City too slow to release funds, businessman complains

The custom-built new home of Flintridge Bookstore and Coffee House successfully opened for business four months ago, but the way owner Peter Wannier sees it, the project is far from over.

During the public comment portion of Monday’s La Cañada Flintridge City Council meeting, Wannier complained that City Hall has been too slow to release a $50,000 deposit he made to guarantee now-finished improvements to the public right of way in front of his store.

City officials, meanwhile, counter that it was Wannier who chose to put up his own money rather than obtain a bond and that he hasn’t been treated differently than anyone else.

The matter has also already been set for discussion during the June 20 council meeting — council approval typically being the final requirement before development deposits are released, said City Engineer Ying Kwan.

When Wannier began construction on the bookstore a year and a half ago, city officials required him to provide a $50,000 performance bond pending satisfactory completion of curbside upgrades at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Chevy Chase Drive. These included paving new sidewalks as well as the installation of light poles and street trees.

The city, in turn, offered to reimburse Wannier up to $30,000 of the total cost of that work after its completion.

Though major construction ended in February, the need to correct improperly installed light-pole bolts prohibitted city inspectors from certifying the project until May 27, Kwan said.

Before funds are released, City Council members must vote to approve certification. Wannier complains officials are dragging their feet, but Kwan says inspections simply didn’t wrap up in time to make the June 6 council agenda.

“This, to me, is red tape at its worst — just pointless,” said Wannier. “I was told as soon as work was completed, my bond would be released. I wasn’t aware our City Council had to rubber stamp anything. They know the work is done. I did my part honorably, and I did it well. It’s not right for them to sit on [releasing the funds] for three weeks.”

Explaining his frustration, Wannier said he had been counting on receiving the money from the city so he could complete payments to his general contractor; the delay forced him to use other means.

But Kwan pointed out that it was Wannier’s choice to set aside his own cash rather than pay a fee, probably no more than $2,500, to a bonding company for a third-party guarantee.

“He’s making it out like we’re the bad guys trying to tie him up, but [Wannier] chose to tie up the money himself. The conventional method is to get a [third-party] performance bond. He proposed this in lieu of a performance bond,” said Kwan. “We can’t just release it because you need money to pay a contractor. That’s not the city’s fault. It’s no different than all our other jobs.”

Kwan said the city tried to be helpful by offering the early release of up to $20,000, but Wannier wasn’t interested.

Wannier said he chose to put up cash instead of purchasing a bond so that he would earn interest on his $50,000 rather than lose some $2,500 up front.

Although council members are likely to sign off on completion of Wannier’s work, release of the $50,000 hinges on whether he obtained a one-year warranty from his contractor. If not, said Kwan, the city would require a similar-sized bond or deposit.

As for the $30,000 city reimbursement, Wannier must also submit receipts to show what he spent on that portion of his project — work that Wannier said totaled nearly $150,000.

“It’s like there’s always something additional that comes up around the bend,” said Wannier, adding that he would request warranty information and invoices from his contractor this week.

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