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Fairview’s $2-million mystery is solved, and it doesn’t look promising

Last week I started to track down the parameters of the $2-million site survey the state is planning for closing the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa by 2021.

What prompted this was my column last month about Fairview and Sen. John Moorlach's bill, SB 59, which would require the state to include the city and county in any decision regarding repurposing of the state-owned property. Currently, Sacramento doesn't have to do that.

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I also talked about how Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident, was working with a coalition from Hoag and St. Joseph hospitals, as well as county and Costa Mesa city officials, to address mental health issues and homelessness as part of a network.

Included in this coalition's scope is how a portion of Fairview could be used by such a network.

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Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley says of the more than 105 acres at Fairview, 50% could be set aside for single-family housing, 25% for open space, 15% for mental health institutional services of some sort and 10% left for an undetermined use.

In that column, Moorlach mentioned a $2-million site study in the state's budget for the property. A reader wondered what that "site study" meant.

That simple question certainly lacked a simple answer. It has taken me two weeks of emails and calls to get somewhat of an answer.

Moorlach's office tracked my progress. They too were interested in the details of the survey.

The question on everyone's mind was: If you don't know the scope of the survey to begin with, how do you price it at $2 million?

The answer would finally come from the state Department of Finance in a seven-page budget summary request document, which I posted to bvontv.com.

The summary starts out explaining how on April 1, 2016, the California Department of Developmental Services submitted a closure plan for Fairview that was approved by the Legislature.

It also said the state Asset Management Branch (AMB) is responsible for identifying alternative reuses for the Fairview campus and is requesting $2,168,000 toward contracting consultants.

It goes on to say the "consultants will assist with the evaluation of appropriate re-use options in order to identify constraints and opportunities; to make revenue estimations; to work with the city of Costa Mesa to identify local stakeholder interest in the reuse of the property; and to identify options that will generate the highest return to the state." Such a return could include revenue to fund programs for the developmentally disabled community.

With Californians paying a high rate of income taxes and the large government bureaucracy in Sacramento, you'd think there'd be staffers who could handle this and not have to spend $2 million on consultants. Apparently not.

The document states that for a "project of this size and complexity, AMB needs to contract for external consultants with expertise in stakeholder outreach, biological and cultural resource assessment, property condition and infrastructure capacity assessments, traffic studies."

It also says in phase one and two, if required, will need "environmental site assessments, hydrology and water resource studies, master planning studies and collaboration, alternatives analysis and adaptive repurposing studies, market studies, economic modeling, cost estimating and financial analysis, appraisal, and contract negotiations that are not available within existing staff."

This wordy document is drafted in the broadest of terms with the sole purpose of justifying hiring consultants.

Between the legalese and repetitiveness, it seems this was written so no one could actually understand the specifics totally — a prime example of government circle jerk at its best.

So here's what's budgeted in the $2,168,000 for consultants:

Project management: $160,000

Civil engineering and "site related": $210,000

Environmental assessments: $740,000

Market and economic analyses: $210,000

Traffic analysis: $75,000

Structural engineering: $30,000

Architectural and planning services: $485,000

Cost estimating: $60,000

Disposition costs: $130,000

Distributed admin: $68,000

I question how they can budget for architectural and planning services, as well as structural and civil engineering, when there's actually no building plan in place.

And taking into consideration how Fairview has operated since 1959, why is there $740,000 for environmental assessments? Shouldn't they know its impact already?

Do we really need to start from scratch here?

I could go on and on taking this consultant list apart, but this proposal is only the first step for the state to determine what to do with the property.

It has nothing to do with a post-closure plan, which will eventually fold into this multistep process. Who knows how many millions each step along the way will cost.

I'm sure consultants are already lining up for those paydays.

So how much of our tax dollars will the state eventually spend on this Fairview closure?

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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