Sounding Off: What's the rush with community center?

Facing at minimum a $10-million budget shortfall combined with weekly announcements of service cutbacks, the city of Newport Beach and its elected officials continue at breakneck pace to deliver a City Hall/Community Center without regard to proper budgeting or controls.

In a city filled with world-class developers, architects and contractors, there has been a complete lack of transparency by city officials to allow the community to see the detail — or lack thereof — of contracts and pertinent minutes that affect the community and its taxpayers directly. The city is pushing for funding commitments this year without having completed plans or bids under the guise that possible bond funding could miraculously dry up. This preposterous argument is unfounded and erroneous.

It is time to take a few steps back and work on behalf of the community to deliver the project the correct way with proper design times, scheduling, budgeting and bidding. The city should fully complete the plans and specifications, bid the plans to eliminate as many contingencies as possible, which in turn will result in taxpayer savings.

We should also ask the city to make available to the public the various contracts, minutes and schedules that have already been committed. There has been a strong reluctance by the city to have transparency on this project of anything related to time and money. Recently another member of the community requested a copy of the construction manager's contract through the Freedom of Information Act. After reviewing the various agreements, it goes without saying that the contracts are lucrative and in my opinion not in tune with industry norms.

The contracts also provide for conflicts of interest in budgeting as the construction manager prepares the budgets yet also shares in overall job savings to the tune of 25 cents on every dollar. This is on top of a 3.25% fee for every dollar spent and approximately another $9 million of committed fees for basic services and pre-consulting.

Having lived in this city for over 25 years, I have participated in numerous large scale developments, many with the outstanding architects, contractors and engineers that live in our wonderful city. I have talked with numerous council members and potential council members that share my concerns and desire to have a facility that is efficient, cost effective and realistic in regards to its delivery date and cost. It is not too late to do it right and besides "what's the rush"?

MICHAEL LUTTON is a former Irvine Co. executive and past chairman of PM Realty Group. He lives in Newport Beach.

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