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on Jun 28, 2013
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The biggest problem with this mess is that we were guilt tripped by the PTAs, library commission, etc. to do this now for the sake of our kids! Many of those kids have already graduated high school!!!!
We didn't need a huge project of this scope back then and many of us said so. But, the old library was in such poor condition that it was felt that voting yes was the only way we would get improvements to a dilapidated building. We could have done an extensive remodel for half the price in a quarter of the time, but no, we had to have the biggest and best because this is Palo Alto and our kids deserve it.
I hope all those college students who remember the days of playing in the Drop at the old Mitchell Park and attending the middle school dances are enjoying what was planned for them as they come home this summer and still see a construction zone around their old hang out place.
Bitter, yes I am. I hate to say I told you so, but that's how I feel.
The new Mitchell Park Library is the only significant City building project in South Palo Alto and, boy, is it screwed up. It serves as a reminder of the quality of City Government and who they serve.
Years ago, as a contractor bidding on jobs at SFO, it was the 'usual' practice to look for "dirty plans", that is, plans that have flaws, inconsistencies, incomplete data, etc. In those cases, the prudent contractor bids low to get the job and then hopes to make any profit on change orders. A rule of thumb in the construction industry is to price labor for change orders at 3X the amount one would put in the original bid.
Look folks, there's no free lunch, there are no 'good deals' in construction. If governmental organizations insist on low bid procurements, they will always get low, slow or no performance. Better to have proposals evaluated by a jury of both city staff and outside consultants.
While this particular contractor may be out of their range for a project of this scope, the situation in Palo Alto is exacerbated by a building department staffed with O.C and, at times, adversarial inspectors who can contribute to the breakdown of civil communications.
Homeowners in Palo Alto are not the only ones at their wits end with the Palo Alto process. Palo Alto and its minions should look to the City of Fremont for a building department that works. Hey, why not outsource? The firms owned by Palo Alto's elites do it all the time.
What a mess! Where is the accountability? Is the City Council asleep?
Heads should roll at City Hall. The first head to roll should be that of the Director of Public Works!
Par for the course from a council that allows buildings that are ushering in the new UGLY Palo Alto.
Buildings with hideous sides "facing" Alma and flush with the sidewalk are turning this cross-city passage into an alley-way.
Well done, council. Your legacy is the bane of a once beautiful city.
The problem is inherit in the process that the City is required by law to follow.
The Public Contract Code requires that the City advertise to all bidders and must award to the lowest responsible, responsive bidder. This has to happen whether or the Bidder knows what he or she is doing.
Contractors then low ball the initial bid and resort to change orders to make their eventual profit.
This is a game that is played all the time in public works projects.
Until the Public Contract Code is changed, All future City projects are at risk.
What a mess. Probably lawyers on all the many sides will be employed for years.
To the Palo Alto Online News, what a excellent example of investigative journalism and clear reporting. Thank you!
"Veritas" hit the nail on the head: No accountability in government. Government is made up of sincere but often incompetent workers with no accountability -- a real contrast with the the private sector here in Silicon Valley. If the City had handed the project over to John Arriaga the way Stanford asked him to build the new Stanford Stadium, it would already be done. By the way, if you like the Mitchell Park Library, you are going to love Obamacare.
the salt in the wound here is that the city did outsource oversight/project management, paying 3.4 million to Turner (more than 10% of the bid). They seem to have done a piss poor job and threatened to walk of the job. It would be hard to justify that the city got its money's worth there...
There's no point looking back and crying over what might have been. Let's get this finished quickly and start enjoying the new library. I do wish we just had one massive one that was open from 8am till midnight seven days a week, but the people have spoken.
"Palo Alto and its minions should look to the City of Fremont for a building department that works."
City of Fremont, really? I've been working there for 13 years and now the city very well - what public projects you talk about?
" must award to the lowest responsible, responsive bidder."
Note the word "responsible." Did the city exercise its due diligence and research the history of the low bidder? The size of the gap between the bid and their own estimate should have clued them.
No problemo. Our fine city govt. will just increase workers' lifetime pensions and raise our utility rates to cover all this. Rinse, lather & repeat.
