road.


Posted by In Construction, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm

The architect should be held accountable for the missing steel and any other omissions/errors on the project. The City should file a claim if necessary.
The Construction Manager, who is retained by the City, should have noticed the discrepancy if they had done a thorough plan check/constructability review. The City and architect need to be more diligent in reviewing construction documents for this project and upcoming Main Library project


Posted by Frank, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm

First, this is the first new building (from the ground up) that Palo Alto has built in over 25 years.
Second, why do we still need five libraries, after this one is done??


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Anyone know of a link to the City's web site where the staff report on this matter can be found?


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Isn't it a California tradition that the cost of EVERY public work project is underestimated?

It seems like this is the norm for this state.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm

By the way, didn't see any mention of this exciting new venture by Amazon in any of the local papers, or any mention by the City Library staff:

---
Web Link

SEPTEMBER 12, 2011
Amazon in Talks to Launch Digital-Book Library

By STU WOO And JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG

Amazon.com Inc. is talking with book publishers about launching a Netflix Inc.-like service for digital books, in which customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content, according to people familiar with the matter.
----

This may be difficult for Amazon to pull off, because the publishers may not be as inclined to let their books out on loan as Hollywood has been. However, given how much money Hollywood makes via digital distribution, there has to be a message there for the publishing industry.

Locally, we are all getting "dinged" by more taxes to pay for this behemoth that is clearly going to another ugly City building brought to us by the same "it's for the children" special interest groups that have managed to obscure common sense local government by seeing to it that hundreds of millions of dollars have been, and will be, spent on whatever they want those dollars spent on.

The tax we pay for this monstrous building would allow people to subscribe to the Amazon "lending service", and gain access to all the new books that they have the time to read, and never have to waste time going to the library, or having to deal with "those people".


Posted by Unstated, a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Clean House is right. Clean house in Public Works. First step is to boot out the Public Works Interim Director and bring in a competent professional to run the place.


Posted by Name Withheld, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Overall the Libraries are under budget and the bond so far more than adequately covers the costs. Whether Group 4 is liable is a legal question and whether they have errors and omissions insurance to cover the liability is another.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm


Ok .. found a link to the Council Staff Report On This Cost Increase--

Summary Title: Contingency increase to 25% Mitchell Park Lib:
Web Link

> Overall the Libraries are under budget

Interesting that this key bit of information did not make it into the Council discussion, or the article on the likelihood of many cost overruns.


Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Sep 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I remember when union labor argued to not award the bid to a company based out of Reno, that awarding the bid to local union would bring many more trips to the city for business including family members of the workers.

I remember how the city council bull rushed these arguments and voted lock stock and barrel for the low bid.
Those union folks were right.

I was there fighting to save 74 trees needlessly on the chopping block.
I remember how Larry Klein chastised me for wanting to delay the vote and work to save some trees.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. We need a complete turnover of city council - and pay at least a portion of the council to be full time councilors to really dig into the contracts for which they are responsible to the citizens of Palo Alto.

They need to also suspend Group 4 contract for the Main Library as well.





Posted by shocked, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Fire the voters. If they did not forsee this, they did not do their homework.


Posted by PA taxpayer, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Sep 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm

All these unnecessary library and school construction projects are boondoggles for builders and contractors, nothing else. BTW see who gives money to support the bond issues on the ballots for school and library construction.... builders and contractors.

I voted against these bonds, yet even those of us who voted NO will be saddled with rising taxes because of flawed assumptions, including overly rosy forecasts of the tax property basis of Palo Alto as has already been seen for the school bonds...


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Looks like the plan checkers blew this one, but the contractor is not off the hook. They should have raised questions during the bid. By bidding, they accepted the "Missing" details as routine. This is not uncommon. A third party seems needed here.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm

"… if it were not for the extreme competence of Turner Construction...the library would never get built."

HUH? Turner is supposedly the city's construction "manager." Obviously, they haven't been doing a very good job of managing if they didn't notice the problems with the architects' design.

Fire Group 4, fire Turner, fire Flintco, fire the person in Public Works who was supposed to oversee this project. Get the lawyers involved so the taxpayers aren't on the hook for these egregious mistakes.

Without accountability—long lacking at City Hall—we'll get more and more incompetence.


Posted by paying through the nose for property taxes, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm

In the meantime, I'm paying $80 so I can borrow books at Los Altos because they have so little inventory of books in PA and the lending policies are so punitive...

