Oct 16 2011

Opinion: City Council Acceptance of its Audit Subcommittee Report on Undergrounding Problems

Citizen responds to the Oct. 17, 2011 Agenda Item #3: Acceptance of Audit  Subcommittee Interim Report

In a democratic society, those who gift public money away do not investigate themselves. Now, Mayor Barbieri and Vice-Mayor Chiang will “accept” the report they prepared, a report that is non-substantive as to most of staff’s actions. Once the plans were in place and the first shovel hit the dirt in July 2009, virtually all responsibility shifted to staff.  To have the City Administrator (Geoff Grote) be the staff for the Audit Subcommittee speaks for itself; he is ultimately responsible for this debacle.  Documentation was presented to the Audit Subcommittee that directly contradicted statements by Mr. Grote.  Those documents were ignored.

This “audit” took far too long, evidently in the hope residents’ fading memories would wipe out the multimillion dollar loss.  Judge Kawaichi wanted to do a proper investigation, regardless of the time required. This is a sad day for Piedmont.

Investigation of the Crest Road washout was not done by the Audit Subcommittee. My research concluded there was a “gift of public funds” on Crest Road; Oct. 3 Mr. Grote acknowledged the misuse of the Sewer Fund. Soon this Council will consider transferring General Fund money to the Sewer Fund. Staff robbed the Sewer Fund of $296,000 two years ago. A transfer of taxpayer money will not erase the original act.

Staff withheld critical information and provided false information concerning Crest Road. Staff did not inform Council there was an initial construction error that created the washout. Equally troubling is that Valley Utility was instructed Oct. 14, 2009 to repair the damaged trench with cement slurry, as approved by PG&E. That repair method had no trench dams.  The Nov. 4 Kleinfelder (Geotechnical Consultant) trench dam* recommendation was obtained after the work had been completed.  Additionally, staff presented false information concerning Valley’s protection of their job site and the existing drain system on Crest Road.

On Feb. 1, 2009, a day before the Municipal Election, staff stated there was another cost overrun, citing pipe mis-measurements. Five days later the overrun morphed into taxpayers paying another million. The City’s litigation places this mis-measurement cost at $200,000 (complaint @ p4:18-24). These contradictory facts reveal a culture of concealment at City Hall.

Piedmont taxpayers assumed unlimited liability by the contracts Mr. Peyton, City Attorney, reviewed and approved. That’s why we’re here tonight. Mr. Peyton ruled it was legal to debit the Sewer Fund, but ignored the fundamental issue; without the construction work for the special benefit of PHUAD (Piedmont Hills Underground Assessment District) there would have been no washout.  Mr. Peyton never addressed the initial Crest Road construction; the City has included that specific point in its litigation. Despite all this, the Audit Subcommittee was unresponsive to any questions concerning George Peyton’s breach of his fiduciary responsibilities.

A year and a half ago, I presented my PHUAD analysis to council members; Mr. Wieler lamented the loss of “esprit de corps” among staff.  That loss is the least of residents’ concerns.

Rick Schiller
Piedmont, CA

*Short definition: Trench dams prevent bedding erosion and drain excess water to the surface in a trench situated on a steep slope

Explanation: Trench dams are an internal construction in utility (and other) trenches that are placed on steep slopes. Water getting into a trench will form hydrostatic pressure because of the force of gravity on the slope. This pressure erodes and washes the bedding sand which is at the bottom of the trench. Once the sand is washed away, the material above can collapse down and in some instances collapse part of the existing street into the trench. The trench dams are placed at fixed intervals from the bottom of the trench to just below the street surface. On the upper portion of Crest Road they were specified every 75 feet. The trench dams prevent the bedding from eroding by relieving the pressure and allowing excess water to flow to the surface through a drain outlet installed in each trench dam.

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