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Pismo receives pushback on effort to disqualify construction company

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Pismo Beach's attempt to disqualify a contracted construction company faced legal scrutiny during a recent City Council meeting.

"You can't debar the contractor if you're happy with the end product because allegedly you're unhappy with what happened in between, unless they breached the contract or violated wage laws, and that didn't happen here," attorney John Darling said at the March 7 hearing.

LENGTHY DEFENSE Representing V. Lopez & Sons construction company, attorney John Darling said that the Pismo Beach staff and the project designer were responsible for the delays unfairly pinned on his client. - SCREENSHOT FROM PISMO BEACH CITY COUNCIL MEETING
  • Screenshot From Pismo Beach City Council Meeting
  • LENGTHY DEFENSE Representing V. Lopez & Sons construction company, attorney John Darling said that the Pismo Beach staff and the project designer were responsible for the delays unfairly pinned on his client.

Darling represents V. Lopez Jr. & Sons, a Santa Maria-based construction company hired by Pismo Beach in late 2017 to replace the Five Cities Lift Station, perform maintenance on six lift stations, and repair elements of the wastewater collection system. Lopez worked on the project in conjunction with Water Systems Consulting (WSC), the project designer appointed by the city.

Now, city staff wants to disqualify Lopez from working on city projects for five years. They alleged that Lopez caused delays to the project with poor planning, and the company lacked an understanding of municipal sewage pump station practices and the public works process.

"The issue is not about finished product but the road getting to the end goal ... about their work, their knowledge, and their competency, which was not in line with the project or scope of work," Assistant City Manager Jorge Garcia said at the meeting.

Darling said that the focus on the "road" to the finished project instead of the quality of the end product itself isn't grounds for debarment.

"Debarment is reserved for egregious behavior. It's not appropriate for when there's delays; it's not for punishment or for leverage," Darling told City Council.

Lopez started construction in February 2018 and had until April 2019 to finish the project. However, because of numerous change orders to the design plan, the deadline was extended to March 2020. Despite that, Lopez only finished a substantial amount of work by June 2020. In his presentation to City Council, Public Works Director Ben Fine said that the delays resulted in a loss of almost $324,000. That sum doesn't include equipment costs and compensation for staff's time.

Darling shot back with a 130-slide presentation, which detailed that the blame was unfairly placed on Lopez and that city staff neglected to study the actions of project designer WSC. He added that there were no complaints about safety issues or quality.

The attorney mentioned that holdups happened because Pismo Beach also didn't hire a "SCADA consultant"—a supervisory control and data acquisition software expert.

Neither city staff nor Darling's law firm responded to New Times' requests for comment by press time. Pismo Beach staff provided no rebuttal to Darling's argument during the March 7 meeting.

The City Council unanimously voted to finish deliberating the issue at its March 21 meeting due to the length of Darling's presentation. City Attorney David Fleishman informed council members that their decision will be intuitive.

"Mr. Darling, I would agree with him, that debarment is a serious undertaking," he said. "It's a somewhat subjective judgement for the council to determine what constitutes a responsible bidder." Δ

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