Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Connect the Dots
Three seemingly unrelated stories (all copied at the end of this email) involving Richmond broke this week.
  • The City Council voted to proceed with a $10 million plan to temporarily relocate the Police Department out of the Hall of Justice pending construction of a new building due to leaks and mold.
  • The City Council agreed to settle a $25 million lawsuit brought by Baykeeper alleging the City’s defective sewers routinely violate the Clean Water Act.
  • The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's annual "pavement quality report card," rated the streets in the City of Richmond as the second worst in the entire Bay Area.
  • There are common threads among all of these that include:

  • Really bad advice from professional consultants to whom the City paid millions of dollars for expert advice.
  • Failure over decades by professional public employees hired for their considerable expertise to maintain the City’s infrastructure or even make plans for that maintenance.
  • Failure to plan ahead, and failure to budget to maintain the City’s infrastructure.
  • Solutions that ultimately cost (the taxpayers) far more than they would have if problems had been taken care of in a timely manner.
  • In the case of streets, we have known for several years that our streets are getting worse and that the level of funding is not sufficient to ever improve the situation. Yet we have taken no action to come to grips with it. We have not surveyed the electorate to find out if street repair is a sufficiently high priority to divert funds for other City services or to raise additional money through new taxes or levies. We have simply allowed the status quo to prevail. I believe this is unacceptable.

    With respect to sewer collection and treatment, the City of Richmond retained Kennedy-Jenks in 1999 to perform a comprehensive study of the City of Richmond Wastewater Treatment Plant and the collection system. Based on recommendations by that consultant, the City budgeted for capital improvement projects, raised sewer rates and sold bonds. As it turned out, the Kennedy-Jinks plan undershot the real need by at least $50 million and resulted in a lawsuit by Baykeeper that ultimately cost the City much more than would have been required if we had been provided sound advice and acted on it. Then City staff drug their feet in virtually every action that would have prevented the Baykeeper lawsuit or avoided the millions of dollars in claims paid out for sewer overflows and resulting damage. The bottom line is that ineptness and inaction has wasted millions of dollars.

    For the Hall of Justice, the City Council just made a decision to spend $10 million based on a single set of mold tests taken on one day in April of 2006.

    After 10 years on the City Council I am so used to getting my butt kicked by my fellow council members that hardly anything bothers me anymore. We nine are, by designation of the electorate, experts on everything municipal, and whatever specific expertise or experience I have in anything is routinely disregarded by both my colleagues and staff.

    However, sometimes matters arise that fall uniquely within the expertise of individual council members. One of these is the water intrusion and mold issue with the Hall of Justice. Among other things, I have been making a living for several decades providing diagnostics and forensic investigations of building failures, particularly those involving water intrusion and mold. Not only that, I have provided and administered designs for remediation and repair of such projects, and I have testified in court in multi-million dollar lawsuits dealing with the fallout of these building failures. I have arbitrated mold damage claims in the magnitude of millions of collars. This is what drives me nuts about the Richmond City Council.

    If you want to see some of the projects I have worked on see Diagnostic & Forensic Architecture & Engineering, Expert Witness Services and Water Infiltration Testing and Repair. I am routinely retained by local, state and federal agencies to provide consultation in situations much like the City of Richmond is facing with the Hall of Justice. Largely because of my experience in building diagnostics and my knowledge of construction technology, I was elected over ten years ago by my peers as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a distinction that none of the consultants on the Hall of Justice evacuation recommendation share. Based on my experience, I offered the opinion that the recommendation by staff to abandon the Hall of Justice and spend $10 million relocating to temporary quarters was, at best, premature and not based on sound judgment, for a number of reasons:

  • Despite the fact that other City Council members and staff cited the immediate need to “do something to protect the health of City employees,” the move could not be completed until after the 2006-2007 rainy season, meaning that the Police Department would have to remain in the existing building another winter.
  • The plan included no repairs or mitigations of the leak sources through the winter of 2006-2007, although both staff and their consultants have predicted that conditions will be worse than last year.
  • The basis of the decision to move was a single mold sampling done in April of 2006, following a winter when the rainfall days in February set an all-time record, and March was close behind. No mold sampling has taken place in the last five months.
  • The mold sampling found elevated mold levels in the basement and in some isolated areas of some upper floors, but the cost estimate included complete mold removal from every component of the building.
  • No building diagnostics to determine the cause of the leaks or the repair cost have been completed. Estimates provided by staff are nothing more than wild-ass guesses.
  • Finally, no one really knows where the $10 million will come from, which is, itself, pretty scary.
  • I thought I had a better idea:

