Building Flaws Lead to Probe of Pomona Agency : Council Orders Investigation After Complaints by Crownpointe Homeowners

Times Staff Writer

The broiler vent in Greg Tuttle's kitchen led to a dead end, and it made him angry. Without an outside opening, the vent was a fire hazard that imperiled his new $200,000 home.

But that was just one of the problems encountered by Tuttle and other homeowners in the Crownpointe subdivision of Phillips Ranch. A series of construction flaws and apparent discrepancies in city building inspection reports led them to seek help from the City Council, which ordered an independent investigation of its own building department.

A written report by the outside consultant who conducted the investigation is to be presented to the City Council this week.

The problems at Crownpointe are complicated by the fact that the developer of the property went out of business last year, leaving about half the luxury homes unfinished.

Homeowner Mike Daniel said the controversy began when he asked to see city inspection records after noticing large cracks in his new $275,000 house and discovering that other features were missing. He and his family have lived their for six months.

Daniel said city officials took two weeks to locate the records for his house and, when they were found, the inspection dates listed on them were wrong.

"The records say they inspected my insulation on April 4 (of 1984)," Daniel said. "I didn't even buy my house till April 16, and it was nothing but sticks."

The city inspector who signed the forms said he could have made errors in record keeping, but insisted that all the houses in the tract were carefully inspected.

"I'm a good inspector, but I'm not a very good record keeper," said Bill Zaremba, who was assigned to the tract.

At a recent council meeting, Daniel and Tuttle demanded that the city act on their claims of inadequate building inspection. The council ordered the hiring of independent consultant Robert Sullivan to conduct the investigation.

Sullivan, a retired Upland building official, operates his own consulting firm and has done occasional work for Pomona.

Sorensen said he has concluded his investigation, but he declined to comment until after the council has examined his report. City administrative officials including Building Director Jean Campbell, City Administrator Ora Lampman and Sanford A. Sorensen, director of community development, also refused to comment, but they indicated they expect no major shake-ups as a result of the investigation.

Homeowner Daniel said his frustration is aggravated by the fact that the developer went out of business before the project was finished. The builder, known as Valinda Development Co., was a joint venture of San Marino Savings & Loan and John Martin, an individual.

San Marino Savings was placed in receivership last February after federal regulators seized its assets because of what they called "questionable lending practices." Its deposits were sold to an Arizona banking firm in December.

The Crownpointe project remains in financial limbo as the city searches for another firm to purchase and complete the unfinished portion of the tract. Daniel said he fears the unfinished houses will be sold for less than their projected original value and force down the value of his property.

Daniel's house overlooks the Pomona freeway and smooth green hills to the south, with a sweeping view of downtown Pomona to the northeast. Only six of the 42 homes in the tract are inhabited.

"It's a ghost town," Daniel said. "We've thought of abandoning it but we've invested so much. We already have a pool and a spa."

Daniel said cracks in the house's stucco coating led him to question the quality of workmanship and the city's inspection methods.

And the dead-end exhaust vent for Tuttle's open-top broiler--an appliance designed for indoor barbecues--could easily have caused a fire if it had not been found, Tuttle said. The city's building code requires that such devices be vented to the outside.

"We're trying to make the city come out here with an independent contractor and go through these houses with a fine-toothed comb and make them right," Tuttle said. "The way we feel, they're just not safe to live in."

Zaremba, who was responsible for inspecting both the Daniel and Tuttle homes, said he simply overlooked Tuttle's vent when he inspected the house. "I just missed it," he said. "I make a lot of inspections during the day."

Part of the problem, Zaremba said, was that nothing about ventilation of Tuttle's broiler appeared on the blueprints to which inspectors regularly refer while making their rounds.

The inspection dates Daniel questions include a plumbing inspection dated four months after insulation and dry wall inspection. Zaremba called them honest, if careless, mistakes.

Zaremba said he dated the inspection documents several weeks after he made the actual inspections. While some preliminary dates may be wrong, he said, final inspection dates are accurate. "The dates I signed off might not be exact for that particular phase of the tract, but they were all inspected and approved," he said.

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