I don't mind supporting our libraries, but I hate paying for facilities I won't even really find useful.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 6:39 pm

> A third party seems needed here.

Hmm .. so far we have the following "personae dramatis":

The City's P/W People
The Architect
The Construction Management Company
The Subcontractors (1 .. N)
The Library Bond Oversight Committee
The City Council
The City Manager's Office ..
The City Auditor
The City's Finance Office

So .. what would this "3rd Party" do that there isn't a player already on the stage that's being paid to do?


Posted by Oversight, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm

More oversight of the PW department is needed in order to prevent another, worse mess.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Agree that the Architect is incompetent. Not only do we have incomplete plans, but the building is Butt Ugly. Who approved this mess anyway?


Posted by shocked, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 9:58 pm

The architects job is to make it pretty, and functional, but not stand. The structural engineer's job is to make the building stand. Now he/she missed this or someone changed the job and did not reengage the structural engineer.


Posted by Under budget, yeah,right, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Years after their plans were approved Group 4 suggested 10 additional things to fix at Main Library. Were these oversights or ideas that were proposed because supposedly the bids were under budget?
When the city bragged about the bids being under budget I thought Uh-oh! they'll think of a way to spend the difference.


Posted by Seriously?, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm

"If Flintco thought they'd be able to recoup their low bid just by putting in change orders, one of our answers will be that we won't let them do that unless where it's appropriate."

Seriously? Are you going to blame a contractor for city staff's error? Besides IT IS NEVER APPROPRIATE under malicious intent, HOWEVER, if a bid passes through consultant hands for content, don't blame the contractor for not bidding on something that was not there to bid on. Oops, project manager/engineer did not review consultant's input for design.

"Though errors in the design plans contributed to the rising cost, Flintco's low bid also played a part, Sartor said. The construction climate had prompted contractors to submit low bids and then look for ways to raise costs."

Seriously? Yes if you build something wrong it will cost gobs more money to fix it. Helloooo? Contractors are now supposed to have crystal balls when bidding city jobs to find all that was left out of the project specs that hired designers, consultants, architects, construction administration and even city staff (well they are questionable) left out?

"He told the council he was "freaked out" about the latest changes, but said he is confident the increased contingency would be sufficient to pay for the project and to complete the project by fall of 2012."

Seriously? Freaked out? Why? As an engineer and potential new director of public works, it is suspicious as to why Sartor would be so uninvolved with this HUGE PUBLIC FUNDED project to a point of freaking out? Accept responsibility and stop placing blame elsewhere. The diversion trick is soooooo old. Public Works staff did not fully review work what they were paying others to perform. Yes others are professional and should have raised the question too BUT the public is paying city staff to watch out for the best interest of their money and projects and city staff should have caught the missing items.

I for one cannot wait for the ribbon cutting ceremony on this one. Watch all the City staff come out and take credit for all their hard work and a magnificent photo opportunity…..I mean, a beautiful new publicly funded building for the community.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 15, 2011 at 3:50 am

This is getting very OLD. Just look at the over-the-years screw ups not only in Public Works but also in the Utilities Department over contracts for garbage hauling and recycling, The beat goes on - the THE COSTS GO UP and now with a proposal to put a $50Million compost-sewage sludge factory in the Baylands. Give me a break. Time to clean house at City Haul.


Posted by toldyouso, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2011 at 9:27 am

we told the city council that eliminating prevailing wages would not save them money! and we were right! the city of Gilroy is building an identical sized library for 75% of the cost with prevailing wages...and on top of that they have over 70%local contractors and local workers on the project...Mitchell Park has only 11% local workers/contractors. So when those of you in Palo Alto see more traffic in the morning/afternoon, it is those construction workers coming from Sacramento to clog your streets and air and take your bond dollars back to the Central valley!


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

> we told the city council that eliminating prevailing wages would
> not save them money! and we were right! the city of Gilroy is
> building an identical sized library for 75% of the cost with
> prevailing wages..

Leave it up to some union troll to politicize everything ..

This particular issue has nothing to do with "prevailing wages" .. the cost of this monstrosity was already known to be over the top before it was even started, as there were a couple of articles about other libraries of similar size being built in San Jose featured in local papers.

This is a management problem. Let's not forget that this problem occurred during the era of the former P/W Director .. anybody remember his name?

And speaking of names, where is the name of James Keene in all of this ? Shouldn't he be getting a little of the "credit" for this mess?


