Per the LA Time$, Tutor Perini, the lead firm in a vendor team that bid and won a $985 million deal to build the first 29 miles of (just) railway for the Bullet Train alignment between Madera and Fresno did so in a way that’s suspect and certainly opens up the Rail Authority to legal challenges from the losing bidders. Their lead,
State high-speed rail officials acknowledged Thursday that they changed their rules for selecting a builder for the bullet train’s first phase in the Central Valley, a shift that subsequently made it possible for a consortium led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to be ranked as the top candidate despite receiving the lowest technical rating. The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced last week that the Tutor Perini-Zachry-Parsons joint venture was the top-rated contender among five bidders seeking to build the initial 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno. While it offered the lowest price at $985.1 million, the Tutor Perini team’s technical score ranked last.
Richard Blum, husband of senior Senator Diane Feinstein was once
the Principal Owner of Tutor Perini. a major shareholder in Tutor Perini.
Later in the Times story the company, known for its “low ball” bidding strategies, is described as
…one of the largest contractors in the country. Critics have complained that the firm tends to bid low to win contracts and then seeks change orders and contract amendments that increase costs. The firm has handled many major construction projects successfully. But it also has been embroiled in controversies involving accusations of overbilling, fraud and shoddy workmanship related to the Los Angeles subway, San Francisco International Airport and public works projects in New York. Those matters have cost the builder tens of millions of dollars in legal judgments, settlements and penalties.
Update (04/20/13): Listen to John and Ken (KFI 640 AM) from 4/17 discuss Blum, Tutor Perini’s past adventures in low balling and and this latest CAHSR atrocity here. OC Politics Blog is mentioned as a source for this segment — our earlier post on Blum and Tutor Perini was quoted.
Update (4/21/13): UT San Diego discusses the controversy in a Sunday Editorial: Bullet Train – The insanity escalates. In part,
…under the original rules, Tutor shouldn’t have even been eligible. Of the five bidders, Tutor was judged to have the least technical expertise when it came to the engineering, design quality, project approach and other issues related to building a high-speed rail segment. Only the three bidders with the top technical ratings were supposed to have been eligible for the contract. And the rail authority’s attorney said earlier this year that only “non-substantive” changes to the process were supposed to be allowed. How can Brown countenance this flouting of honest governance? How can any bullet-train supporter?
And from their hometown perspective, even though the system is a bag of excrement, how much more useful would this have been versus the Fresno<>Madera alignment?
Quentin Kopp, a former chairman of the rail authority board who is considered the father of the bullet train project, told the Times that the first segment should have been between Los Angeles and San Diego, not in the Central Valley. Kopp said what the governor wants to build simply isn’t a true statewide bullet train – which is what voters were promised in 2008 when they authorized $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the project.
And we couldn’t have said it better: “the governor…is betraying the Californians who trusted him to competently lead this state.”
Update (04/20/13): For what it’s worth (and it’s not much), Fox & Hounds, a GOP-focused blog that’s never been very impressive, published a three-part series on HSR recently. We’ll list their links:
The series is written by John Wildermuth, who claims to have founded the California Conservative Action Group (but we can’t find a website or Facebook page). Wildermuth says the Bullet Train is inevitable and seems unimpressed with the formidable legal challenges to it that haven’t seen court yet. Last week, a group of central valley ag-types laid down and agreed to a settlement with the CAHSR, but the arguments stacking up against the rape of Proposition 1A and its cast-in-concrete promises of a non-stop, 240mph LA<>SF train continue to solidify. Wildermuth does inventory a number of anti-HSR blogs in the second piece.
Wildermuth makes some poorly reasoned arguments as to why HSR would be good for business, but completely ignores the well-established, already profitable and tax-generating airline businesses which have been successfully serving California for generations with a low-cost, safe and fast product that’s relatively union-free.
Also lying about the bid anomalies, as usual, is Seattle-based Robert Cruikshank in his California High Speed Rail Blog.
Update (04.28.13): We can NOT determine if Richard Blum held a titled corporate position or was ever a member of Tutor Perini’s Board of Directors. After an LA Times writer left a comment here, we did further diligence and contacted the writer of the National Black Chamber of Commerce story linked above. He did not return an email, but we did speak with Mr. Weikel, the Times reporter who was able to tell us that Blum divested his considerable shares in TPC (an NYSE-traded firm) between 2005 and 2006. We can not determine if he still owns any shares in the company, and it appears from close examination of their 2011 Annual Report that he no longer has a formal relationship with them.
Update (05.05.13): UTSanDiego.com has confirmed the current non-relationship between Richard Blum and Tutor Perini today: Feinstein denies husband’s ties to rail bidder.