Alleging cover-ups and indifference by local authorities, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores joined with four whistle-blowers Wednesday in calling for a federal investigation into charges of mismanagement and shoddy work on Metro rail transit projects.
"Defective structural welding was covered up; defective structural concrete was covered up," said Flores, who is running for Congress in the newly created 36th District along the coast from San Pedro to Venice.
"We've been told the subway tunnels are secure . . . (but) how safe are they?" she asked.
Plenty safe, county transit officials said. Ed McSpedon, president of the Rail Construction Corp., said tests show that the concrete in stations and tunnels exceeds design specifications.
"We have enough information to say that the concrete strength is there," said McSpedon, adding that concrete is by far the most important single factor in determining the integrity of underground structures.
McSpedon said he expects X-ray and other non-destructive tests under way to confirm that hidden structural components also are more than safe.
The whistle-blowers with Flores at City Hall were former quality-control engineer Mike Quint, former safety engineer Jim Hamilton, former auditor Bob Inouye and former accountant Tim Roberts. All said they were fired after questioning what they believed were suspicious construction or accounting practices.
The four men repeated contentions made independently over the last year about problems, ranging from improper billing and unauthorized spending to engineering and construction flaws, that could shorten the life of subway tunnels or contribute to disaster in an earthquake.
Some of their allegations against the RCC and its parent agency, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, have been confirmed by outside auditors or LACTC representatives. They include reckless expense account spending, contract awards without proper approvals and construction errors that let water leak through plastic tunnel liners.
However, their most serious allegations--that the system is unsafe--have not been proven. LACTC officials and the contractors building the system insist that the Metro Red Line subway and other trains exceed minimum standards for safety and design.
Hamilton, Inouye and the other whistle-blowers said they would prefer that an independent agency look into their allegations, but they said they have not been able to interest Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and federal officials to look into the matter.
Allegations by one whistle-blower, Quint, were referred last summer to Fred Macksoud, a district attorney's investigator. Macksoud, however, specializes in environmental and worker-safety issues, and Quint's allegations involved contract fraud and public safety.
Macksoud said that as soon as he determined there were no "prosecutable" environmental or worker-safety issues, he referred Quint's allegations to another branch of the district attorney's office. He declined to say who has the case now.
RCC officials acknowledge some problems.
A "limited financial review" released earlier this month confirmed the excessive spending documented in a Times article last March. The review also found signs of sloppy management, with employees unable to locate some contracts for which they were responsible. Meanwhile, some bills were not paid for six months, while at least 80 were paid twice.
LACTC officials said contract management has since been centralized and revamped, and the LACTC board has ordered a fuller management audit.