Posted by uh-huh, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

yes toldyouso, with the new MP Lib additoional traffic along with the proposed housing development at the old PDCC location, traffic in that southern quadrant of the city will be enough to pi$$ off mountain view residents who travel San Antonio and Middlefield Roads. Palo Alto doesnt care about community because if they did, they wouldn't push all the future traffice problems off onto Mountain View. Very kind of PA to be so neighborly. Example: Highway 101/University shopping center. PA said not in my backyard and pushed all that traffic into EPA. With a neighbor like PA, who needs enemies. so yep tolduso, told you so. Besides, look at all those tax dollars PA lost by their "not in my backyard" attitude.


Posted by A little rational thought, PLEASE!, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2011 at 9:57 am

Wow, Palo Altans sure do like to criticise and overreact! Let's see here, how about a little simple math?

The project bid was $24M, at 25% under budget/cost estimate, so the budget must have been $32M (4/3 of $24M = $32M). Thus, the project low bid was $8M under budget. Now, change orders are proposed for an additional $3.7M.

OMG, OMG, the horror! The project is now only $4.3M under budget. What a disaster!

Seriously folks, this is what you get in a low bid process that is regulated by local, State, and Federal law. The contractors are smart, and know how to play the game to their advantage by using those very regulations that the City staff is bound by.

Maybe we should be more like private industry, and avoid thses kinds of problems? How about, oh, let's see, say Apple? Their new headquarters project in Cupertino has NO budget ceiling, and will be a negotiated contract based on a review of proposals, not a low bid.

Most major private sector projects are done that way, based on negotiations, not bids. The very regulatory factors designed to pevent fraud and abuse in the government sector cause these kinds of problems.
So, let's see - at $8M under budget the library project glass was "full". Now, at $4.3M under budget it is a little more than "half full"

Seems like Palo Alto folks want to take "half empty" perspective and
enjoy the invective and self rightous criticism. Wow - I'm glad my company works on private sector projects in other communities.


Posted by apples to oranges, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

"Seriously folks, this is what you get in a low bid process that is regulated by local, State, and Federal law. The contractors are smart, and know how to play the game to their advantage by using those very regulations that the City staff is bound by."

City staff (and law) also allows the city to reject a low bid if they can find justifiable reason too. If the missing items were in the bid and the contractor did not bid them, then the contractor/city can work it out and if the adjusted price is over the next low bidders price, quila, city CAN reject the low bid. It's not a contractors fault or problem. They bid what is on paper.

"Maybe we should be more like private industry, and avoid thses kinds of problems? How about, oh, let's see, say Apple? Their new headquarters project in Cupertino has NO budget ceiling, and will be a negotiated contract based on a review of proposals, not a low bid."
Private industry thinking is fine for private industry businesses. Private industry thinking does not work within government agencies. THAT is a major problem with the city now. TOO MANY private company management people have been hired which is why budgets are all messed up. Laying off employees to fix budgets is the first thing private industry does. In a government agency, you lose a knowledgeable workforce and have to contract out more work creating MORE over-paid managers to manage paperwork. And pa-lease, let's not forget the daunting internal processes changes that take place when a private industry person comes to work for government.


Posted by Unstated, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:41 am

Years go by one after the other, the cast of characters changes repeatedly, but the proud Palo Alto tradition of mismanagement and ineptitude, spiced up at times by outright scandal, endures.

The certainty that foul-ups, the inevitable blame-game, and the top leadership keeping its head down well out of sight will always recur at Palo Alto City Hall is somehow comforting.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:44 am

> Private industry thinking does not work within government agencies

Twaddle! "Private industry thinking" simply admits that everything have value (monetary, at least), and that management is tasked to maximize the value of the resources. If "private industry thinking" does not work within the public sector, it has to be that the public sector does not see any value in the resources assigned to it, and just stumbles along as it sees fit.

Start replacing the managers of failed, or failing projects, and you'll see that "private industry thinking" works a lot better in government that some people claim.


Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:55 am

Before we hasten to blame the current Public Works staff for the Mitchell Park Library foul-up, remember that lots of work on that project had been done long before Mike Sartor was appointed Interim Director. He has been picking up a lot of pieces from previous management - particularly in the Refuse Fund, but also in many other areas. The City Manager should step up too, because he has been here throughout all of this. It's a shame when these things happen, because all of us in the public are paying for it and money is scarce enough as it is both personally and municipally for Palo Alto.

