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A Hollywood Range War

July 21, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Accusations are flying along with golf balls at the Los Angeles City College driving range, whose construction has become the focus of a state inquiry.

Court papers and interviews paint a picture of a project jinxed from the start. It was built from plans that failed to show a child-care center that was located in the midst of the range site. Then it opened this spring without final approval of state inspectors or its builder -- even after errant balls had peppered the college campus, sailing past a sign that appears to exaggerate the range's length.

The contractor in charge of building the $6-million range -- developed and operated by a private businessman leasing land from the college -- has sued for nonpayment amid allegations of poor planning.

Contractor Gil Yoo contends that college leaders and state officials in charge of overseeing the project improperly allowed Majestic Golf Land to operate even though he and state inspectors did not sign off on it.

Yoo said he declined to do so because range operator Hee K. Cho had installed an unapproved and potentially unsafe drainage system and failed to pay $320,000 that Yoo says he is owed.

Both Cho and college officials deny any wrongdoing.

But the office of the state architect, which is responsible for all construction on public school and community college campuses in California, launched an investigation into why normal procedures were not followed before the driving range opened May 7.

State Architect Stephan Castellanos said his staff has concluded that "there are some problems. They have determined it's of a serious enough nature that we should take a look at it."

Yoo also has leveled a series of complaints about what he describes as shoddy planning for the golf range and a questionable relationship between the range operator and college officials.

Yoo has refused to sign the state's final "DSA-6 Verified Report" attesting that the golf range was built in compliance with state requirements. Castellanos said no record could be found showing that state inspectors signed off on it, either.

Range operator Cho, who is paying the Los Angeles Community College District $120,000 a year in a renewable 10-year lease of the site, disputed Yoo's charges. He said final payment was withheld as a penalty for not finishing the golf range on time.

"It's operating legally," Cho said.

According to building documents supplied by Yoo, the range project was troubled from the day construction began.

Yoo, president of Paramount-based C.G. Construction Inc., said workers soon determined that building plans had been prepared using an inaccurate property survey supplied by the college. The drawings failed to show a newly built campus Child Care Center that sat on the site of the proposed driving range.

The children's center forced workers to shift the range and its planned clubhouse and tee platform about 80 feet west. The college district then spent thousands of dollars for new plans and a retaining wall required because of the new site.

As taxpayers were footing the bill for the changes, Cho was bragging about his close relationship with college administrators, Yoo said. One of them was a campus vice president whom Cho talked of taking to Las Vegas, Yoo said.

It was at the end of the construction earlier this year when Yoo said he discovered a drainage problem, which prompted him to notify state and district officials that he would not guarantee the future stability of the range's tall tee platform.

In a March 24 letter, Yoo wrote that a runoff catch basin installed by Cho was not connected to the city storm drain system but was built to empty water under the platform structure's foundation.

Yoo said the golf operator responded: "Oh, it never rains in California."

Cho maintains that Yoo's version of events is wrong and that the project is sound.

Regarding Yoo's report of a Las Vegas trip, Cho said he had "lunch or dinner" with former City College Vice President Arthur Tyler "several times" and took one trip and played golf with the school administrator. "But he paid for that. What's mine was mine and what was his was his," Cho said.

Economic conflict-of-interest statements filed by Tyler and other top-level officials with the college district between 2000 and 2004 do not report any gifts from Cho. Tyler, who recently left L.A. City College to serve as the state's Special Trustee overseeing Compton Community College, said that he paid his own way at all times.

"Mr. Cho has never treated me to a trip of any kind. I've been very careful in my dealings with Mr. Cho," Tyler said.

Cho said he did not remember details of the property survey mix-up involving the Child Care Center or whether the college ended up paying for new plans. But Tyler confirmed that the college footed the bill.

"We paid for the survey, because the original master plan survey was inaccurate," Tyler said. "We'd taken a portion of his property away.... We moved the property line."

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