Tag Archive for California High Speed Authority Design Build Program Plan

Little-Known Facts About the Contract for the First Construction Segment of California High-Speed Rail

As reported by John Hrabe in the January 27, 2014 www.CalNewsroom.com article High-Speed Rail Critics Question Timing Of Rail Firm’s Contribution To Brown Campaign, Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014 re-election campaign committee received the maximum possible contribution of $27,200 on January 21, 2014 from the construction company Tutor Perini.

Tutor Perini is part of the Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons joint venture that won the design-build contract for the first construction segment of California High-Speed Rail, a 29-mile stretch from Madera to Fresno. (For detailed information on design-build procurement in California, see Why Lowest Responsible Bidders Don’t Necessarily Win Rail Construction Contracts: Explaining Design-Build Procurement and Best Value Criteria in California Law.)

Three days after the $27,200 contribution was made – and on the day it was recorded by the California Secretary of State – California Attorney General Kamala Harris submitted an extraordinary request to the California Supreme Court on behalf of Gov. Brown, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and other interested parties. They want the court to grant relief to allow the project to continue, even though a Sacramento County Superior Court judge decided in 2013 that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to comply with the law established by Proposition 1A in 2008 and therefore could not sell any of the $9.95 billion in bonds authorized by voters under that statewide ballot measure.

Tutor Perini Contribution to Brown for Governor 2014 Campaign Committee

Tutor Perini Contribution to Brown for Governor 2014 Campaign Committee

As this brazen campaign contribution begins to gain public attention, here is some little-known information about the contract and cost for the first construction segment.

1. Tutor Perini Contract Amount Is Higher Than People Think

An April 12, 2013 press release showed California High-Speed Rail Authority officials were pleased when the low bid for the design-build contract came in under $1 billion.

The Authority had estimated the cost for the design-build contract to be between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion. The Authority determined that Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, a California-based Joint Venture, who bid $985,142,530, was the “apparent best value.”

But the amount announced to the public is deceptive.

At its June 6, 2013 meeting, the California High-Speed Rail Authority awarded a design-build contract to Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, a Joint Venture, for their fixed bid price of $969,988,000 and hazardous material unit bid price of $15,154,530 for a total bid price of $985,152,530 on “Construction Package 1” (CP-1). This is the 29-mile segment between Madera and Fresno.

There was an additional $53 million included for contingencies, for a total of $1,022,988,000. See this information here:

Approval to Award Contract for Design/Build Services for Construction Package 1 – June 6, 2013

EXECUTION VERSION – Agreement No.: HSR13-06 – Book 2, Part A, Subpart 1 – Signature Document (see Attachment B – Prices)

Since then, a $160 million contingency fund was created for the project, including $20 million for compliance with Buy American provisions for utility relocation.

Approval of Contingency Fund for Construction Package 1 – September 10, 2013

Resolution #HSRA 13-21 – Approval of Contingency Fund for Construction Package 1 – September 10, 2013

This means that the Madera to Fresno construction segment is authorized to cost taxpayers as much as $1,182,988,000.

This amount does not include all of the consulting work beforehand. Pre-construction costs from Merced to Bakersfield are $160 million through September 30, 2013 and authorized for a total of $241 million. (A more specific amount for the Madera to Fresno first construction segment is not available.)

California High-Speed Rail Authority Project Update Report to the California State Legislature – November 15, 2013

Yes, this 29-mile segment is a billion-dollar segment, and that does not include interest to be paid on borrowed money obtained through bond sales.

2. Potential Windfall for Tutor Perini Because of California High-Speed Rail Authority’s “Strange Lack of Competency in Procurement Strategy”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has completed the environmental review of the Merced to Fresno segment. It is in the process of environmental review for the Fresno to Bakersfield segment.

Construction Package 1 has 25 miles in the approved Merced to Fresno segment and 4 miles in the not-approved Fresno to Bakersfield segment. If the California High-Speed Rail Authority can’t conclude environmental review of the Fresno to Bakersfield segment by July 12, 2014, the Authority has to renegotiate the contract for Construction Package 1 with Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons.

