MORE

Feeding Frenzy

On one point, there has never been disagreement. The kids who live in the Echo Park and Temple-Beaudry areas near downtown L.A. need a school. Overcrowded, undersized Belmont High can barely accommodate its 5,000 students. Many teachers don't even have regular classrooms, moving throughout the day from one briefly available room to the next, carrying books and homework papers in a box. Students must scatter across campus for space to eat at lunch, and often leave campus entirely for P.E. classes. At least 3,500 more students from the area's mostly Latino neighborhoods don't have seats in local schools at all, and must endure bus rides as long as 90 minutes each way to less crowded campuses in the Valley.

The first remedy was a straightforward plan to build a school, but that changed completely in 1994, when the school board approved a more grandiose staff proposal.

The project's transformation occurred in the school district's little-known Planning and Development branch, an office headed by veteran school administrator Dominic Shambra. No longer plain old Belmont High, the project became, under Shambra, the Belmont Learning Complex, a "career academy" high school that would anchor an idealized mini-city complete with a market, pharmacy, stores and restaurants; a public library, a child-care center and community meeting hall; a parklike recreation center with two gymnasiums and a pool; and even affordable housing for seniors and young families. In this urban utopia, seniors would stroll from their apartments across a plaza to the child-care center to help out with toddlers left by parents taking classes in the school buildings, while older children played soccer or attended homework-help sessions, and teenagers worked as paid apprentices in the stores.

Such visions played well with the school board, city officials and community leaders. After all, the Belmont area needed a good market and places to shop. But more important, the learning complex was touted as recompense for damage done to this working-class neighborhood when a failed private-development scheme leveled blocks of homes - and broke a pledge to build new affordable housing in return. The proposed plan received enthusiastic support.

Now, the Belmont project has changed again. Between the fits and starts of El Nino's downpours, concrete and steel are rising at the corner of Temple Street and Beaudry Avenue, but a project once described as a Cadillac will almost certainly look more like a Pontiac with manual windows - except in terms of the $200 million price tag. The affordable housing has been scrapped, at least for now, and even a scaled-back shopping center appears iffy. Also in doubt are such promised features as a pool and lights for the athletic fields.

From the start, the Belmont complex was overly ambitious, all at once attempting a kitchen sink full of untried approaches. But it also became the feeding ground for a district-subsidized brain trust - some of them with troubling conflicts of interest - who answered mainly to Shambra and were rarely accountable to anyone. This clique of outside consultants, attorneys and financial analysts became consumed with the idea of pursuing retail development at Belmont, an emphasis that directly benefited project developers and the consultants themselves, while it delayed construction of badly needed classrooms, jeopardized state funding and drove up costs. In the shark-infested waters of real estate speculation, Belmont triggered a feeding frenzy, one that left the needs of students high and dry.

The Investigation

In some ways, no school-construction project has ever been scrutinized so closely as the Belmont Learning Complex. The school's design and costs have been dissected by oversight committees and project foes from union critics to lobbyists for Donald Trump. But until now, no official review has ever dug into the original deal-making behind awarding the Belmont contract to the Kajima Corporation, a controversial Japan-based construction giant. Assemblyman Scott Wildman (D-Glendale), at the urging of Belmont critics, is conducting a fact-finding probe in his capacity as chair of the Legislature's audit committee.

District officials responded initially by digging in their heels, refusing to turn over key documents and challenging Wildman's authority to question their conduct. Wildman's investigators say planning director Shambra in particular destroyed records of his correspondence with the primary consultants involved in the Belmont project. Shambra, who retired last month, denied shredding any records but added that he routinely threw away reports and correspondence from consultants for years, and said he has no intention of cooperating with Wildman any more than he has to.

In a February 9 letter to the school district, Wildman wrote, "I am stunned by Mr. Shambra's disregard for his responsibility to maintain his division's public records - in particular his correspondence." He added: "Mr. Shambra was not running his own private development company."

Separately, Wildman faulted school-district real estate department head Robert Niccum for stating his intent to "redact requested real estate files of completed transactions, claiming 'attorney-client privilege.' When my researcher tried to gain more information about the documents, and specifically the attorney he was referring to, Mr. Niccum curtly responded, 'None of your business.' To a specific request for a master list of all LAUSD-owned properties, Mr. Niccum said, 'Fat chance.'"

 

The district has characterized such incidents as misunderstandings. In the end, while officials turned over thousands of pages of materials, they also attempted to end Wildman's probe by calling last week for an official state audit, in which even confidential district records could be reviewed in their entirety but would be off-limits to the public.