I’d like to thank the Weekly for digging into this matter, and to do the community one additional favor by posting all of the documents you obtained from the City on your web-site, so that all can review the raw documentation.
The following comment was moved from a duplicate post.
The incompetence in City Hall and the City Council is rewarded with generous retirement benefits. These crimes against the citizens continue unabated. We now have the opportunity to repeat these mistakes with the Main Library. Woohoo! When will the citizens wake up and storm the Bastille, throw out these idiots and bring some semblance of organization, accountability, and logic to this dysfunctional high-cost city with overpriced water, broken streets and over-sized egos?
by David Pepperdine Jun 28, 2013 at 11:21 am
[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
No doubt thatbthe contractor is to blame for much of this fiasco, but the council should not be allowed to escape blameless for this ( note how already kniss is trying to spin this to score political points) . But we should not be surprised by this.
The el camino project was approved in 2007 and is it Sen yet? We voted on the byxbee park issue 2011-- any progss the? The bike bridge over 101 was also decided upon in 2011 and they are talking about starting building in 2015. Get the picture.
The COuncil has little to no grasp of reality and are too busy feeding ther egos to actually care about the city.
I'd be embarrassed to be a member of this city council. Why oh why are you ruining our city?
Please stop building!!!!!! Just because you have money does not mean you have to spend it unwisely, and choose the least pleasing design on planet earth and duplicate it over and over. We have to look at these buildings for a long, long time. Don't build or renew old structures if you can't do PRETTY.
The building inspectors, who are pretty obnoxious, are probably to blame for a lot of the delays. They are unrealistic and punitive, not to mention petty and small-mi ded. We have experience with them. They are a BIG hindrance to progress on any project, large or small. They are VERY PETTY, and often in the wrong regarding the law. They think they are God, but they are VERY human, and make a lot of. Serious mistakes and bad judgment calls. Talking from experience here.
It us also but ugly
Stanford Engineering library is way smaller.
Digital is the future and Palo Alto builds the biggest, ugliest, tackiest, most expensive building ever.
It is a testament to the ugly, greed that has taken over this once idealistic, liberal, left leaning town.
Now we have spies, NSA, Facebook and the GOP.
And that building just about says it all.
You get what you pay for, and you get what you vote for.
... All a big mess.
Best option now is to set it on fire to give the PA Fire Dept some practice.
@Terry, I was thinking the same thing about the carcass of Miki's market.
Many other local cities have had similar development projects which were all done in a shorter period of time, and without the issues in the same time period:
* Mountain View library
* Menlo Park Encinal Middle School
* Jordan Middle School
* San Jose libraries
All these projects were able to avoid what happened with Mitchell Park... The city needs to study how these other government organizations were successful, and use their processes.
As a frequent library patron we are frustrated by the delay. Of course we look for scapegoats. It's only natural. As Palo Alto residents whose kids have gone to Cubberly High School, we are doubly frustrated.
Where can we vent our feelings?
At the voting booth! Our city council has proven themselves to be completely inadequate to managing the city, to managing building permits (for huge housing developments), to managing traffic (Charleston Ave), to understanding neighborhood problems, and on and on.
Politically, the answer should be, "Off with their heads!"
The entire city council should be ashamed of their performance and the city staff should be purged of obvious incompetents. All city planning and permit approval employee's salaries should be frozen until the bond-funded projects are completed.
The council members ought to resign in shame! But there is no shame among them. They are merely "shocked" after they have screwed up.
(But council members never read these online comments, or if they do they consider them to be mere "rants.")
> But council members never read these online comments,
Anyone can copy any/all of these comments into an email, and send them to the Council. Give it a try.
Why are we paying for ALL of the changes?
If the plans were just +wrong+, The Architects should take the cost of re-work.
If the contractor installs the wrong material or does it other than the way the manufacturer and print call for. Their performance bond should be forfeit if not delivered corrected (and on time).
Palo Alto building codes are +different+ than other cities, but they are not an unknown. And yes, the Inspectors +can+ be nit picky (they also catch many goofs)
The only things we(the taxpayers) should really pay for with little question are those changes that were requested because the city changed its mind or made an additional requirement.