When you vote on Measure E on November 8, remember that that too envisions a massive public works project costing $111 to $268 million. What kind of over-runs is it apt to have?


Posted by A little rational thought, PLEASE!, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

Ms. Renzel -

Perhaps you are forgetting that Mike Sartor was formerly the Assistant Director of Public Works, hired by and reporting directly to former Director Roberts? As such he was in charge of the Engineering and capital projects division and had direct day to day responsiblity for the planning, design, cost estimating, and budgeting of the Library projects. He is the sole manager with continuity on the these projects given the departure of Roberts and former Library Director Dianne Jennings.

Perhaps those facts have somehow convieiently "slipped" your mind....? Or not.....


Posted by Roberta, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm

We are overdue to "clean house" at city hall. And that includes the council members. People want to work for the City of Palo Alto so they can get all the incredible retirement benefits the city provides to retirees. We certainly don't seem to hire bright people. Just people looking for the gravy train at the end of the tunnel.


Posted by Same old, same old..., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm

"A little rational thought, PLEASE!" is too rational, for Palo Alto. One would think city managers talk with each other, with all the meetings they attend. But that would be rational. This is Palo Alto. We cannot expect rational.

Why is anyone perplexed about this, especially council? It's same old, same old. We old timers know that. Let it go & open wallets. The mindset can't change, with the same people in charge.


Posted by Same old, same old, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

... I read in the Daily News that contractors have pulled out of the project too. If that's accurate, it would be telling to know why that is.


Posted by Overpaid and Overbuilt!!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I voted against this bond measure and Measure D it's predecessor because they were both so gross and humungous. We don't need anything that big I can manage on my Kindle for far less!!!


Posted by Under budget, yeah,right,, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

The reason it is so humongous in size is that it is intended ti be used as a child care center.
The much maligned branches are in fact used as libraries, but Mitchell Park is intended as a place for kids to go to after school, or younger ones to be sung to and read to.


Posted by Viva la Biblioteca!, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm

"Perhaps you are forgetting that Mike Sartor was formerly the Assistant Director of Public Works, hired by and reporting directly to former Director Roberts? As such he was in charge of the Engineering and capital projects division and had direct day to day responsiblity for the planning, design, cost estimating, and budgeting of the Library projects. He is the sole manager with continuity on the these projects given the departure of Roberts and former Library Director Dianne Jennings"

Folks, like someone said, above "the project is UNDER budget!! I have been up close and personal with this project, for some time. I am not a member of the city's bureaucracy. One thing for sure is that the kind of dickering and hand-wringing that is happening on this thread is of little or no importance to the VAST majority of people in Palo Alto. What the latter want is a new Mitchell Library/Community Center and the rest of the system updated. Period. The vote "for" was roughly 80-20, as I recall.

That said, on this thread I see artifacts from the years-old squabble by some to outright lie about the library, or meddle to a point where the entire process was slowed to a crawl. Just look at all the deception that went on re: opposition to the bond attempt prior to the one that just passed. That measure was put out there at a time when construction and material costs were much lower. A lot of people on this thread - in addition to a number of community gadflies - did everything they could to defeat the 2nd to last bond attempt; they succeeded. now they're complaining about "how this costs to much". Well, whose fault is that?! We could have had this done for a lot less several years ago. So, pay the piper, and let the people of Palo Alto enjoy their library, which will come in UNDER budget, or very close to budget, as originally stated.

As for the architect, yes, there could/should have been more diligence re: the surprise in construction cost, but *that's practically built into the vagaries of the bidding structure set by law*.

Bottom line: It's STILL under budget.

As for libraries not being useful any more. Baloney! Library use has *gone up* in the digital age. Education itself is becoming more distributed. If anything, we should be paying MORE attention to places where people can do group-based *ah hoc* learning, not less. That's a whole other thread.

Mike Sartor is a hard working guy, and the slip up caused by incomplete renderings are not his fault.

Frankly, I don't think one can really point a finger at any one person when things go wrong in Palo Alto. Sometimes that the case, but it's usually pointless. Why? Because decision-making is so horizontally distributed throughout the community - with every Tom, Dick, and Sue having a say about every little detail - that it's hard to know at what point a Black Swan actually occurred.

Ironically, and in fact, it's what I call the "congenital meddling nature" of policy-making in Palo Alto that leads to these problems. There is no "there, there", at the top.

