Staff, council find common ground with Skate Ojai on costs, construction issues
By Nao Braverman
City staff and council members came together Tuesday night to mend the rift that has drawn them apart from members of Skate Ojai and local skateboarders over the past few weeks.
“We are here to build a park,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “It will not be easy, there will be bumps in the road, but we are going to do it.”
The special City Council meeting was scheduled to clarify some misunderstandings and give council members an opportunity to respond to issues regarding the skate park that they weren’t able to address at the previous council meeting a week prior.
Difficulties arose earlier this month when city staff received an estimate for the skate park from Site Design Group that was nearly $200,000 over budget. While city staff and members of Skate Ojai have committed to working through the budget discrepancies as quickly as possible, city manager Jere Kersnar said that the skate park’s completion date would be delayed several months at the very least, until August 2009.
Kersnar admitted to members of the public Tuesday that he had seen the estimate before the design was presented to the public at the Oct. 1 Planning Commission meeting. But it was only two minutes before the meeting, so he had decided to go forward with the presentation, he said.
The Site Design Group representative who presented the design to the Planning Commission was only a junior designer at the firm, and could not answer budget questions regarding the increased costs the night of the meeting, said Kersnar.
The estimate which came in an e-mail before the meeting was $533,430 instead of the budgeted $360,000, Kersnar said. It was unclear and apparently incomplete, he added, which means that the numbers could get even higher once public art and other costs that hadn’t been included in the estimate were factored in.
“In any event we are committed to getting this back on track as soon as possible,” he said.
When city staff finally spoke with the lead designer, Kanten Russell, on Oct. 6, Russell had agreed to give the city a design which was built to budget. Kersnar said he received the rough downsized version at 5 a.m the next morning. The designer had subtracted a bank with ledges on the east side of the property, eliminated one of the main elements, shortened a half pipe and cut off two corners to make the park smaller.
“Part of the problem appears to be that too many people were giving directions to the design group,” said Kersnar. “It was a process that wasn’t being well controlled.”
Although he conceded that the firm should not have been taking directions from just anyone, he decided to direct all communication to Site Design through the city’s recreation director, Dale Summersille.
‘“I was frustrated and I do not doubt that I was curt,” said Kersnar regarding his communication with members of Skate Ojai. But he affirmed that the city’s goal was congruent with that of Skate Ojai’s, and that the park would get built, though not as quickly as staff had hoped.
City attorney Monte Widders confirmed that volunteer labor could be used for the construction of the skate park.
Public Works director Mike Culver said that he had misunderstood and mis-represented the prevailing wage requirements of the labor code, which mandate employees working on public projects be paid prevailing wage.
Widders said that an exception to the law, which allows volunteers to work for free on public projects for a government agency or (501)c3 nonprofit organizations, had been extended, and would allow volunteers to work on the skate park construction.
“It seems this opens the door in a wide way to allow volunteer labor,” said Horgan.
Sasha Wolfe, a consistent advocate for the Ojai community garden, lamented the loss of 60 percent of the existing garden to make room for the skate park.
Skate Ojai member Bob Daddi assured council members and the public that members of Skate Ojai would gladly extend a hand to Wolfe in revitalizing the garden. “There is plenty of land back there and we will be happy to volunteer and help,” he said.
At the next meeting, set for Oct. 27, city staff, members of Skate Ojai, and a City Council representative will meet with Site Design Group to review the estimate in detail and try to bring down costs.
Kersnar said that members of Skate Ojai have indicated that the estimate by Site Design Group may have been too high. Council members also agreed that the use of volunteer labor might bring down expenses.
Ojai resident Pat McPherson asked that ongoing meetings regarding the skate park be recorded, and the minutes made public on the city web site, to prevent further mis-understandings.
Kersnar was not in favor of the idea, but agreed to consider posting updates and bullet points on the city web site regarding the skate park’s progress.