Pure Water Squabbles Over Change Orders Before Their Project Goes Out To Bid


Well if you were uncertain that digging up neighborhood roads to put in 4 foot diameter high pressure raw sewage lines was a bad idea, then you only needed to attend the November 15th Pure Water City Council Meeting. The project has not even gone out to bid and they were squabbling over change orders. Agenda Item 504; Pure Water wants SDG&E to pay for any gas and electric relocations required by the new 4 foot diameter high pressure raw sewage lines (see red dashed line on map). San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and their attorneys want nothing to do with this expense along with its looming mountain of change orders. SG&E put its position on the record; stating that any utility relocations will have to come out of the Pure Water budget. This includes known SDG&E modifications and modifications that will only become apparent after a bulldozer hits something. Unforeseen utility disruptions result in expensive change orders. Pure Water and SDG&E attorneys disagree and are poised for litigation. With the vaguest of assurances Council approved anyway.

It was all a straw man argument of course; Pure Water managers have a much simpler and colder calculation. Pure Water did not involve taxpayers at the early pipeline design phase but did involve organizations like; conservancy groups, SDG&E and CALTRANS. Coincidentally all these groups have the ability to raise a few hundred thousand dollars to get ballot signatures to overturn a Council vote. The only group Pure Water identified who could not raise the money to get the issue on the ballot were the citizens along the red line path. Pure Water artificially made the price of the red line path the lowest by removing the costs for; SDG&E relocations, change orders and other scope items. Pure Water will eventually add 30 to 60 million dollars or more in excavation and construction costs to the red pipe path, which contractors and their lobbyists support. What’s unfolding is what we sensed all along; that the red line path is not only the most disruptive but also the most expensive.

When builders go to the city for underground utility records they often only get the bid and or construction drawings. The City of San Diego has incomplete existing underground utility documentation. The trolley work on Genesee was a mess due to unknown location of existing underground utilities. Ideally builders should receive drawings that were completed after previous construction, accurately showing all conditions, these documents are called; as build drawings and are always a contract requirement. In San Diego as build drawings are often not completed or they are improperly filed. As a result heavy equipment operators dig where nothing is showing on the plans but often find out the undocumented location of underground utilities after the underground utility has been cut or damage.

Experienced builders know that burying these new sewer lines, under existing main roads, will be a change order bonanza. When an underground utility is hit, utility service goes out immediately. Everything goes into emergency mode with emergency pay rates, quick sign here. Overtime, night rates, 24 hour schedules, traffic, injuries, property damage etc. During the City Council meeting Council voted to give the Mayor authority to immediately approve any and all change orders up to a million dollars; to me this is a red flag and a harbinger of lobbying abuse. I believe this red dashed line route was embraced by contractor lobbyists because of the number of highly profitable change orders that would occur. The blue, green and yellow routes shown on the map would be in less congested areas and therefore less profitable. This red line route also requires the biggest pumps and the greatest number of sewer gas relief valves that material suppliers lobbied for. Lobbyists really do not care that raw sewage gas will be routinely disbursed in our neighborhoods; they rejected any recommendation that sewer gas be sent to the plants for processing. Their calculations are cold and based on their clients profits. Any manager who demonstrates a willingness to manipulate project budgets will be a welcome addition to the lobbying fold.  Are we locating a high pressure raw sewage line (18 ton per square foot) that is best for the community or best for contractors’ profits?  Pre-bid squabbling over change orders should be a red flag.

At the November 15th City Council meeting I was unsuccessful in having Council take a second look at the red line pipe path, Most of the speakers were union and non-union contractors. The exclusion of minority and non-union contractors was the main issue that split the council vote along party lines. On the most pivotal agenda item 503; Cate made a plea at 1hr, 20 minutes not to exclude minority and non-union contractors, see link below. Republicans; Zapf, Kersey and Sherman voted with Cate not to exclude minority and non-union contractors. All 5 Democratic Council members voted yes which will permanently exclude all minority and non-union contractors from the 1.2 billion dollar Pure Water project.

I have been in the building business for over forty years and have never seen this level of argument over change orders before a project is even bid out. Then again I have never seen such naked lobbying, intended to increase the amount of work for contractors. City managers and ethics officers should be seeing red flags. Lobbyists and their clients only see green dollars.

Louis Rodolico has been a resident of University City since 2001                         louisrodolico.com    




Webcast – Agenda #503 Chris Cate 1:20


Pure Water Corners City Council


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