Palo Alto has a City Manager, but the City Manager works at the pleasure of the City Council. Thus, the City Manager's job is primarily political. There is a built in conflict of interest. Are you *really* managing, when you don't have anywhere near complete authority to manage? Are you properly delegating when you know that one or another community group is breathing down your neck, and/or your staffer's neck, and using every trick in the book - including ad hoc lawsuits (look at the Park Ave fiasco as one of many examples) - to have their way? It's impossible to manage in an environment like that - manage in a near optimal way, that is.

City Council? All good people, but they, too, are stuck within the framework of a governance model that is out of step with the times. Legislative bodies, in times of stress, need to turn on a dime, and adapt. City Council has 9 elected representatives. That means a 5-person majority for policy making.

You tell me...how does *any* legislative (public, private, or otherwise) body that requires a 5-out-of-9 majority for decision making, where collaboration to build consensus is absolutely necessary, and where nearly *half* of that body turns over every 2 years, ever get to a place where it can build enough consensus to turn on a dime. It can't.

We had unanimous consensus on the Library, because the issue boiled up over almost a decade; it was an issue than became a part of the crazy-quilt fabric of Palo Alto, over more than a *decade*. Delay cost out community money, and created a boatload of dissension (with artifacts from that dissension still in play).

So, rather than point fingers at this or that City Council member, or this or that City Bureaucrat, I suggest looking at the *governance model* that Palo Alto operates under, for clues to why these "disappointments" keep happening (keeping in mind that many are not really "disappointments" by many other community standards - i.e. gadflies have a way of making everyone think that PA is going to hell in a handbasket...again, the Library project is still UNDER budget)

This all begs the question: Is the current PA governance model more conducive to crisp decision-making (after measured deliberation), collaboration, and adaptation to difficult times than a governance model that really puts someone *in charge*...."in charge" to the degree that that ONE person is responsible for the way things are run, and accomplishing goals - i.e. might a smaller policy-making body that doesn't turn over every two years, and maybe even an *elected* mayor - someone with the power to hire and fire a City Manager, and who is in the end responsible for vision being executed, or not?

I'm just raising the question. Palo Alto policy makers would have to buy into diligence on a change like this - or, the citizenry could vote in a charter change. In any case, it's something that bears looking into. Until we do, the Palo Alto Process and all its foibles will continue.

Last, if everyone is so darned concerned about Public Works, and the Palo Alto Process goes unquestioned, then City Council might consider forming a Public Works Commission. I feel sorry for the public works folks if that happens, but if you want oversight (and delay, to a faretheewell), that's one way to get it.

In any case ****Viva la biblioteca de Palo Alto!!!****. It's going to happen, and 90% of Palo Altans are going to LOVE it!


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm


A couple points about "staff":

Salaries (2010):

Former P/W Director: $192K
Asst. P/W Director #1: $163K
Asst. P/W Director #2: $162K
Former Library Director: $157K

And we need to add about 50% to these numbers for benefits.

And keep in mind that it was only a year or so ago that these people were also getting a 9% to 13% "bonus" for "superior" work.

One can only wonder from the comments, and the library web-pages on this project that it has no City Manager.

> Project is underbudget.

Which calls into question if it was estimated correctly to begin with. Remember, the taxpayers don't get their money back if a project comes in under budget, it gets spent on something else .. sooner or later.


> It's going to happen, and 90% of Palo Altans are going to LOVE it!

It will happen, and 90% of Palo Alto will NOT use it! E-books, and digital distribution is quickly making the paper book an artifact of the 20th Century.

Viva Kindle, the Internet, and the e-book revolution.


Posted by Viva la Biblioteca", a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm

"A couple points about "staff": Salaries (2010): blah, blah...And we need to add about 50% to these numbers for benefits...And keep in mind that it was only a year or so ago that these people were also getting a 9% to 13% "bonus" for "superior" work..."

Yes, we're in a pickle because America took its wealth for granted; lot's of places in this mess. That said, I find it interesting to see that now that the financiers and top .05% of our population has gutted private pensions, we now live in a world where we're demonizing public workers. What a sad, sad, state of affairs for a supposedly "liberal" community. Makes one wonder about the true value of the "liberal" moniker to the working man. Most public employees don't retire with hefty pensions.