Wildman reads the action as an attempt by a few district administrators to derail his fact-finding probe, by moving the Belmont inquiry to the busier and less aggressive jurisdiction of the California State Auditor. In addition, his researchers assert that the school district has stamped too many records as confidential, thus removing them from public purview.

"The bottom line here is the role of Mr. Shambra," wrote Wildman in one letter to the school district. "Was he actually functioning as an agent of the district, supervised and controlled by district personnel? Or was he running a rogue unit, unsupervised and unaccountable to anyone, even the superintendent?"

The Setup

The Belmont project was fashioned out of the school district's Office of Planning and Development, a unique and virtually autonomous entity operating within the district's vast bureaucracy. Located in customized modern offices that occupy a corner suite on the 11th floor of the IBM building downtown, the unit was headed by Dom Shambra, a hard-charging administrator known for his gruff demeanor, quick wit and expletive-laced tirades. A former elementary school principal with 37 years in the school district, Shambra rose to become a troubleshooting special-assignment administrator under the patronage of friend and former district superintendent Bill Anton - the pair met in the early 1960s, when Anton was an assistant principal and Shambra a playground supervisor in Boyle Heights. Years later, Anton thought enough of Shambra to make him best man at his wedding.

Shambra's office became a force under Anton, and reported directly to the superintendent, a unique arrangement for a department manager. Sid Thompson, Anton's successor, continued to let Shambra operate outside the normal chain of command.

Shambra's charge at the development office was to find creative ways to build schools more quickly and cheaply, and even to bring in revenue in the process. At the time - as now - the school district had a great need for classroom space, but a spotty record getting state school-construction money.

This was an era when maverick developers were making millions of dollars in high-risk real estate ventures that could realize windfall profits practically overnight. School officials were determined to match that performance, realizing "maximum asset management," as district real estate chief Niccum told the L.A. Times in 1990. District planners were convinced that forming partnerships with private developers represented "the wave of the future," and Shambra was charged with making it happen.

To be a player in this market, Shambra, who earned $100,000 a year, assembled a team of high-priced consultants experienced in speculative real estate projects. It included Wayne D. Wedin, a private-enterprise expert; David W. Cartwright and Lisa M.C. Gooden, crack real estate attorneys from the high-powered O'Melveny & Myers firm; and Betty Hanson, a facilities specialist out of the state education department. He also brought in financial analysts - first Coopers & Lybrand, then Ernst & Young. And for a time, there was an in-house architect: Ernesto M. Vasquez.

Several of these functions duplicated work already done by full-time district staff, but Shambra wanted a team answering only to him. And he paid top dollar to get it, engineering much of his own payroll by negotiating funding from the Community Redevelopment Agency in one instance and a private developer in another. After all, when school-board members see the line "no impact on the general fund," they're more likely to say yes.

Shambra's first public-private venture, the construction of a commercial parking garage on district property, never brought in much income, but that did nothing to discourage him. The big prize was the site of the storied Ambassador Hotel, on which the school district intended to build a high school. In the frenzied dying gasps of the go-go '80s, the school district went to war over the parcel with New York developer Donald Trump - and not just to trump Trump, but to become Trump, reaping profits by building commercial space as well as classrooms. One plan from Shambra's office envisioned razing the Ambassador itself, then building a high school on the rear of the property and, on the front, erecting some 1.6 million square feet of commercial development, including a 30-story office tower.

 

Few were surprised when the Ambassador project bogged down in litigation with Trump, but Shambra was undeterred. The district seized an opportunity to buy the Belmont site, and with the superintendent's blessing, Shambra's office immediately took charge of the entire project - and began pursuing a package of innovations.

The Free-Market Wizard

The consultant who drove Shambra's "mixed-use" real estate strategy was Wayne Wedin, a soft-spoken 58-year-old Brea businessman who worked at Shambra's right hand - for $125 an hour - almost from the department's inception. Always keeping in the background, Wedin works both sides of the government-contracting business: Sometimes he lobbies for private developers; at other times, he consults on the public dime, usually putting together development deals. A Republican Party stalwart, he evolved his business ethos in Chamber of Commerce meetings, where you press the flesh, make contacts, and put together profitable deals in backrooms by trading on personal and professional connections. His company, Wedin Enterprises, was an efficient shop, with his wife serving as bookkeeper and his children doing desk work.

Among other positions, Wedin served as president of the Orange County Business Council and helped broker that county's bankruptcy-bailout plan.