  • Complete the ongoing diagnostics and prototype repairs to determine the cost and feasibility of pursuing building envelope repairs through the winter of 2006-2007, thus reducing, and perhaps eliminating, the leaks. Building envelope repairs can typically be accomplished relatively un-intrusively, allowing continued full use and occupancy of the building. Based on the small amount of diagnostic work that has been performed by SGH recently, it is clear that the window systems are easily repairable and suitable for satisfactory future service.
  • Move the property storage function out of the Hall of Justice basement to a secure building the City already owns, the General Warehouse at the Port of Richmond Point Potrero Terminal at the foot of Canal Boulevard. There are few tenant improvements required, and the move would be relatively inexpensive. Rent would be free. This would clean out the basement, the main source of water and mold, making it accessible for diagnostics and repair.
  • Limit mold remediation to those few areas, other than the basement, that register continued excessive levels of airborne spores.
  • Leave the Police Department in the Hall of Justice until the new Hall of Justice building is completed and ready for occupancy.
  • My plan has the advantage of using millions of dollars to permanently repair the Hall of Justice building envelope, which can be part of a future re-use, rather than losing the money forever paying moving costs, tenant improvements and rent in temporary quarters.

    My colleagues all voted to reject my plan and, instead, support a plan by staff that has no prior experience in this sort of thing. Before we made the $10 million decision, the City Council heard no testimony from architects or engineers, or even industrial hygienists, with experience in leaking buildings and mold – only City staff who were providing their filtered interpretations and personal opinions.

    While I have to believe that the intentions of Council members and staff were driven by the best of intentions, I also believe that they were badly flawed and not in the best interest of either the police Department or Richmond taxpayers.

    Police department to relocate
    RICHMOND: City Council votes 8-1 to move force out of Hall of Justice, citing mold and flooding concerns
    By Karl Fischer and John Geluardi

    Posted on Thu, Oct. 19, 2006

    Spurred by reports of seasonal flooding, mold infestation and other grotesque conditions, the Richmond City Council has voted to move its police force out of the decrepit Hall of Justice building.

    Police headquarters most likely will shift to the same industrial area near the city marina now occupied by City Hall, which vacated its Civic Center Plaza building in 2003 over seismic safety concerns.

    Logistics prohibit a move before January, meaning officers and the public will spend one more dirty, leaky winter in the 57-year-old building.

    Council members regretted such an expensive solution -- early estimates peg rent and moving costs at $5.6 million -- but said they had no choice.

    "We have to look at what's more important," Mayor Irma Anderson said. "Life or the almighty dollar."

    The council voted 8-1 in favor of the move Tuesday, with Councilman Tom Butt dissenting. Butt, an architect, said the city did not do enough to learn about the building's flaws or about the health risks associated with mold there.

    "I do not think there is enough valid information to make a $10 million decision," he said Wednesday. "And I don't think there's much value in making that decision now."

    With the same vote, the council agreed to focus lease negotiations for the department's temporary digs on a Regatta Boulevard property owned by DiCon Fiberoptics Inc. The department would occupy about half the company's 100,000-square-foot building.

    If those talks resolve, police will follow City Hall out of Richmond's residential core into a remote, unpopulated area on the southern edge of the city, separated from most neighborhoods by railroad tracks.

    Renovation and retrofitting of Civic Center Plaza begins next year, and plans include construction of a new police building that could be ready by 2009. The current Hall of Justice will be renovated for use by city government.

    "I don't think this changes the fundamental way we are policing the community. We are firmly committed to a geographic model, with officers patrolling in every neighborhood in the city," Police Chief Chris Magnus said. "(The move) will not have much impact on our deployment."

    Moving the department also would prove less expensive than keeping it in the building during renovation, according to a cost analysis provided to the council by City Manager Bill Lindsay.

    Lindsay's staff hired several consultants to study the Hall of Justice since April, when about 30 police employees filed workers' compensation claims protesting their daily exposure to mold and asbestos.

    Workers supplied hundreds of photos showing copious mold growing throughout the building during the rainy season, when a leaky roof and walls allow water to trickle down to the basement, which floods as much as 12 inches in a property vault that contains drugs, blood evidence and other potential hazards.

    Past police administrations downplayed the problems, and several council members have said they were not aware of the extent of the problems until this year.

    "I can't envision any case in which we would put employee safety behind cost," Councilman John Marquez said. "I've seen the inside of that building, and nobody should be working in there."

    While the city's insurer has paid no claims to date, the city did respond with environmental tests within the building. In June, a consultant found high levels of mold, unhealthy but not acutely toxic.

    An environmental health specialist recommended the city make immediate repairs or move the department before winter.

    Moving police to a rental property on a three-year lease and repairing the vacant Hall of Justice will cost about $9 million, according to city estimates. Repairing the Hall piecemeal while rotating sections of the department through portable trailers would cost about $10 million.

    Both estimates incorporated work from a previous consultant, who did not open walls and cautioned that costs could rise if hidden complications arise.

    The $9 million estimate also assumes a three-year, $3.4 million lease and $3.5 million in actual repair costs. The repair costs include a 20 percent contingency cost.