"Viva Kindle, the Internet, and the e-book revolution"
Yes!! And Viva letting them all exist - including further developments in distributed digital content plays, via many different modalities - within the context of a great public library system that is itself evolving to satisfy and optimize the information, social networking, learning, and other information-based needs of 21st century community.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm

> Why does Palo Alto need five libraries?

The reality is that Palo Alto has far more than five libraries that are available to the public, in one way or another.

Consider:

17 PAUSD libraries (one per school site)
5 Palo Alto City libraries
Stanford (open to the public in various ways)
Various private libraries in Churches and private schools.
VA Hospital Library
County Law Library

and also close to home--

Mountain View

Santa Clara County Library System
--Los Altos

Peninsula Library System (San Mateo County)
--East Palo Alto
--Menlo Park
--Atherton
--Portola Valley

San Mateo County Library

and now we have on-line:

Google Books
Internet Archive
Amazon
Borders Books
Sony ebook Store

and every day new on-line archives seem to appearing.

For the most part, the public has access to all of these sources, in varying degrees. Most are free to the user (but not the Taxpayer). A couple are fee-for-use, but with 800K books in the Amazon library, and e-books costing from $0.00 to $9.00 (typically), instant access to this vast array of books, literature and other on-line resources makes these fees extremely attractive and less than the cost of the Palo Alto library to most homeowners, once the total cost of the library is computed.

With all of these resources available on-line, and so close to home, there really seems to be absolutely no reason for five publicly-funded libraries here in Palo Alto.


Posted by here, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm

If there will be any e-paper revolution,then we still have those buildings which can be used for other purpose,no money is wasted.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

> we're in a pickle because America took its wealth for granted

Wrong! America has been led down the primrose path by people claiming the "education" is important, and hard work isn't. If a few short decades we've seen our manufacturing capability gutted by rapacious demands for salaries, benefits, and non-productive work rules that the steel industry, the auto industry, and soon the intellectual property industry (computers, electronics, etc.) disappear over seas too. There are now more people working in government than in our manufacturing sector--producing nothing that can be used to create wealth, and all demanding ever-higher salaries so that the public sector now is better paid than the private sector, and has more-or-less guaranteed pensions that will double the money paid to them in their retirement years that they made while working.

The cost of this Palo Alto library will become immense in the coming years. The current cost to circulate an item is between $6-$7. When the cost of the wretched new library is considered, the cost will jump to $9-$10 per circulated item. Over the next thirty years, the cost per circulated item will jump to between $14-$15. And to make matters ever so much worse, most libraries are now circulating videos at between 25% and 50% of their total circulation. Videos! Videos that can be downloaded from Netflix for $10/month. Public libraries have become another black hole for taxpayers.



Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm

> then we still have those buildings which can be used
> for other purpose

Perhaps. But the library is in a park, which can not be used for just any function. For instance, police activities are permitted in a park. If the City wanted to rent out some of the building, it might well find it hard to find suitable clients. And why should we taxpayers be paying parcel-related taxes to subsidize uses of these buildings? We already are seeing the people at Cubberley who are using the facilities at the cost of the Utility rate papers. There is no way that is going to happen again!


Posted by Viva la Biblioteca!, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm

"With all of these resources available on-line, and so close to home, there really seems to be absolutely no reason for five publicly-funded libraries here in Palo Alto.'

And yet, in spite of all the reasons you state why people shuold migrate away from public libraries, their use by the public continues to rise. Your hypothesis is blown!


Posted by Viva la Biblioteca!, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm

"The cost of this Palo Alto library will become immense in the coming years. The current cost to circulate an item is between $6-$7. When the cost of the wretched new library is considered, the cost will jump to $9-$10 per circulated item. Over the next thirty years, the cost per circulated item will jump to between $14-$15. And to make matters ever so much worse, most libraries are now circulating videos at between 25% and 50% of their total circulation. Videos! Videos that can be downloaded from Netflix for $10/month. Public libraries have become another black hole for taxpayers."

All I see here are cost metrics. Why don't you include the fiscal equivalent of benefit metrics? I'd say your accounting method is lacking, as you're only looking at one side of the balance sheet.

Example: Transport infrastructures cost money, but they enable the transport of people and goods.

Libraries cost money, but they enable the enhancement of human capital through their varying activities.

Until I see a metric that accurately indicates a fiscal benefit profile, every "cost argument" amounts to nothing more than a red herring.


Posted by Library-Cost-Overruns, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm

> their use by the public continues to rise.