Charges for design deficiencies (RFI?) should be negotiated as to how costs will be split. Not just paid by the taxpayer.
Great reporting on a subject we all care about. Nice job, Gennady!
From the article above—
> Larry Klein was particularly blunt.
> "I think we have to be frank with ourselves,"
> Klein said. "We're not doing as well as we expected on this deal."
Well, looking back in time (PA Weekly, Friday, September 16, 2011),
Larry Klein is quoted:
"We have to be frank with ourselves," Klein said.
"We're not doing as well as we expected on this deal."
Seems Council Member Klein is either repeating himself, or just caught in a loop—not really able to grasp the situation very clearly.
I supported the library bond but the Mitchell Park library is so hideous, overly big and so foreign to the neighborhood, that I wouldn't have voted for it had I bothered to look closely at its design (my bad). I almost want to kiss the money goodbye and go back to the drawing board.
Boscoli's comment above seems to be fairly typical of many of the people I know who voted for the library bond.
Many of my acquaintances are regretting their vote and are definitely not likely to vote yes on anything the city puts out to voters.
I do not know one person who is pleased with the look of the design of the library apart from the time it is taking.
Now that they have started work on Main library there is even more nervousness.
The big lesson for voters is to understand the need to look at the small print and artist's impressions and realize that sketches do not show the reality of what we end up with.
Yes the old library building needed to be upgraded, but we should really have found another method of doing this.
The Weekly article tells us that the Main Library rehab has the same architect as Mitchell !! We have a grave problem with Public Works, the Architectural Review Board, and the Planning Commission. And then there is the councll finally waking up. Problems after multiple problems. When does this stop?? This article should be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism . How can we do that?
Gennady Sheyner once again shows himself to be an outstanding journalist!
Hard to imagine how many hours he must have spent studying the correspondence between all the warring parties. Yet he put together a very readable and balanced article, finally revealing the machinations behind this fiasco.
Pulitzer Price info: Web Link
I found out the hard way Palo Alto technically has NO library. Yes, there is one downtown, but the parking restrictions make it impossible to stay there more than a couple hours. The temporary Mitchell Park branch is an overcrowded, noisy and stuffy mess, so I don't count it either.
I can't believe this is the second most educated city in the nation? Especially after spending time downtown with the tech folks.
Using bond interest costs of 4% (not atypical for municipal bonds), and a yearly payment of $2.6M, the taxpayers will have to pay about $46M to retire the bonds. Therefore, the Mitchell Park Library complex will end up costing about $122M over 30 years for construction/finance.
Assuming that this building will have a lifetime of about 40 years, there will be significant maintenance costs, such as replacing the AC/Heating and the roof. All of the glass in this building also might require resealing, from time-to-time. It’s a little difficult to predict the increased operational costs, but the larger building will require more money to heating/air conditioning. The larger building will require additional nightly cleanup costs. And with larger book collections, it’s difficult to believe that the labor unions won’t be hammering away for more staff.
All-in-all, this new facility will probably end up costing the taxpayers about $6M dollars per year more for library services than before. Historically, the Library has not been particularly honest about tracking/reporting its total costs. That is going to change, going into the future. If the Library can not be honest about its costs—then the public will have to do the job for them. Bond retirement costs need to be added into the costs of operating the library. When all of these costs are considered, the cost-per-circulated item will end up being around $10/item—which will grow as inflation pushes up labor costs.
My calculations for running this outdated mode of information delivery show that the taxpayers will be spending about $550M (plus/minus) over the next thirty years for these big boxes of books. Since the first library expansion bond was defeated, we’ve seen amazing advances in the establishment of wireless Internet, and mobile digital devices. The idea of spending $550M in the coming decades to house books that no one is reading is disheartening—particularly since we have a $550M infrastructure backlog here in Palo Alto.
Kindle black/white readers are down to about $120/unit. It would clearly have been cheaper to give every one a Kindle than build this behemoth complex. The Amazon web-site suggests that there are about 1M ebooks available for download. The Google/Books web-site offers access to over 15M digitized books, of which millions of older, out-of-copyright, books are free to download. The Internet Archive has about 4.6M in its catalog—all free for downloading.
