By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Expo officials credit Jensen for finally dedicating enough manpower to the project.
"When he got in here, they started making major changes," Olson says. "They started staffing up."
The two sides now are engaged in a highly adversarial claims process. FFP submitted a claim for the DWP delays in 2009. The first request went to an arbitration hearing last spring. In May, the three-member Dispute Review Board provided for under the contract ruled unanimously that Expo was responsible for the delays because risk had never shifted to the contractor.
Expo was on the hook for $20 million. Its innovative contract hadn't worked.
Thorpe, who believes the board had misinterpreted the contract, responded by dissolving the panel before it could hear two more claims. FFP's alternatives now are to settle the dispute or file a lawsuit.
"I think Rick is doing the very best he can do with what he's got," says Peterson, who served on the Dispute Review Board. "He is trying and he might be getting some bad advice from some of his consultants. He's got a political problem. He's got a project that's going to cost probably twice what the bid was. He's just doing the very best he can do."
Peterson says he believed the contracting method was primarily to blame.
"It's no good for anybody," he says. "I feel sorry for them. It's a real untenable situation."
Thorpe reports to a seven-member board established by the Legislature to oversee the project. It consists of two county supervisors, Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas; three L.A. council members, Herb Wesson, Bernard Parks and Jan Perry; Culver City Councilman Scott Malsin; and Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam O'Connor.
It appears that none of them has a full grasp of what went wrong on the project. There have been no investigations. Due to budget cuts, the MTA has even stopped providing audits of Expo's books.
At each meeting, the board approves a handful of change orders that boosts the project's cost, usually by unanimous consent and usually without asking questions.
Instead of pursuing what went wrong on the project, Parks has been pursuing its fiercest critic. In August, he engaged in a smear campaign against Damien Goodmon, the activist who heads Fix Expo and who has been calling for Thorpe to be fired.
At the August board meeting, Goodmon alleged that Parks had stepped down from the MTA board after an internal investigation found he had accepted illegal contributions from MTA contractors. Public records show Parks did indeed accept such contributions during his 2008 supervisorial campaign against Ridley-Thomas, but the MTA has refused to release the report. At the meeting, Parks denied that was the reason he stepped down, and said the complaints against him had been dismissed.
But his subsequent behavior suggested he was taking it more seriously. A few days later, Parks and Perry wrote to Sheriff Lee Baca asking for extra security at Expo meetings because Goodmon had been arrested for domestic abuse. (Goodmon, who has been absent from Expo meetings since those allegations were raised, did not return calls seeking comment.)
Jail records show that Goodmon was arrested, but he was never charged. It's hard to see Parks' letter as anything other than a smear against a vocal critic.
Ridley-Thomas has been the only board member to call for greater scrutiny of the Expo Authority. He has cited the project's rising cost as a source of concern, and called for an Expo inspector general. Although the councilman appears to be no fan of Thorpe, the inspector general idea seems to be just as much about going after his old rival Parks for accepting those campaign contributions. In any case, the proposal got watered down, with the board ultimately agreeing to reaffirm the authority of the MTA inspector general to look into anything if the need arises.
Thorpe, who didn't get this far without cultivating some political skills, has been untouched by all of this. He still has the confidence of the board.
"I know he has some critics, and I violently disagree with those critics," Yaroslavsky says. "I'm a big believer in him. There were issues on this project that were beyond his control."
Yaroslavsky accuses FFP of engaging in a "lobbying campaign" to undermine Thorpe with the board.
"It hasn't worked," he says.
The Expo Line now is scheduled to open sometime next summer, but it won't go all the way to Culver City because the Venice/Robertson bridge won't be finished until November 2011. The Farmdale station won't be ready either. That station might have to be built at night because trains run during the day, or to save those costs Expo might hold off on opening the entire line until 2012.
The project budget now sits at $899 million and is projected to go to $911 million. Expo officials are engaged in aggressive cost-cutting maneuvers to try to keep it from going any higher. To pay for the settlement with FFP — which sources on both sides expect will be in the $25 million to $30 million range — Expo might hold off on buying new trains until 2014.
The plan would be to use old trains and defer the expenditure of $47 million to Expo Phase 2. The second phase is scheduled to bring rail to the beach in Santa Monica by 2015 — 140 years after that feat was first accomplished with the Los Angeles and Independence steam train. Like other deadlines, however, that could turn out to be a moving target.
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