Another Clifford Ham boondoggle in San Diego

Posted on April 19, 2017

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More false promises of tunnels reaching out from jails to courthouses. Don’t say we didn’t tell you so because we’ve stated many times that ALL tunnel promises are false promises made to win local support of the projects and penciled out upon approval.

What we find most disturbing is that Clifford Ham has a track record of building non-functional sally ports and the non-functional part  is that prisoner transport buses can’t navigate the ramps and bottom out. Yet he remains the judicial branch’s lead architect who listens to – or takes advice from no one and knows better than all of us. One would think that with sallyport flub after sallyport flub, the council would call on his lack of competency and – at the very least – ensure that he has nothing to do with sallyport design. Instead, he gets raises,  promotions and new projects for his utter lack of competence.

At the end of the ACJ’s communique we highlighted a sentence about the AOC cleaning house with respect to facilities management – a few of whom were collecting kickbacks and referral fees from AOC vendors that they hired to do the work. Let’s be clear: These terminations were necessary. But what is also necessary is a criminal investigation and prosecution  of those who collected kickbacks and referral fees from those that eventually got the work. Why will that never happen? Because the judicial branch relies upon rules of court, has no internal law enforcement mechanism and will not permit outside auditors or investigators to investigate and pursue charges against the crooks they fired, less it sully their reputation. But there is one thing that we can all be comforted in knowing: The JC is nearly out of money for new projects due to two Clifford Ham projects – One being Long Beach and the other being San Diego which represents more than 20% of where the money went. Hopefully, with the end of the bond money coming up fast that there is an end to the capital programs that they paid for.

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We bring to your attention a story that aired on San Diego’s NBC 7 on the delays and shortcomings associated with the new San Diego courthouse. The story features Alliance director Runston “Tony” Maino’s blunt criticisms of the project. You can read and view the story at this link.

The grand opening of San Diego’s opulent new skyscraper courthouse—built at a cost of over $555 million in money from SB 1407, the 2002 bill that allotted $5 billion in bond-backed state funding for courthouse construction—has been pushed back a few months. But the delay is the least of this courthouse’s problems. The biggest issue is that the new courthouse lacks a tunnel connecting it to the jail; that part of the project was scrapped as a cost-cutting measure. For now, in-custody defendants will have to be transported a distance of two blocks by bus or van, at considerable expense to somebody, and at risk to the public.

Even that less-than-satisfactory workaround has a hitch: A bus can’t drive through the new courthouse’s sally port without scraping its undercarriage. You can check out that story here. While some concrete may now have been jack-hammered away to permit buses to enter and exit safely, what could explain such a complete lack of foresight?

Contributing to the overall cost is the fact that the old courthouse site, the sale of which was supposed to offset the cost of the new building, can’t be sold very easily. Portions of the old building sit in a category 5 earthquake zone. The old building might be sitting vacant and crumbling for a good long time until somebody buys it and tears it down—with the Judicial Council footing the bill for maintaining it in the meantime.

Moreover, the new building, as gargantuan as it is, has only half the space for the storage of exhibits as did the old building. You can read all about that problem at this link.

In a related story, the roof literally buckled in on the Los Angeles Mental Health Courthouse last November. The courthouse, a set of three repurposed buildings from an old mustard factory, had been slated for replacement at least as far back as 2008. Problems with the roof had been reported as early as 2002. The plan was to convert the underused courthouse in Hollywood into a mental health courthouse with money from SB 1407. The AOC budgeted the job at $26 million.

But the SB 1407 money dried up, thanks in large part to bloated construction projects like San Diego’s. L.A. will have to fix up the Hollywood Courthouse with its own funds.

The last L.A. presiding judge described the Mental Health Courthouse as “the worst courthouse in the state.”  How did this problem courthouse not get replaced while San Diego got a half-billion-dollar skyscraper that won’t meet its needs? Why did a handful of spectacular architectural showpieces get built across the state while courthouses in desperate need of replacement or repair continue to rot?

The problem stems from a broken system that set construction priorities badly—as noted by an outside audit back in 2012—and manages construction projects poorly.

The Council’s apologists are quick to claim that the creation of a new governance structure for capital projects has fixed the system. But the fix, if it is one, came a little late; now that the construction money’s running out, there aren’t many capital projects left to supervise.

Defenders also point out that the AOC’s director, Martin Hoshino, recently cleaned house at the AOC’s Real Estate and Facilities Management Office. That drastic step, while welcome, only serves to validate what we’ve been saying for years: The construction and facilities maintenance side of the AOC is a troubled outfit that needs outside auditing.

Besides, it’s not enough to clean house. This house needs to be gutted and rebuilt, not just cleaned. The problems that led to massive overspending and bad priorities are structural. They stem from a lack of local court representation at the Judicial Council and an absence of meaningful oversight at the AOC.

The Judicial Council recently placed small blue signs at the judges’ entrances to many courthouses that read, “This facility is operated by The Judicial Council of California.”  The sign instructs us to report any problems to the Council.

Judicial Council, we’d like to report a problem. It’s you.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges