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Unfinished Civic Center Cause of Council Wrangle

December 27, 1987|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH PASADENA — A tangle of electrical wire spills across the floor of the future police dispatch center, like an errant batch of spaghetti. Empty holding cells are packed with sandbags to absorb the rain that poured into the building two weeks ago. The carpet in a would-be squad room is still damp after being flooded with water dripping down the walls.

"Last week, it was up over the soles of your shoes in here," said a police official, sourly surveying water stains in the carpeting.

This is South Pasadena's brand new police headquarters, which was scheduled to be occupied by the 40-member department 1 1/2 months ago. It is just one part of the city's long-debated, $3.9-million civic center, which has once again become the subject of bitter wrangling among South Pasadena's fractious political leadership.

Placing Blame

Politicians and city officials used to argue about the cost of the 20,000-square-foot project, but now they discourse about who is to blame for its unfinished state. Responding to growing concerns from civic leaders and municipal workers, the City Council has fired the general contractor. The project was originally scheduled to have been completed in July, a target that has been pushed back at least half a dozen times.

The complex will eventually house, in a new white-and-brick-red police and fire headquarters and a renovated City Hall, most of South Pasadena's administrative staff and public safety workers. But the new building remains largely unoccupied, with piles of construction materials standing near the Mission Street entrance and along its Mound Avenue side, and renovations on the adjacent City Hall yet to begin.

"The building leaks like a sieve," City Manager John Bernardi said of the police and fire headquarters. "We've got to stop the leaks from top to bottom before we move the police in." He cited delays, defective workmanship and failure of coordination in terminating Vienna/Vienna Contractors of Glendora.

Firefighters Moved In

So far, the Fire Department has moved into the eastern half of the new structure ("We're floating around in here," said one firefighter last week), but the Police Department remains ensconced in cramped quarters on the ground floor of City Hall.

The city, which is now acting as its own contractor, hopes to get the Police Department into its new quarters in three months, Bernardi said. "Once we do that," he said, "we'll have some breathing room." The renovation of City Hall cannot begin until the police vacate their current quarters.

Sam G. Vienna, president of the contracting company, heatedly defended his work, blaming faulty design and "political problems" for the deficiencies in the police and fire facility. His company will go to arbitration with the city over the dispute, as provided for in the contract.

As with most major issues in South Pasadena, public discussion of events relating to the civic center has been accompanied by recriminations.

Leading the way in hurling charges and countercharges has been Councilman Robert Wagner, the city government's contentious odd man out. Wagner, who has been on the short end of a series of 4-to-1 votes since he was elected in 1984, charges that there have been "errors in judgment and poor management" on the part of municipal staffers and of Councilman Lee Prentiss, who was mayor when many of the construction problems first developed.

Who Was in Charge?

"The city knew months ago that there were problems with the job," Wagner said during a brief tour of the construction site last week. "My question is, who was minding the store while the building was being built?"

"I think the guy is losing his marbles," responded Mayor James Hodge. "It appears that he's trying to hurt the city in arbitration with the contractors. That's incomprehensible, coming from somebody who's supposed to be representing the city. . . . The only thing I can conclude is that he has political motives. With the election coming up, he's trying to stir up whatever he can."

Wagner's four-year term ends next spring.

Wagner contends that Bernardi, Prentiss or George Boghossian, whose Glendale engineering firm represented the city on the job site, should have moved to stop the project early this year. "In my opinion, the leading parties in the field could have put a stop order on the project when they started to see evidence of improper work," he said.

Neither Prentiss, who was the council's liaison for the project, nor Boghossian returned phone calls.

Benefit of Doubt

Bernardi replied that Wagner misrepresents the procedures followed in cases in which a contractor is charged with deficiencies. The contract with Vienna required that he be given every benefit of the doubt, the city manager insisted.

"We gave the contractor every opportunity to correct his own mistakes," Bernardi said. "We finally reached the point where it just wasn't happening. We had to take action."

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