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County supervisors may boost oversight of Sheriff’s Department construction projects

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County officials are recommending that the Sheriff’s Department lose its authority to manage large construction projects after costs to renovate a facility in East Los Angeles far exceeded its budget, including more than $1 million in overruns that were not approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Renovations of the Biscailuz Regional Training Center in East Los Angeles originally were expected to cost about $9.6 million in 1999 but ended up costing more than $16 million by the time work was completed in October, according to county records.

Sheriff’s officials said most of the additional costs were related to unexpected soil problems caused by two underlying landfills and drainage issues.

The Sheriff’s Department has initiated an internal affairs investigation to determine why employees did not follow county policy that required the board to review and approve the additional construction expenses, said Victor Rampula, director of the sheriff’s administrative services division.

“The staff did a great job with the project. The only concern is some of the management decisions that allowed for some of the work to be performed without Board of Supervisors approval,” Rampula said.

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The renovated facility, just west of the 710 Freeway, now houses the sheriff’s special weapons, canine and search and rescue teams.

The Board of Supervisors authorized many of the additional expenditures but was not asked to sign off on approximately $1.1 million in additional work until after the project was completed.

Sheriff Lee Baca and county Chief Administrative Officer David E. Janssen have agreed that, in the future, any new construction and renovations exceeding $1 million should be managed by the county’s Department of Public Works.

Rampula said that the department welcomed the county oversight and that the public works staff already managed most of the department’s construction projects.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the oversight proposal Tuesday, the same day it will consider authorizing payments of more than $1 million to cover construction expenses for the Biscailuz project.

County officials have determined that the additional construction costs were necessary, so the most significant concern is why the department authorized the additional work without first getting the board to approve it, Rampula said.

It is this concern that led the department to launch the internal review.

“Sheriff’s management needs to know what went on with the decision-making,” Rampula said. “Was it the timeline, trying to get the work completed? You can’t let it go and say we’re not going to look at it.”

In order to cover the additional construction expenses, the Sheriff’s Department is tapping money that was to be used to transfer the department’s training academy from Whittier to the East Los Angeles facility.

The department still intends to make the transition but needs to find a new source of funding, Rampula said.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com


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