The Santa Ana City Council, despite pointed questions from two council members, Monday night approved a $332,000 contract increase for its streetcar project, the result of a consultant’s failure to submit adequate environmental reports.
The envisioned streetcar system, which would transport riders on a fixed track between the city’s train station and downtown, is still in an early planning phase that includes an extensive environmental review.
San Francisco-based URS Corp., the firm that missed the report deadline, will be replaced by Culver City-based Terry Hayes Associates. Hayes will be working under Cordoba Corp., which remains the lead consultant on the project.
Funds to pay for the contract increase will come from $488,000 that was dedicated to the next project phase but which the Orange County Transportation Authority agreed to advance. The city must pay back the funds within 18 months, according to Public Works Director Raul Godinez.
Although the City Council approved without discussion asking OCTA for the money last month, council members Vincent Sarmiento and Claudia Alvarez had questions this time, raising concerns about project oversight.
“What does that do to our position when we’re competing for funds that are very scarce?” Sarmiento asked.
This isn’t the first time the project has run into controversy regarding its consulting team.
In 2009, the City Council was harshly criticized by the city public works director at the time, then again in 2010 by the county grand jury, for awarding the the original $4.8-million contract to Los Angeles-based Cordoba. The firm had contributed thousands of dollars to Mayor Miguel Pulido’s election campaign and won the bid, even though it was ranked as the lowest qualified bidder for the project by a city review panel.
Alvarez complained that the council was kept out of the loop on the issues regarding URS and asked how long Cordoba had known that URS was underperforming. She said she wasn’t informed until a recent briefing that a key URS staffer had suffered from a serious health condition.
City Engineer Souri Amirani indicated that URS insisted it would be able to complete the environmental reports despite the staffing problems. “We were not told they [URS] were not going to be able to perform because of the staffing,” she told the council.
According to Godinez, URS asserted that the problems regarding the reports stem from the company not being informed that federal grants, which require extra paperwork, would be a part of the project’s funding. The company also argued that Orange County doesn’t have much experience with transit projects, leading those involved to need greater assurance on the quality of the work, Godinez said.
Amirani said that new protections were added to the contract, including a cap on amendment requests for additional funds.
Sarmiento said the project is a solid candidate to relieve Orange County’s congested freeways, but he expressed concern that an apparent lack of contract oversight could reduce support for the project from transit agencies providing new grant funds.
The project’s oversight management consultant, Cindy Krebs, declined to comment when asked about the project’s oversight. According to contract documents, Krebs is charged with, among other things, “monitoring the project’s progress to ensure it is on time, within budget.”
Krebs’ oversight contract was up for extension using funds that were advanced by OCTA to cover cost overruns attributed to URS, but the council delayed its decision. City Manager Paul Walters said the contract was delayed because city staff is considering extending Krebs’ contract for a longer period.
Mayor Miguel Pulido downplayed the contract change as a “minor hiccup,” particularly compared to an Anaheim project. Though he didn’t name the project, it’s no secret that Anaheim’s train and bus station, known as the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, has faced strong resistance from OCTA leaders.
“Compared to the hiccups they’re facing in Anaheim — they’re having huge, huge hiccups — I see this as a minor one,” Pulido said.
Sarmiento added that while Anaheim might not have good arguments for its project, Santa Ana does, and that’s what worries him. “Let’s make sure we shepherd this through well,” he said.