Shambra relied heavily on Wedin's contacts and expertise, naming him the district's chief negotiator for the Belmont project. In 1995 Wedin collected $185,000 in billings - more than Shambra, more than the district superintendent. Over the course of 12 years, school-board members approved upward of $1 million in various Wedin contracts while barely knowing his name.

In Orange County, by contrast, Wedin maintained a high profile, earning notoriety as well as kudos for his government work, particularly during a four-year stint as a Brea City Council member. As previously reported in the Weekly, Wedin urged fellow council members to approve a $320,000 public-works contract to a firm from which he was earning $41,000 on another project. The contract was later rescinded, and in 1992 Wedin was tried - and acquitted - on criminal conflict-of-interest charges.

An early-1980s school project in Brea was both a success and textbook Wedin. He persuaded the local school district to borrow money to build a new high school while putting a shopping center on the site of the old school. As he designed the arrangement, the city kicked in money for the project from its redevelopment agency, where Wedin was working as director. At the same time, he also was a consultant for a the school district, a task that ultimately would net him $323,000. Wedin pointed out that his dual roles were known to all parties involved, but clearly, he saw no problem with doing for yourself, while also doing good.

As Shambra's adviser for mixed-use projects at LAUSD, Wedin was in a position to pitch and evaluate projects that would keep him in clover. To the extent that the district followed his advice and pursued these projects, Wedin's continued employment was secured.

So it was that in December 1994, the financial consulting firm of Coopers & Lybrand made the mistake of throwing cold water on the prospects for building a successful shopping center that would help defray costs of the proposed Belmont school. The bidders, the accountants said, were overly optimistic. "None of the teams presented current market research to support their positions," Coopers noted in a draft financial analysis. "The only relevant market research presented was more than 12 years old."

This section was omitted from the final version of the report, which instead read, "Per Mr. Wayne Wedin's recommendations, our analysis is based on the assumptions presented by the various proposed developer teams." In other words, the rosy financial projections were not to be challenged.

"You let people who have retail-development experience put their best foot forward," said Wedin in an interview. "Then it's our job to evaluate it." He added, "There's no evidence to indicate that, come hell or high water, I had so much invested in the retail that I would recommend it if it was not judicious."

Aside from Wedin's built-in interest in keeping Belmont afloat as a mixed-use project, some of Wedin's specific invoices also have come under scrutiny. On February 4, 1987, for example, Wedin billed LAUSD for 20 hours of work - 13 hours under one contract as "staff coordination" and seven hours under another contract for "staff coordination and research." Not impossible for a hard-working businessman, but still difficult to fathom, even for Wedin, who said he would review the 10-year-old invoices.

And last month, school-board member Valerie Fields reviewed with skepticism Wedin's billing for 67.5 hours from June through October on a proposed school/retail venture in Brentwood. The Brentwood project, said Fields in an interview, was "dead as a doornail" shortly after she joined the school board in June. "I didn't see any need for Mr. Wedin to do any work on that."

 

Wedin responded, "I didn't make those up, and I didn't make the work up." He added that he worked at Shambra's direction, based on an earlier school-board authorization to explore the project.

But in some respects, Wedin was working even harder than his invoices imply. As a consultant, he jetted up and down the state on various projects quite apart from his L.A. contracts. In Wayne's world, it made perfect sense that he and Orange County architect Ernie Vasquez would become partners in a consortium that pitched a $30 million construction deal to the government of Panama. Problem was, Wedin also was serving as the school district's head negotiator with the Kajima team, which included Vasquez as chief architect. Nor was that Wedin's only tie to Vasquez. As early as April 1994, just when the competition to build Belmont began in earnest, Wedin was exploring development opportunities with Vasquez in La Habra, Alhambra, Bell Gardens and elsewhere.

The Architect

Ernie Vasquez is a principal in the architecture firm most responsible for Belmont's design, the Costa Mesa-based McLarand, Vasquez & Partners. The Panama deal involving Wedin is just one of several potential conflicts of interest raised by the multiple roles Vasquez took on in connection with the Belmont project. In three years, Vasquez's project fees grew from an initial $110,000 contract to $6.1 million.

Vasquez did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.

Vasquez's first Belmont-related assignment, issued in mid-1994, was to sketch the concept for a mixed-use project there, help evaluate the teams competing to build the school and independently oversee the school's design by the chosen team. For much of that year, as competing teams hammered out their proposals in talks with Shambra and his consultants, Vasquez sat on the school district's side of the negotiating table.

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.