This is why the California High-Speed Rail Authority quietly asked the federal Surface Transportation Board for an environmental exemption, which the board has refused to grant while it extends the time period for comment until February 14, 2014. The September 26, 2013 Petition for Exemption from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to the Surface Transportation Board states the following:

The Authority has entered into a design-build contract to construct a 29-mile segment of the HST System, comprised or approximately 5 miles of track and facilities within the boundaries of the Fresno to Bakersfield HST Section in the vicinity of Fresno and approximately 24 miles of track and facilities covered by the exemption granted in the Merced to Fresno Decision. The Authority’s design-build contract requires the Authority to give the contractor separate notices to proceed with construction of the 5-mile and 24-mile segments. The notice to proceed for the 5 miles of track and facilities must be issued by July 12, 2014. If the Authority cannot issue the notice on the 5-mile segment by July 12th, it will be removed from the contract and the Authority will need to re-negotiate the price for the construction of the 24-mile segment and the price and timetable for the 5-mile segment. Since the construction contract does not contain a separate price for the 5-mile and 24-mile segments, this could result in a substantial aggregate increase in the cost of construction of the two segments. There is a possibility that the Board will have a vacancy as of January 1, 2014. Given the Authority’s July 12th notice to proceed deadline, the possibility of a Board vacancy is of concern to the Authority. However, the Board has authority to grant conditional approval of construction exemptions. Although the Board does not do so absent compelling circumstances, there would be compelling circumstances in this case because conditional approval would avoid circumstances which could require the Authority to pay a higher price for the construction of the initial segment of the HST System. Accordingly, if a Board vacancy becomes imminent, the Authority respectfully requests that the Board conditionally grunt this Petition subject to the completion of the environmental review process, and issue a decision effective by December 31, 2013.

Petition for Exemption from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to the Surface Transportation Board – September 26, 2013, and subsequent correspondence

Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) is harshly critical of what it calls “serious mistakes made by the Authority and its consultants” and “the strange lack of competency in procurement strategy.”

July 12, 2014: What Is the Big Deal?Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) – December 4, 2013

Justified or not, Tutor Perini and its predecessor firms have a reputation for looking at big urban infrastructure projects and figuring out weaknesses and mistakes that can be exploited later for financial advantage. An April 19, 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times about the low bid for California High-Speed Rail (Bullet Train Bid Rules Altered) hints at that reputation:

Critics have complained that the firm tends to bid low to win contracts and then seeks change orders and contract amendments that increase costs. The firm has handled many major construction projects successfully. But it also has been embroiled in controversies involving accusations of overbilling, fraud and shoddy workmanship related to the Los Angeles subway, San Francisco International Airport and public works projects in New York. Those matters have cost the builder tens of millions of dollars in legal judgments, settlements and penalties.

This reputation for Tutor Perini is also addressed in the UT San Diego April 15, 2013 article Bullet Train Bidder Had Overruns and its April 16, 2013 article ‘Change-Order Artist’ Fights Back.

Anyone who has closely followed the business of the California High-Speed Rail Authority recognizes how it could be a sitting duck. Taxpayers will end up paying the bill.

The Reason for Murky Bidding on California High-Speed Rail: A Law Enacted in 1996, When the Bullet Train Was Just a Twinkle in California’s Eye

On January 15, 2013, the Bay Area News Group (San Jose Mercury-News) reported in California High-Speed Rail Cost Figures Coming In, but No One Will See Them Yet that the chairman of the California State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee was upset about the sealed bids for the first segment of the California High-Speed Rail project.

…sealed envelopes containing the actual cost for the first leg of the high-speed rail line will finally be hand-delivered to state offices this week. But you won’t see the bid prices yet – and neither will the officials planning the project. They’ll be filed away in sealed containers, with the supporting documents locked up in fireproof cabinets…

But some outsiders are questioning why the state is taking so long to look at the price, particularly with so many taxpayer dollars on the line and a groundbreaking just months away.

“The process is supposed to be transparent,” said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee. “Once the bid is in, it’s in the public domain, and the public needs to (be able to see) what the bids look like, especially on a project like this.”

Actually, the process is NOT supposed to be transparent. And Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, is correct to point out that this practice is common for big projects around the nation and state. “It is the industry standard in design-build projects to open bid prices following initial evaluations as not to skew the process,” Morales stated.

