Asbestos Issue May Only Be A Smokescreen.

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Is the asbestos issue shaking up the city?

Eager to hear the details of the earthquake damage and asbestos exposure at two Brea schools, parents, students and teachers of Fanning Elementary School convinced reporters to show up at the BOUSD “emergency” meeting on April 23 but it was all for naught. Skip Rowland’s explanation was bereft of any information that clarified the extent of damage or comforted those concerned.

skip_asbestosAt the school board meeting of May 5th Skip shared a 10 page powerpoint presentation, “BOUSD Damage Update” from the March 28-29 earthquakes. It is a blizzard of disconnected facts and figures, thrown together the Friday before the meeting giving board members no time to digest or challenge it’s contents.

Stuck with more questions than answers, I posed five simple questions to Skip via email. He answered quickly, but his answers left a lot to be desired and begged for rebuttal. Here are the questions, answers and my rebuttals. I’m using this public forum to encourage others with strong opinions to weigh in. Skip, you’re more than welcome to post your comments as well.

Q: Is the district uninsured against earthquake damage?

A: The District does not carry earthquake insurance.

Why, in a historically seismic area, would the district take such monumental risk? The minor recent quake caused minimal damage but caused, according to the district, almost $3 million in necessary repairs.

What might be the financial threat of a major quake? Why wouldn’t the district want to guard itself against such an inevitability? It’s incomprehensible.

Q: Why is there no reserve for asbestos removal/mitigation?

A: Reductions in State funding over the past seven years have depleted all but required operational reserves.  Developer Fees are expressly restricted from being used for asbestos abatement.

Reductions in State funding did not make withdrawals from district reserves or prevent the district from exercising good management practices by maintaining reserves.

How long has the district known of it’s vulnerability to this sort of expense and why haven’t steps been taken to be better prepared? Why is the district running to City Council crying poverty and begging for a handout?

Skip, developer’s fees are irrelevant. Why would you even bring them up? Adding to the smokescreen perhaps?

Q: Will the district be required to obtain multiple bids for asbestos mitigation and renovation of Fanning?

A: Emergency approvals allow the District to proceed with contracts without the formal bid process.  Wherever and whenever practical, the District is receiving competitive quotes from known and respected contractors and selecting the lowest cost, most dependable contractors.

Oh please, what emergency? The quakes were on March 28/29. The first “emergency” meeting held by the district was April 23. Almost another month has passed with little or nothing accomplished beyond a feeble attempt to weave into the project elective construction under the guise of earthquake and asbestos mitigation.

No one has successfully explained the connection between the structural repairs, the asbestos removal and the unwarranted interior remodeling that’s simply all about facelift and little else.

Obtuse references have been made to AB 300 (October 1999) and the ensuing addition of Section 17317 to the California Education Code. Neither mention asbestos, both deal in great detail with seismic/structural issues, a statewide assessment of K-12 facilities to estimate potential cost liabilities.

Wherever and whenever practical? It is always preferred, always practical, always appropriate to seek competitive bids on projects of this magnitude. Please drop the bureaucratic rhetoric and do what is right.

You can start by being more forthcoming regarding exactly how much earthquake damage really occurred. Are you replacing carpets because of a massive water leak, a dusting of asbestos throughout the facility or are you just circumventing your loss on Measure E? Will you provide a detailed breakdown of the scope of work for the “PLUS” stuff you mention in your report? The stuff that has nothing to do with asbestos or the earthquake.

Q: Why doesn’t the district consider razing Fanning and selling the property?

A: The long range enrollment projections for the District indicate a need for six elementary schools.  Razing Fanning and selling the Fanning site would require significant realignment of school attendance boundaries and construction of new facilities at numerous locations to accommodate elementary student enrollment that would be far in excess of the costs to repair and reopen Fanning.

Long range enrollment projections? Can you be more specific? Need for six elementary schools – at what rate of utilization? Realigning boundaries is administrative work, for which you and your staff are well paid. Just do it.

Construction of new facilities or is it more like moving a few portable classrooms around? Could you possibly be any more nebulous?

And what percentage of Brea’s elementary schools are currently underutilized? You were able to quickly and easily move Fanning students, teachers and administrators into Laurel School. How many empty classrooms did you have over there?

Pulling the wool over Council’s eyes.

Council, with an emergency item on a non-emergency matter, without a staff report or even a copy of Skip’s notorious report was railroaded into tapping the 560 Fund for a million bucks. Have they paid back the solar energy loan yet? This misuse of the 560 Fund has to stop.

In about fifteen minutes, much less than they spent arguing about Sister City travel budgets, Council was goaded into loaning BOUSD half of what they hoped to spend on Fanning. No one offered any idea what the scope of work might be, whats required or whats really elective surgery.

Legally, BOUSD must pay the $1 million back within 12 months. Gotcha. What are the terms? What are the payments? Are they charging minimal interest to cover administrative expenses?

For the first time in a long time we witnessed an unanimous decision by Council with little discussion or typical squabbling. I’m concerned that this is due, in large part, to Council’s total lack of information on the matter.

Council was fooled into believing there was an emergency, that little kids would be irreparably damaged in the process, that they needed to rush to judgement and fork out a million bucks without a shred of documentation.

Sorry, but this sounds to me like a big boondoggle (noun: a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage) and BOUSD has just made wags out of the entire Brea City Council.