She knew Shambra both professionally and personally, having previously traveled with Shambra and his wife, but Hanson refused to discuss her personal life. "On to the next question," she said.

Shambra himself said, "She was single; I became single. And we dated. It's no different than two people meeting in any business. It's not a conflict of interest unless you're married."

In Hanson's account, Shambra's office contacted her not long after she began private consulting work. In fact, she joined Shambra's Belmont team in September 1994, less than two weeks after leaving her $60,000-a-year state job. At Belmont, her assigned tasks included making sure the new high school had the required square footage, laboratories and high-tech hookups. She also researched grants for computer labs, participated in staff presentations and met with community and Belmont High faculty to plan the school's career-track curriculum.

Of all the consultants working under Shambra, Hanson in particular filled a slot that duplicated functions for which LAUSD already had full-time staff. Hanson said she was selected because Shambra wanted a person who combined curricular and school-design expertise. Besides, said a source inside Shambra's office, "Belmont is a unique project, outside the normal paradigm."

Shambra discovered the probe's interest in the Hanson relationship during a January interview with a Wildman researcher, and immediately went ballistic. "This is a witch-hunt under the guise of legislative authority," said Shambra, recalling the encounter in a later interview. "It's intimidation and harassment and more of this 'Let's see what we can find that's wrong' bullshit.

"I think it's an invasion of privacy," he added, "and I feel very badly for her."

The Lawyers

The first major Belmont controversy to erupt over improper business ties was also the first to result in litigation - an irony of sorts, as it involved the district's consulting attorney. The flap began in September 1995, just as school-board members were poised to pick the Kajima team. A lawyer from Orange County pointed out, in a public meeting, that O'Melveny & Myers counted both the school district and Kajima among its major clients. It was this conflict of interest that was cited by state senators Tom Hayden and Richard G. Polanco as one reason that a legislative inquiry was necessary.

In the selection process leading up to choosing Kajima, two O'Melveny attorneys played a central role in a final review panel that also included Wedin and financial analysts; all favored Kajima despite a projected price tag of $99 million - the two competing bids came in at $59 million and $68 million. Officials defend their choice on grounds that the Belmont competition was not about getting the lowest price, but a "trendsetting" effort to choose the "design-build" team that could best carry the project forward from beginning to end.

 

While O'Melveny lawyers did not represent Kajima before the school district, Kajima was a $10 million O'Melveny client from 1988 through 1995. In addition, the law firm had recently negotiated a similar contract on behalf of Kajima to build the Long Beach aquarium.

In the end, a school-board majority decided that it trusted O'Melveny attorneys David Cartwright and Lisa Gooden, and the board voted to waive the conflict, which insulated the law firm against a malpractice claim. (Gooden has since joined the district's legal staff, working mainly out of Shambra's department.)

One of the losing development teams was not so sanguine. Developer Robert Hirsch, part of the Goldrich Kest team, has said he would have reconsidered entering the Belmont competition had he known about the O'Melveny connection. Chris Campbell, a team partner, has gone even further, filing a lawsuit against the school district last week for damages. Campbell already has sued unsuccessfully to get the school system to release certain documents pertaining to the O'Melveny conflict - documents now also sought by Wildman.

One of the key unreleased papers is a letter from Cartwright to LAUSD counsel Mason on April 6, 1995, at least a year after Kajima emerged as a potential bidder. According to a district correspondence log, the April letter is the earliest record of Cartwright noting his firm's ties to Kajima. By that time the competition to land the Belmont contract was nearly over: Of the initial six competing teams of bidders, only three remained, and they had already submitted their packages - for Cartwright to review.

In an interview, Cartwright insisted that he informed Mason orally of O'Melveny's conflict in the fall of 1994, months before the April letter. It would therefore be wrong, he added, to infer that the school district was getting late notice of the issue. As for the competing bidders, Cartwright said he told them only that there were conflict issues among the bidders that had to be resolved. "I have no duty to disclose to them," he said. "Under no circumstances would I go into detailed disclosures to bidders. The bidders are not my clients."

In the end, the district pursued a bidding process whose subjectivity left it completely open to allegations of bid-rigging, especially given the participants. Besides the conflicted O'Melveny attorneys, there was Wedin, who gets paid only if projects like the Belmont complex are pursued, and there were the Ernst & Young financial analysts, who replaced a firm that was fired, in part, for not being gungho enough about the project. And then there was Shambra himself, a determined empire builder undermined by his own lack of experience outside academia, and all too willing to defer to his freewheeling consultants.

