Skate park design exceeds budget by $200,000, prompting uncertainty
By Nao Braverman
Skateboarders and local citizens were disappointed and outraged to learn that the attractive skate park design presented to them at a Planning Commission meeting was probably too good to be true.
Council members and city staff confirmed at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting that the state-of-the-art park that Site Design Group presented to local skateboarders on Oct. 1, was not within budget.
While Site Design Group representatives maintain that they had created a design to meet the city and Skate Ojai’s $360,000 cap, the design that was presented at the Oct. 1 Planning Commission meeting had included some bonus features which would add up to around $200,000 more than the city and Skate Ojai had to spend.
Site Design Group’s lead designer, professional skate-boarder Kanten Russell, said in an interview that he had gotten the impression somewhere that the community was really excited about the project. He understood that Skate Ojai might be able to add some in-kind donations and raise more money in the future. Running on that notion, the firm had included some more costly elements, in case some additional funds and volunteer labor were added to the mix.
But if there were two designs presented to the Planning Commission earlier this month, as Site Design Group claims, vocal members of the public only saw one, and the more expensive one at that.
Members of Skate Ojai were miffed that they hadn’t heard about the fiscal discrepancies earlier, and had already presented the design to donors.
“Two weeks ago we were presented the design for Ojai’s skate park, and there was no talk of a problem at that meeting,” said Chet Hilgers, president of Skate Ojai. “I have an obligation to over 1,500 people who dug into their wallets for this park.”
Hilgers said he was called to a meeting early Tuesday morning where city manager Jere Kersnar instructed him not to speak to the city attorney, city council members or city staff regarding the subject until it had been scheduled for discussion.
Council members were also taken by surprise.
“You said that $350,000 would be more than enough,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith to Skate Ojai. “So I am angry, and I have no idea who OK’d this $550,000 number.”
Mayor Sue Horgan said that the City Council needed an update on the issue. However she wondered why, when members of Skate Ojai were invited to participate in a scheduled skate park discussion to be added to Tuesday’s agenda, they had refused.
Skate Ojai member Judy Gabriel explained that she was told that the meeting would be about taking elements that donors and local skaters are counting on, out of the park design.
“We don’t want to do that given the situation,” she said. “The kids and our donors have already seen this design. Now that we are in this position we are trying to see if we can get in-kind donations to build the park that was presented.”
But while Skate Ojai seems to be counting on in-kind donations in the form of volunteer labor, Horgan said she is still unsure if the city can legally accept such gifts.
The 1931 Davis-Bacon Act requires that anyone working on Public Works projects be paid no less than the prevailing wage.
But city attorney Monte Widders said that there is an exception to the law that allows volunteer laborers to work for free, for city projects, and (501) 3c nonprofit organizations, such as Skate Ojai. The only problems that might come up are if a concrete company offers to donate concrete, he said. Then the company employee who delivers the concrete would likely not be paid prevailing wage. But there are a number of ways to get around such an issue, he added. For example, the owner of the business could pour the concrete himself, and not get paid.
Horgan said she had asked Widders to prepare a written analysis of the issue so that the City Council could understand it.
Members of Skate Ojai who felt they were being accused of instigating the more expensive skate park design, argued that they had not even been invited to participate in the city’s negotiations with Site Design Group, let alone dictate the park’s price.
“The city contracted the designer, yes, Skate Ojai has been invited to some of the conversations, but we were not allowed to be involved in the contract,” said Gabriel. She added that there was nothing in the contract, drafted by city staff, that requires Site Design Group to build to the $350,000 budget.
“That is not good management,” she said.
Horgan reminded Skate Ojai that the City Council and members of the community had the same goal.
“I am sorry we are in this position and we need to find a way out because we owe it to our kids,” she said.
A special council meeting is scheduled for this Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers to discuss financial issues the skate park is facing.