Really .. care to share your data?

Oh, and while you are at it, how about breaking down this use by: 1) adult books, 2) children's books, 3) Internet Use, and 4) Use by Homeless people.

Increasing video use is not worth spending 150M for a building for a handful of people to avoid paying $15-$20/month for Internet access.

Libraries cost California taxpayers about $1.5B. That's a lot of money for nothing!


Posted by Oversight, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Memo to City Council, Mayor and City Manager:

Clean up the Public Works Department by telling the Interim Public Works Director that he has no more than 5 minutes to clear out his desk and vacate City Hal1! Then bring in someone who can handle the job.


Posted by Shocked, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Missing steal supports in the original design is amateur hour.


Posted by Ex PA, a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I'm so glad I left PA after 30 years there. I always voted against bonds but PA residents approved them, so enjoy! You guys fight it out.


Posted by Doesn't pass smell test, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:04 pm

The city has just hired Group4 for additional work AFTER these problems were known to Public Works. Public Works recommended them for these new tasks and did not inform the council or the public.
This smells really fishy.
The city needs to stop all this work immediately.


Posted by Viva la Biblioteca!, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Cost overrun: Just as I thought, you cannot provide fiscal benefit metrics. Another blown assumtion!

Oversight: You should definitely go public and apply for the job because you seem to have it all figured out :)


Posted by The Dudely Lama, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

Okay, now you've done it. The city council is 'irked'


Posted by New Leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm

New leadership with no baggage left over from prior years is needed to get the Public Works Department back on track.


Posted by 23 studies, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Aren't there 23 studies that show that every dollar spent on the library returns five dollars (with multipliers)?

So we should be glad we are spending extra money, we will make that much more on our investment.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 19, 2011 at 7:27 am

"Aren't there 23 studies that show that every dollar spent on the library returns five dollars (with multipliers)?"
And since we have 5 libraries, we will be returning 5x$5. If we built even more branches we would:
1) realize the dream of walkable neighborhoods ( a library in every neighborhood)
2) increase the amount of money returned to the city.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

"Aren't there 23 studies that show that every dollar spent on the library returns five dollars (with multipliers)?"

Oh, I think there must be upwards of 30 such studies by now. I'm sure Viva la Biblioteca!, Sanford Forte and Little Mary Sunshine can point you to them.


Posted by UnderBudgetBS, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm

The people arguing that we should be glad because this project is still "under budget" is ridiculous. In 2010 it was absolutely routine for bids all over California to come in 25% under the engineer's estimate but it is unheard of to have a 20% contingency increase on the low bid. Saying it is under budget sounds good but is BS when you look at the larger picture.


Posted by Ike, a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2011 at 5:27 am

Being in the construction trades for 32 years and having worked on many public projects from small libraries to large hospitals I can tell you that all projects are design deficient to a greater level most laymen would believe. The key here is, these design issues are usually brought to light during the bidding phase and shop drawing development process IF THE CONTRACTOR AND SUB CONTRACTORS HAVE THE EXPERIENCED STAFF to identify the issues. It is very obvious to me that the blame should be placed with the people who were responsible for identifying competent contractors.
Here in New York City the School Construction Authority had similar problems but on a much larger scale and now only use TRAINED BUILDING TRADES CONTRACTORS!!!


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm

This is reminiscent of the $8.8 million spent for online utilities billing, which "included such pesky glitches as confusing computer-screen displays and bills that don't add up." Council was then asked for an additional $223,725 to resolve a list of "post-implementation issues." Web Link

> "City Council sees only what staff wants it to see…"

They don't see because they don't bother to look. There's no oversight at City Hall. No one ever gets fired, no matter how badly he might mess up.

Council may be "irked by errors" Web Link, but do they ever take Jim Keene aside and say, "Jim, you've got a problem. We'll expect a resolution at our next meeting."?

Council seems to forget that they represent us voters/taxpayers and should be acting in our interests.


Posted by Doesn't pass the smell test, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Responsible people whose names are rarely involved at the city council are the City Manager, Jim Keene and the former Library Director, Diane Jennings, who was treated like a heroine for creating this mammoth construction project. They couldn't praise her enough. She got out while the getting was good.
Stop the work on Main Library! We don't need yet another huge expensive community room (not asked for by the community, used mostly by staff). Jennings pushed hard for the so called community rooms. Maybe that's what made her so praiseworthy.


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