    The $10 million estimate includes $2.6 million for portable trailers, $3.9 million for actual repair costs and about $3.5 million worth of projections for contingencies -- about 78 percent -- owing to the complexities of working in an inhabited building, Assistant City Manager Janet Schneider said.

    The department will move in phases, Magnus said, but most workers will relocate by January. A consultant at the council meeting, meanwhile, estimated the move would happen in March.

    "Our personnel are very motivated to get out of this building. There really are health and safety concerns, not to mention it's a horrible work environment," Magnus said. "My employees will do everything possible to facilitate a rapid departure."

    Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or kfischer@cctimes.com.

    City, district agree to fix sewer leaks
    RICHMOND: Two groups to pay more than $25 million to repair pipes in lawsuit settlement
    By Mike Taugher

    The city of Richmond and a local sewer district agreed to spend more than $25 million to fix leaky pipes and make other improvements to what one environmentalist said is one of the leakiest sewer systems in the state.

    Environmentalists sued the city in January. The settlement reached this week, which still must be approved by federal agencies, requires the city, the company that operates the sewer system and the West County Wastewater District to dramatically curtail the number of sewage spills.

    Environmentalists say the Richmond system spills hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage at a time, often into streams that flow into San Francisco Bay, and that the largest spill in the last three years was 17 million gallons.

    "Richmond currently has one of the highest spill rates in the state, but we're optimistic that they will soon have one of the lowest," said Deb Self, associate director of Baykeeper, which along with the West County Toxics Coalition filed the lawsuit.

    Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said the biggest problem is that leaky pipes allow rain water to flood into the sewer system in wet weather, and that causes the city sewage treatment plant to overflow.

    He said the agreement will probably speed repairs.

    "I think we would have done it anyway, but it did impose some discipline on us," he said. "It really causes us to focus on timetables and things like that."

    The improvements will be paid for with sewer rate increases approved last summer. An 8 percent increase was imposed this year, and city officials can levy further rate increases of up to 8 percent in each of the next four years.

    The settlement requires that the city provide rebates for low-income residents.

    It also requires the city to spend $355,000 on environmental enhancement projects, including possible stream restoration projects, and it requires the city, the sewer district and Veolia North America Operating Services, the company that operates the sewer system, to reimburse environmentalists $538,000 in legal and other fees associated with the lawsuit.

    Mike Taugher covers natural resources. Reach him at 925-943-8257 or mtaugher@cctimes.com

    Urgent plea for funds to fix roads
    Although Bay Area thoroughfares showed slight improvement in 2005, regional transportation commission says conditions have reached critical state

    Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Nearly 1 in 5 Bay Area roads is deteriorating so quickly that money is needed to fix them now before the cost grows exponentially, a Bay Area transportation-planning agency reported Wednesday.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's annual "pavement quality report card," an analysis of city and county roads in the region, found that the quality of the Bay Area's 19,500 or so miles of roads climbed slightly last year. Each road was assigned a score of 0 to 100. The average was 64, meaning the road was in generally good condition but showing signs of deterioration, such as cracks, that will grow worse quickly without immediate repairs.

    However, 18 percent of roads earned a score of 44 or less, meaning they are in such poor condition they require major repairs that will grow costlier over time, according to the report.

    "The improvement in the regional average certainly is good news," said John McLemore, commission vice chair. "But our streets and roads are still at a critical state. ... We need to invest in both preventative maintenance to keep the good roads above 60 and in rehabilitation to bring poorer roads out of the danger zone."

    The transportation commission did not rank individual roads but found that the best ones overall were in the Contra Costa County city of Oakley, where the average score was 86 -- up two points from last year. The rural roads maintained by Sonoma County were the worst, with an average score of 44, a fact that transportation officials attributed to the county's hilly terrain, aging pavement and heavy winter rainfall.

    A large repaving project in Colma helped San Mateo County boost its average score from 31 to 78 in just one year, the biggest improvement.

    It's no secret that the region's overworked roads are increasingly riddled with potholes and cracks. A survey released earlier this month by the nonprofit research organization TRIP found that San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose are home to some of the worst road conditions in the nation, and the bumpy rides cost motorists as much as $700 a year in car maintenance.

    Road conditions are a victim of the Bay Area's growth -- more vehicles mean more wear and tear -- and tight budgets that have scrimped on repaving projects. The transportation agency's report was clearly meant to rally support for Propositions 1A and 1B, which officials wholeheartedly endorsed at a news conference in San Jose on Wednesday.

    Prop. 1A would close a provision in a law that allows the state to take gasoline sales tax revenues away from transportation projects. Prop. 1B would provide $20 billion for transportation projects statewide. If passed by voters in November, Prop. 1B would provide roughly $375 million for Bay Area roads and streets over the next decade. Transportation agency officials said the region will need an additional $6 billion over the next 25 years if it is to bring all of its roads up to tip-top shape.