The City could have constructed a city-wide WiFi network for a little over a million dollars, which everyone in the city could have used. The cost of the “computer lab” in the new library will likely run in the $1M range, when the construction and finance costs are considered. How many people will be able to use the Internet (at the same time) using this room? Fifty, maybe seventy-five? One million dollars to build a WiFi network vs one million dollars to build a room that can only hold a few dozen people at one time! Clearly not as good a use of public money as enabling the whole town with a wireless data network.
Sad .. really sad!
If you think this one was bad, wait for the anaerobic digestion fiasco to be built on the undedicated 10 acres on our parkland at Baylands. Aside from the fact that it is a flawed concept, it will also be built by the low bidder.
Thank you for your post. I agree that the City of Palo Alto should undertake reasonable benchmarking when doing these projects - plenty of successful local regional examples of successful libraries and other construction projects.
Is it fair to say: There seems to be a lack of awareness or caring on the part of city council members and city officials?! - and, from what I can see, there is little accountability. Boy oh boy is this different from the private work world.
The current case as described seems overly complex and grandiose. I don't live nearby and don't know everything about it, but the work stoppages have been obvious and the lack of availability of the facility clearly hurts Palo Altans who live nearby and would LIKE to use it.
For some reason, everything seems to cost more and take longer here in Palo Alto, and as a taxpayer, this frustrates me as I see time and money wasted and unavailablility of the: (library/community center or whatever city function).
I disagree this necessitates lengthy dealings with costly consultants. It 'aint rocket science, in many cases.
The responsibility for the problems with the construction of the Mitchell Park library ultimately lie with the people who recomended accepting the original bid thinking they were getting $8 million worth of building for free. Flintco's bid should have disqualified as unrealistic and the next lowest bidder should have been chosen. The resulting actions by Flintco while wrong were predictable. I hope that the people who chose Flintco are still in the middle of this and are dealing with the consequences of their decision while we all suffer waiting for the opening.
Thanks, Wayne, for pointing out kleins reuse of his excuses. Next he will claim he was misled.
There was a recent article in Time magazine on " new" libraries. It was on a different thread and some residents disparaged then article because the library featured was in Texas. Well, news flash to palo alto-- our libraries are out of date -- too much emphasis on printed books ( yes, we know that FOPAL calls the shots and they are so lost in the 20th century) .
We ae too blame also, we drank the kool aid and voted for the bond measure. Big mistake. And for the future, FOPAL should have little to no say about our libraries-- they are out of touch and completely self centered
If this story is accurate, then Flintco needs to simply be sued. The impact it's had on Palo Alto is extreme. They need to be put out of business after all is said and done. Also, their owners should be held criminally liable for fraud and they need to basically be put into personal bankruptcy. They should then be tried and jailed.
It's just that simple.
Don't worry! The lawyers are ready..
So what is next? Perhaps we will find out that the City has invested our tax revenues with the Nigerian Prince that sends those compelling emails.
Nice article Gennady Sheyner! This is an important subject. Please follow up with this project by writing summary updates.
Next step is the City spending a third of a billion dollars building solar electric farms. We are a small town of 25,000 homes with our own utility department. We will be relying on the expertise of a third party to safeguard this HUGE investment. Including businesses, this amounts to about $10,000 per each utility customer.
Why will building a solar farm be any different from a library? This is a disaster waiting to happen!
The ARB is part of the problem. They are pushing architects to do "modern" designs. They don't want traditional architecture anywhere, including downtown.
This is such BS. Elitist architects who don't come close to reflecting the general population at all.
The city retained Turner to CM the project. Turner is one of the most experienced and trusted names in Construction Management. When Stanford wanted to reconstruct the Linear Accelerator...Turner CM'd the project.
The city hired Turner because they did not have the resources or experience to run a project like this. Hiring Turner is exactly what we want our public servants to do when they don't have the bandwidth or experience.
The problem here was the contractor.
Pile on Turner and the City all you want. But the blame is primarily an incompetent contractor.
