Councilwoman Leslie Daigle on Thursday called for an independent review of the $130 million Newport Beach Civic Center project in a response to persistent criticism of the project's management.
In a letter to the other members of the City Council, Daigle said she believes the Civic Center project is so complex that neither the city's paid staff, its hired construction manager, nor its elected officials can adequately assess the project's budget and execution.
Her call for a "development advisor" comes during the election season, when Daigle and the other incumbents up for reelection have found themselves defending the Civic Center, the largest public works project the city has seen in generations.
Critics say that the city has let the scope of the project get out of hand, and that its construction management program unnecessarily puts taxpayer money at risk.
"Large-scale construction projects require a determined focus on schedule and budgets, or the owner — in our case, the city and our taxpayers — can be taken to the cleaners," she wrote in the letter that was e-mailed to the Daily Pilot.
Recently, the city awarded a bid to a construction company to build the parking structure, the first above-ground aspect of the project. The bid amount was less than originally budgeted, so city officials have been touting it as a sign of good construction management practices.
But one critic, Michael Lutton, a local developer, says it's easy to estimate high and then come in low. In a recent letter to the editor, he said officials are rushing the project unnecessarily.
Lutton supports Ed Reno, the council candidate whose central campaign message is one of fiscal restraint, especially with the Civic Center project.
In an interview, Daigle said she talked with Lutton and other "construction executives."
"As a layperson I'm not qualified and really knowledgeable about construction management, so I'm not able to evaluate their criticisms," she said.
Mayor Keith Curry believes an outside adviser would be a hindrance.
"It will create conflicts in trying to solve problems," he said. "It's wholly unnecessary."
The city's Public Works Department has professionals that are presumably qualified to handle its construction projects, but Daigle said the scope of this project is so unusual it needs outside review.
Public Works Director Steve Badum, who has been the lead city representative on the Civic Center, said he and his staff were plenty qualified.
"I have enough experience to handle these projects and look out for the interests of the city," he said.
Badum has been in the industry since 1980, he said, and has been a public works director since the 1990s. He pointed to the recently completed OASIS Senior Center, the Bonita Canyon Sports Park and other projects that his team has successfully finished.
"We have the resources here," he said.
Badum and Curry said the city's relationship with C.W. Driver, the main project manager, has been healthy.
"The city has a development adviser already. That's what our construction manager does," Curry said.