    "It's time to end a generation of neglect," said Jim Beall, a Santa Clara County supervisor and transportation commissioner. "Let's take care of this problem now."

    Although neither proposition faces serious opposition, some critics argue that Prop. 1A would hinder the state's ability to respond to fiscal emergencies, and others argue Prop. 1B would drive the state further into debt. A Field Poll released Sept. 29 showed 52 percent of likely voters support Prop. 1B, down from 57 percent in late May.

    The average road has a lifespan of about 25 years, but the quality of its surface falls 40 percent in the first 15 years and requires patching or minor repaving, said Siu Tan, who manages the transportation commission's program that creates the annual report card.

    The quality drops another 40 percent in the following six years, driving up repair costs by a factor of five because fixing the road generally requires tearing it up to repair the roadbed before laying fresh pavement, Tan said.

    The report was based upon a statistical sampling of 10 percent of the region's roads. It uses data from 107 public works departments that conduct physical inspections of the roads, Tan said.

    The transportation commission could not obtain data for 1 percent of the region's roads.

    The survey examines only streets and roads maintained by the region's 101 cities and 9 counties, from cul-de-sacs like Walnut Creek's Palomino Court to major thoroughfares like San Pablo Avenue, which runs through several East Bay cities. It does not include major freeways, like Interstate 880 or Highway 4, which are maintained by Caltrans.

    The average score -- which the commission calls a "pavement condition index" -- rose two points last year to 64, reversing a downward slide that saw the average fall from 66 in 2001 to 62 last year. The increase can be attributed to various repair projects, such as the city of Colma repaving about one-quarter of its roads last year.

    Forty-eight percent of the region's roads earned a score of 75 or higher, meaning they are "excellent" or "very good" and either recently resurfaced roads in pristine condition or streets with only the slightest wear.

    One-third of the roads were deemed "fair" or "good," earning scores between 45 and 74. Although roads in this category offer an acceptable ride for motorists, they are becoming worn enough to require preventive maintenance such as patching.

    The remaining roads earned scores below 45 and were deemed "poor" or "very poor," meaning they require major reconstruction that could include tearing up the pavement and repairing the roadbed.

    The full report can be viewed at www.mtc.ca.gov/news/press_releases/rel376.htm.

    Road repair funds

    Proposition 1A: It would limit the state's ability to borrow money from the sales tax on gasoline, which is supposed to be used for transportation purposes. It also would require any money borrowed from the fund to be repaid with interest within three years.

    Proposition 1B: It is a bond issue that would provide nearly $20 billion for highway and transit projects intended to reduce traffic congestion. Roughly $375 million would be spent on road improvements in the Bay Area during the next 10 years, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

    E-mail Chuck Squatriglia at csquatriglia@sfchronicle.com.

    Road ratings

    The Metropolitan Transportation Commission

    ranked 107 Bay Area jurisdictions on the quality of their roads. The worst 11

    are shown here. The first number is the ranking among the 107 jurisdictions;

    the second number is the score out of a possible 100 points.

    Rank Score

    Suisun 97 53

    Napa 100 51

    Rio Vista 100 51

    Napa County 97 53

    (Unincorporated areas)

    Sonoma County 107 44

    (Unincorporated areas)

    Larkspur 103 50

    Marin County 105 47

    (Unincorporated areas)

    Richmond 105 47

    El Cerrito 100 51

    Oakland 99 52

    Orinda 104 48

    Road report card

    A new report card on the condition of Bay Area roads shows that the

    quality of roads increased slightly in 2005 but significant investment is

    needed to keep local roads from sharply deteriorating. The grades were compiled

    based on results of visual inspections on a statistical sample of 10 percent of

    the Bay Area's roads.

    EXCELLENT (PCI = 90-100)

    VERY GOOD (PCI = 75-89}

    Pavement that has no distress and requires mostly preventive maintenance.

    2005 48%

    2004 44%

    2003 44%

    2002 44%

    2001 44%

    GOOD (PCI = 60-74)

    FAIR (PCI = 45-59)

    Pavement offers acceptable ride quality. Road surfaces becoming worn with

    rehabilitation needed.

    2005 33%

    2004 33%

    2003 35%

    2002 32%

    2001 31%

    POOR (PCI = 25-44)

    VERY POOR (PCI = 0-24)

    Pavement shows extensive distress and requires major rehabilitation or


    2005 18%

    2004 19%

    2003 17%

    2002 16%

    2001 16%


    2005 1%

    2004 4%

    2003 4%

    2002 8%

    2001 9%

    2005 Bay Area PCI score = 64 (good)

    For years 2001 through 2004, pavement condition was calculated based on

    centerline miles. For 2005, pavement condition was calculated based on lane


    Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

    The Chronicle