And the City Council unilaterally decided that doing away with their term limits was a great idea. Kafka would be proud.
And here's the short version:
Construction industry + lots of money + City Council that worries more about pleasing developers than doing right by the citizens
I used to go to the old Mitchell Park library back in the '50s. Guess what, Palo Alto: you didn't need a new library. You were better off with the old one.
For all of its hubris, how telling that in Palo Alto a project as straightforward as a local library branch turns into a fiasco. I guess Palo Alto isn't as smart as it thinks it is.
This fiasco is typical of many council-proposed sponsored projects. Sorry, but individual corporate officers are not personally liable for corporate debts. Criminal fraud on the part of individual officer-owners is phenomenally difficult & costly to prove, Alex. They can go BK, then reincorporate under a different business name & start operating again. That happens a lot too.
Weren't there any building inspectors or engineers checking on progress? Why should anything be built with only a 40 year projected lifespan, Wayne? Sounds like the downtown police station song & dance again - building is "obsolete" in what, 25 years?
Next time a large commercial bldg is sold to build high-density housing, how about just turning it into the police station or library or whatever the planners & council members & expensive private consultants think the town needs? The old PA Clinic site could have been converted for library, police station, etc. Oh, I forgot! No big developer fees & city transfer taxes.
> Why should anything be built with only a 40 year
> projected lifespan, Wayne?
Forty years is just a number that I threw out for discussion. Where I grew up there are government buildings that are hundreds of years old. In Europe, buildings can be found that are much older than that.
However, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Palo Alot City Council of 2053 claiming that "it's been a long time since we built anything--let's tear down the Mitchell Park library and do it right!"
Let's see. The old library building was built when? Yes, it was outdated but it hard charm and was definitely fixable.
There was an old "historic" house that people wanted to keep. It had no charm and was an eyesore, but it had one wall that may have been an authentic adobe relic. It was privately owned, but a preservation order prevented its destruction for many years.
The Eichler styled Lucky building at Edgewood was historic and if the developer accidentally had not demolished it, there would still be discussions going on now about whether it should be preserved or not.
But, Mitchell park library which was truly charming, had character, could have been extended in its original style, was demolished without a thought of preservation. It was not privately owned, it did not have a group of neighbors clamoring for its preservation only a very vocal group of let's get rid of it quick and build something for the sake of our children and forget about any history that this building may have had.
At this rate, we can't get rid of any eyesores if they are privately owned, but anything the city owns which has charm, character and reflects the Palo Alto gone by, has to go to make room for bigger, better and uglier.
Something is very wrong here.
We simply do. Ot need such a big, expensive library. If the main reason people today go to libraries is for the free Wi-Fi, the old Mitchell Park Library would have served quite well with a little work and very little cash
This has been a huge waste of time and money.
This is a huge boondoggle- basically a $30million+ homeless shelter.
Where's the "thumbs-up" button for these comments?
Yes, voting buttons (thumbs up/down, ala Facebook) would be great and would keep down the clutter of people saying the same things. Over and over...
It's the project manager's job to make sure that all the teams on the project work well together. When the prime contractor starts generating hundreds of pieces of documentation to defend against a finger-pointing contest with the architect, alarm bells should go off and both the hired project management team and the manager inside Public Works should hear the alarm and fix the problem. If the Public Works manager can't give the hired project managers enough authority to get the project on track, all the parties should escalate their concerns through city management.
It would be great if the City would make sure that a $30 million project is being run by people who understand this stuff and who can make it happen.
I told you so. I told you so. I told you so. I have NEVER in my life been more happier to say those words. The friggin project went terribly wrong when they "closed down" the facilities management team with the best project manager, engineer tech, and secretary team every at City of Palo Alto. THEY would have had that project on time, within budget, all safety issues addressed, AND the building would be utilized by the public by now. But noooo, PWE got the project and ouila! I told you so.
Glad to know the stone is coming from Nevada. The economy in the state sure needs a boost!
It's very consistent!
Well its now November, how about an update on this fiasco? Are we going to open in December, January, February? What year will it open? Come on city how about an update?