Citizens Not Included

The City of Morro Bay is slated to hire Carollo Engineers, yet another major environmental engineering firm, as their Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) Program Manager for a nearly five-year contract. Here’s why it’s a problem.

In their February 2018 bid posting and attached Request for Proposal, the City sought a Program Manager, a traditionally individual position, that “integrat[es] the various complex activities and sub-projects associated with the new WRF, communicat[es] to stakeholders, and negotiating plan changes.” Only after select subcommittees organized by the City chose Carollo did they mention that individuals or firms could apply.

“Prior to releasing an RFP for program management services, staff and a Citizen representative met with several individuals and firms that supply that service,” the City writes in their April 10, 2018 City Council staff report. However, Save Morro Bay reached out to the Citizen representative, Jeff Heller of Citizens for Affordable Living (CAL), who adamantly denied meeting or interviewing Carollo, the latest firm to be awarded a long-term contract for services. According to Heller, he was only involved in the interview process of local applicants he personally recommended.

In addition to the four-year, eight-month $292,000 contract that City staff wants to award them, Carollo was awarded a $711,150 contract by the City last year to develop a “One Water” master plan for the Morro Bay WRF. News station KSBY noted that Heller and other members of CAL opposed the “One Water” contract. According to public records from the May 9, 2017 meeting and correspondence with public, the 76-page “One Water” proposal by Carollo was inaccessible to the public until an hour before the City Council meeting started.

The City ultimately abandoned citizen oversight and left the Citizen representative out of discussions or interviews with Carollo, opting instead to use City staff, Water Reclamation Facility Citizen Advisory Committee (WRFCAC) subcommittee members and City Council WRF subcommittee to interview two finalists: John Hollenbeck Consulting and Carollo Engineers. On April 5, Public Works Director Rob Livick informed WRFCAC members only after the selection of Carollo was made that their subcommittee was tapped to assist with the selection of Program Manager. Here’s the problem: WRFCAC hasn’t met since January 11. Two of the most recently scheduled WRFCAC meetings were canceled without explanation.

Just two days before Carollo submitted their Request for Proposal, the City Council refused to appoint Barry Branin, one of the leading members of CAL, to WRFCAC by not entertaining a motion to vote for his nomination. CAL has publicly supported the selection of a local consultant to serve as Program Manager. To date, the Council has not explained why the motion to nominate Branin died for lack of a second. We believe Branin was prevented from analyzing the selection process due to his affiliation with CAL and his opposition to the currently proposed project.

Though we recognize the extensive and thorough work done by Carollo Engineers for wastewater infrastructure around SLO County, the process to interview and select them as Program Manager lacked critical transparency and citizen oversight. Without documented evidence of a thorough competitive process, the City’s glaring lack of transparency creates the appearance of sole source procurement and favoritism at the costly expense of ratepayers.

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