By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
A mid-December evaluation of the developers, however, recorded an interesting migration. Kajima's Temple Beaudry Partners, the eventual winning team, listed as its architect M, V & P International, a corporate affiliate of McLarand, Vasquez & Partners. Somehow, Vasquez was now working for both the district and a private developer simultaneously.
Early on, some of the competing bidders were uneasy, or at least confused, about the role of Vasquez and a later written "clarification" that reserved a vaguely defined share of the job for Vasquez. "Should the developer desire to use their own architect in the implementation phase of the project, the school district requests that Mr. Ernie Vasquez serve in at least an overall supervisory architect role." Elsewhere the document notes that Vasquez "will not be a part of competitive teams. Once a developer is selected, then Mr. Vasquez will be a part of that team as previously described."
Vasquez's quick jump to Temple Beaudry Partners has contributed to suspicions about bid rigging at Belmont. Did Vasquez capitalize on his inside knowledge and quickly move to the team that was going to win the bid? Or did the Temple Beaudry team, headed by Kajima, read the writing on the wall and grab Vasquez to ensure its own success?
"As time moves on, it becomes clear that Vasquez wants to become the project architect," one inside district source told the Weekly. "He probably gets a formal proposal from Kajima to join that team. And he asks us to release him from his contract. Some of us greeted that with skepticism."
Skepticism aside, members of Shambra's crew say Vasquez's dual role had no effect on the choice of Kajima because Vasquez, despite the explicit terms of his contract, was never used to evaluate bidders.
The team that finished second in the bidding also used Vasquez, but in a limited role. The third-place finisher didn't use Vasquez at all.
Shambra finally closed out Vasquez's $110,000 contract in a letter dated January 25, 1995, opening the door to a more profitable association. Still, the letter was sent more than a month after a district analysis had listed Vasquez as part of the Kajima team.
There's little doubt that Vasquez scored big on the altered arrangement. By late 1996, close to the time that the Panama deal was being organized with Wedin, Shambra successfully urged the school board to commit to Vasquez's design fees, estimated in a report to the school board as $4 million in one reference, and between $4 million and $5 million in another. By February 1997, the tab had reached $5.3 million. At that time, a confidential analysis by an internal oversight committee asserted that the architect's fees were "$1.7 million above the state-allowable amount." By October 1997, Vasquez's contract with the developer set fees just over $6.1 million. This fee apparently includes the retail design, which means that, for now at least, the school is subsidizing something it was supposed to profit from. If a promised swimming pool and second gym are ever built, the architect could receive additional compensation.
Architect fees aside, the school's design is a costly one. It calls for the campus to sit upon a huge concrete foundation that will rise to near the top of the sharply sloping site. In contrast, a plan submitted by one of the losing development teams had shaved millions off its price by terracing the school buildings, thus incorporating the hillside into the design.
But the Vasquez concept does have an undeniable virtue: It looks like all school from the top. A raven flying over the Belmont campus will see nothing but school buildings and playing fields, because the planned shopping center is embedded underneath. This was a project that Shambra could hope to get state funds for - because the retail seemed almost incidental, a literal prop in support of the school.
The Expert From the State
The pursuit of state dollars was partly the job of consultant Betty Hanson. Hanson's role has attracted special review because Wildman's researchers learned that Shambra - whose wife died in 1996 - has been dating Hanson since at least last April. Seven months later, in a November, Shambra successfully submitted a $50,000 Hanson consulting contract for school-board approval. Some, though not all, board members were apparently aware of the Hanson/Shambra relationship at the time. In all, Hanson has billed about $200,000 for Belmont-related consulting since September 1994.
District general counsel Richard K. Mason noted in an interview that, technically speaking, conflict-of-interest rules apply to spouses but not girlfriends or boyfriends. "But there are legitimate concerns people could have about that," he said. "That's an area I was not specifically involved in deciding."
In their probe of the Belmont consultants, Wildman's researchers have asked for Hanson's "work product," a request that so far has generated little or no paperwork. But to be fair, Hanson is no 23-year-old showgirl without typing skills. She's the vice president of an Orange County-based consulting firm, which she joined after working 14 years with the state education department. At the state level, it was Hanson's job to assess whether schools should be built at particular locations. "I prepared all the standards for school-design and school-site selection for the state of California that are now incorporated into the state's administrative code," she said in an interview. It was Hanson, in fact, who, as a state worker, originally judged the Belmont location suitable for a campus.