Here’s the origin of what’s happening today with the murky High-Speed Rail bids. In 1996, Governor Pete Wilson signed into law Senate Bill 1420, introduced by Senators Quentin Kopp (a former High-Speed Rail Authority board member who has criticized the current manifestation of the project) and Jim Costa (who is now a member of Congress), to create the California High-Speed Rail Authority and “prescribe various powers of the authority relative to planning, contracting for the construction of, financing, and operating, a high-speed rail system.”

California Public Utilities Code Section 185036 (added to law by SB 1420) states the following:

185036. Upon approval by the Legislature, by the enactment of a statute, or approval by the voters of a financial plan providing the necessary funding for the construction of a high-speed network, the authority may do any of the following: (a) Enter into contracts with private or public entities for the design, construction and operation of high-speed trains. The contracts may be separated into individual tasks or segments or may include all tasks and segments, including a design-build or design-build-operate contract.

In the mid-1990s, California was beginning to experiment with the design-build procurement process for public works projects. Instead of using the traditional “design-bid-build” method of designing a project, bidding out contracts for construction, and then building the project, a state or local government would request proposals that combined design and construction for single-source delivery.

The idea is that design-build allows different facets of a project to be coordinated and integrated, and as a result construction is less expensive and completed faster. See the web site of the Design-Build Institute of America for its arguments in support of design-build.

However, there are potential drawbacks to public agencies using design-build procurement for taxpayer-funded construction. With design-build, state and local governments are allowed to award the contract to an entity that is not the lowest responsible bidder. Instead, the government chooses a design-build entity based on “best value” criteria that includes price but can also include other objectives, such as “community benefits.” (In the case of California High-Speed Rail, bidders fulfill the so-called “community benefits” criteria through a commitment defined in Section 7.11.3 to sign a specific union-only Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.)

This somewhat subjective scoring system allows the government to avoid awarding a contract to an inexperienced or overreaching entity that submits a low bid, but it also invites temptation for government officials to subtly manipulate the scoring criteria to achieve a desired outcome, such as making sure their favored company wins the contract. In the worst circumstances, it opens up the possibility for outright cronyism, nepotism, and fraud.

Authorizing this kind of alternative procurement and delivery system for public works projects would seem to conform with California Public Contract Code Section 101, which states that “California public contract law should be efficient and the product of the best of modern practice and research.” But it seems to betray the principles in California Public Contract Code Section 100, which declares the intent of the Legislature in enacting the Public Contract Code to achieve the following objectives:

(a) To clarify the law with respect to competitive bidding requirements.

(b) To ensure full compliance with competitive bidding statutes as a means of protecting the public from misuse of public funds.

(c) To provide all qualified bidders with a fair opportunity to enter the bidding process, thereby stimulating competition in a manner conducive to sound fiscal practices.

(d) To eliminate favoritism, fraud, and corruption in the awarding of public contracts.

Obviously, the long-term success of design-build procurement relies on transparent procedures and promptly-accessible public records.

As the 1990s ended, state agencies and local governments throughout California were eager to win authorization in state law to award projects to design-build entities instead of using the design-bid-build method. Laws multiplied from 2000 to 2011 explicitly authorizing and reauthorizing “best value” bid criteria and establishing a methodology for many categories of local government entities. Language for these authorizations expanded from the crude, simple statement authorizing design-build for High-Speed Rail in Public Utilities Code Section 185036.

On January 20, 2011, the California State Senate Local Government Committee held an oversight hearing on design-build, specifically focusing on the authorization for counties (which was about to expire). The report produced from this 90-minute, 19-panelist hearing is probably the best available source for the public and the news media about the actual implementation in California of design-build procurement, as opposed to theory and rhetoric. See Faster, Cheaper, Better? How Counties Use Design-Build Contracting. The Summary Report from the Oversight Hearing – Wednesday, January 20, 2010 – California State Local Government Committee (also still posted on the California State Senate web site).