LAUSD A.D. (After Dom)

The Belmont complex was supposed to be a career-capping achievement for the 59-year-old Shambra, a project that would set a standard for speed and economy, charting a new course for building schools while also erecting a school, retail and housing compound unlike any other. And though Shambra will see the school portion built, he's also tasted the bitterness of a project that has come instead to symbolize overreaching zeal, misleading promises and rising costs.

A former school-board member in the Alhambra area, Shambra always was an avid political poker player, but he never read the cards right on Belmont.

In particular, he improperly gauged the impact of a labor dispute at the downtown New Otani Hotel between hotel owner Kajima and Local 11 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union, which adopted an "anybody but Kajima" stance on Belmont. From that moment forward, Shambra's crew was illuminated with a a glare that would expose all ethical and strategic missteps. All of a sudden, if Shambra changed his price estimates or fibbed about the certainty of state funding, his words entered transcripts and press releases.

Shambra responded gamely; with an assist from school-board member Vickie Castro, he was able to bus in crowds of cheering students and parents to public meetings, and he knew the words to woo most school-board members. But the furor over Belmont expanded entirely beyond his ability to control the spin. It rankled Shambra to no end that his project had to endure unprecedented scrutiny while district boondoggles elsewhere slid by almost unnoticed.

 

Perhaps the last straw came in November, when the school board mustered enough indignance to mount a surgical strike against two consulting contracts Shambra had submitted for his friend Wedin. This was a school-board majority that had come to view Shambra as more a public-relations pariah than a prophet for prosperity. "Mixed use" had lost its magic, given that L.A. voters had just approved billions in school-construction bonds. And too, Shambra had lost his support from the superintendent’s office. New schools chief Ruben Zacarias acted as though he’d never heard of Belmont when he sought the top job - even though Shambra had cc’d hundreds of documents to his office.

The Belmont project itself is rife with uncertainties. The land set aside for housing might now be used for a K-2 elementary school. Lobbying from Local 11 has hindered the securing of retail tenants for the project, although the prospect for retail revenue never looked as healthy as promised. The union also is opposing school-district efforts to secure city funding to build a swimming pool, a second gym and lighting for athletic fields. The union justification: once a dirty deal, always a dirty deal.

Teachers-union leaders have also been critical of the project, but they’ve abandoned their active opposition. At this point, they’d like to see state funding and even city aid "as long as the deal is clean," said Day Higuchi, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "It would be unconscionable to start over now."

Still, Higuchi has no kind words for the people and process that put the learning complex together. "You had a department headed by amateurs at the job of school construction being advised by consultants with their own interests," said Higuchi in an interview. "It was very cozy. Deals got made. People made money, and schools did not get built. And the schools that did get built cost too much. We can’t afford to keep doing that."

With Shambra’s retirement, his planning and development operation has been consigned to the dust heap, with its remaining personnel transferring to other offices.

The consultants have scattered. Hanson said she billed about 20 percent of her $50,000 November contract, but will forgo the rest. "Because of the Wildman heat," she said, "I don’t choose to be involved in that program."

Attorney David Cartwright remains a key district consultant, ever more so perhaps, given the departures among the Belmont brain trust. His prestigious law firm, which gives LAUSD a 20 percent discount, continues to earn about $1.5 million to $2 million a year at the district. For their part, Vasquez’s architecture firm and Kajima have marketed Belmont as a success story in a push to generate business elsewhere, while Local 11 voices the opposite message to kill off these business opportunities.

Wayne Wedin meanwhile is waiting anxiously for the district to pay some $30,000 that he billed on work authorized by Shambra but not the school board. He, like Shambra, has contacted friendly legislators to complain about the Wildman probe and exert whatever pressure he can muster to shut it down.

"It’s a little galling to me," Wedin said of the bad publicity. "The soundbite that I made a million dollars rolls off the tongue so easily. I worked 12 years for the district, and I never once changed my $125 hourly rate. There are consultants for the school district today who make more money and have higher rates."

Expect Wedin to bounce back once the political heat dies down. He’s come back from ethical challenges before. Besides, the Panama project is going well, and reportedly other opportunities await in Bolivia. If he needs an associate, there’s a promising new consultant who is looking to enter the biz after years in government service: one Dominic Shambra.

"It’s not enjoyable to come to work here, because you can’t get anything done," Shambra said recently. "I get to the point when I throw my hands up and say, ‘Fuck it. Why bother?’ I know I have a salable skill on the outside and I won’t be successful on the inside."


Sponsor Content