In his role of vociferously opposing the privatization of engineering work through design-build, Ted Toppin, Legislative Director of the Professional Engineers in California Government (a public employee union), revealed the weakness of design-build at the oversight hearing:

Taking a self-described “contrary view,” Ted Toppin told legislators that the Professional Engineers in California Government doesn’t support design-build contracting for four reasons: (1) design-build laws favor contractors over taxpayers, (2) design-build contracts avoid competitive bids in favor of best-value lump sum bids, (3) the design-build selection process is highly subjective, and (4) design-build methods eliminate public inspection of the public works projects. His group is neutral on extending the sunset clause for the counties’ design-build statute, provided that the Legislature requires expanded objective reporting. Toppin then specifically alleged that Sonoma County’s report to the LAO incorrectly reported the cost of its design-build contract. Toppin also claimed that Stanislaus County officials ignored state law when awarding their design-build contract for a swimming pool, failing to consider cost, life-cycle costs, and safety records, as required by law. Further, Toppin said that Solano County incorrectly reported contract costs and didn’t consider the cost criterion when awarding the contract. He told legislators that PECG opposes the expansion of design-build contracting to other projects and opposes a standard statute. [Written reactions from Stanislaus County and Solano County appear in the yellow pages.] Senator Price asked Toppin if design-build contracting has “any redeeming social value at all,” to which Toppin replied that state law should follow the approach for state highways that relies on early involvement and inspection.

While generally supporting the concept of design-build procurement on behalf of my former employer – Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California – and addressing some obscure technical issues related to pre-qualification, I also criticized some of the historical problems with design-build procurement that we now see emerging in 2013 with the California High-Speed Rail:

Dayton criticized the project labor agreement signed as part of the design-build process for the San Joaquin County administration building. His group had difficulty in obtaining public records such as the subcontractors’ bid lists and payroll records. Dayton recommended that future design-build laws ensure public access to those documents, and submitted specific draft language. After the hearing, Dayton provided the Committee with six other proposed amendments to the design-build statutes.

As you can see in the final version of Senate Bill 879 (2010), the ABC of California lobbyist Juli Broyles of California Advocates and I succeeded in getting the law amended to included this new public records accessibility language in California Public Contract Code Section 20133 (g):

(g) Lists of subcontractors, bidders, and bid awards relating to the project shall be submitted by the design-build entity to the awarding body within 14 days of the award. These documents are deemed to be public records and shall be available for public inspection pursuant to this chapter and Article 1 (commencing with Section 6250) of Chapter 3.5 of Division 7 of the Government Code.

But such a requirement does not apply to the design-build procurement for California High-Speed Rail. Why? Because the California State Legislature never adopted this recommendation of the California Legislative Analyst’s Office in its February 3, 2005 report Design-Build: An Alternative Construction System:

Instead of separate legislation providing the design-build authority for different time spans for different groups of state and local entities, as currently exist, we recommend that a single statute be adopted that applies to all public entities providing the same authority and limitations, if any.

Nor did the California State Legislature adopt the exact same recommendation five years later from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office in its January 8, 2010 report Counties and Design-Build (also still posted on the LAO web site):

Instead of separate legislation providing the design-build authority for different time spans for different groups of state and local entities, as currently exist, we recommend that a single statute be adopted that applies to all public entities providing the same authority and limitations.

As a result, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has broad authority to develop its own “best value” criteria and scoring system, while keeping the details out of the public eye.

See an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) California High Speed Authority Design Build Program Plan produced by Parsons Brinckerhoff for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. ARRA was the stimulus package enacted by President Obama in 2009.

Does Senator Mark DeSaulnier Read the Legislation He Supports?

Despite his complaining about the murky bidding process for California High-Speed Rail, Senator Mark DeSaulnier has repeatedly voted for bills that authorize or reauthorize design-build procurement or other alternative delivery systems that include “best value” criteria and the same kind of scoring system that California High-Speed Rail is using.

For example, in 2012 he voted for Senate Bill 1509, which reauthorized design-build for K-12 school and community college districts. He also voted for Senate Bill 1549, which authorized design-build for projects of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). And he supported the use of design-build procurement by Contra Costa County when he served on the Board of Supervisors, and on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, it’s good to have him pointing out some of the questionable practices of the bidding procedure for the California High-Speed Rail, although he surely won’t be criticizing the Authority’s requirement that contractors sign a Project Labor Agreement.