Largest-Ever Pasadena Development Struggles to Sign Up Local Contractors

Published : Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 5:39 AM

[Updated] The new 100 West Walnut project has brought massive new development for Pasadena and with it, the promise of millions of dollars in jobs to be awarded to local and minority subcontractors. But very few companies and workers have even applied.

100 WW, as it’s called, will cover 6.4 acres surrounding the Parsons Corp. building and include an office building, 400 residential units, 17,500 square feet of retail and dining space, and three levels of below-grade parking.

Within the larger project is 10WW, a 210,000 square-foot, five-story Class A “creative” office tower.

In order for the projects to move ahead, developer Lincoln Property Company agreed to establish a 20 percent local hiring goal, virtually guaranteeing millions of dollars in work to minority and local subcontractors. The development agreement was reached between the City and Lincoln Properties, which is building the project owned by Lincoln Property Company and AMLI Residential.

A flyer for the Job Fair on Feb. 1 described a very large number of positions open to be filled by Pasadena workers.

The agreement calls for 20 percent of the labor that goes into constructing the project to be drawn from the local population, according to Elbie Hickambottom, a principal of Real Services Corp.

The developer hired local company Real Services Corp. to do the vetting and processing of subcontractor applications.

But James Proctor, senior program manager for Real Services, says attendance at the company’s informational hiring meeting held last March 25 was sparse, and he has received few pre-qualification applications from locals. There was an earlier initial informational meeting held on Feb. 1, 2019.

Proctor says he’s surprised more contractors have also not responded to his direct phone calls asking for bids. He thinks the contractors don’t want to go through filling out a pre-qualification form to obtain the scope of services and bid packages.

“I made hundreds of calls to local contractors,” Proctor said. “I think that a lot of the contractors feel this way: If bid documents were made available up front before having to fill out the pre-qualification I think they would be more apt to follow through with it.”

Proctor said he’s puzzled that contractors are not interested enough to fill out the pre-qualification application, that “takes 30 minutes” and asks for information like references and proof of insurance.

Proctor says he feels the developer is sincere in its efforts to hire 20 percent local contractors.

“I’ll give you an example,” Proctor said. “We identified 84 electricians around Pasadena. Electrical contractors. And I don’t believe the award went to anyone from the area. We didn’t have anyone pre-qualify.”

The company will hold another informational meeting April 11 from 10 a.m. to noon at the American Legion Post 13 (131 North Marengo Avenue).

But some in the Pasadena subcontractor community feel the process is unfair and claim building contractor Morley Builders is not being transparent.

African American businessman Ishmael Trone, former president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, said the application process is flawed.

Trone may offer unique insights into the process, since he said as an accountant he works with local plumbers, framers and other construction specialists. He said many of them have expressed to him their frustration about the West Walnut project.

The pre-qualifying process, Trone says contractors tell him, prevents companies from showing multiple services and limits the contractor’s application to offering only one specialty.

“They want them to prequalify blindly and then see what jobs are available afterwards,” Trone said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the jobs have been awarded already.”

Trone said he also wants the builder to follow through with the promise that contractors could obtain work by banding together to apply for work in joint ventures.

Trone also said the job fairs for the project, like the one to be held on April 11, have been scheduled at the last minute, not allowing people enough time to schedule the event into their calendars.

“What jobs do you have available that you have set aside for the local contractors in the City of Pasadena?” he asked.

Trone specifically wants to know what jobs have been set aside for the local contractors.

There are no set-asides, but the pre-qualifier is not designed to limit opportunity, Proctor said. The pre-qualifier requests the applicant to include any trades in which they have experience, he added.

Trone said locals are asking for the process to be more streamlined.

“We want them to be more transparent,” Trone said. “As of right now the subcontractors have no faith in the process. The subcontractors have been calling me raising serious questions about the strategic plan to infuse $200 million into our community.”

“They need to be more transparent in their approach,” he said. “They need to give priority to local subcontractors. They need to cut to the chase, quit playing around and give these guys an opportunity here.”

Proctor said that the project’s total cost is estimated at $1 billion, of which about $300 million is in construction and of that, 20 percent, or $50 to $60 million, is potentially available for work services by local companies who apply.

Pasadena Vice Mayor and District 3 City Councilman John Kennedy, who has called the project the biggest in the history of Pasadena, said there is an obligation on the part of the developers to follow through.

“The 10 West Walnut project is in the district that I represent,” he said. Kennedy said Lincoln Properties, Morgan Stanley and other partners as well as the City of Pasadena have a responsibility to keep the obligations.

“There should be the minimal amount of barriers as possible to making this possible,” Kennedy said. “In terms of their responsibility to local hire with local sourcing and local contracting, it’s my expectation that the company would bring the process into conformity with the developer agreement with the city.”

Kennedy said the City of Pasadena should hold the developers’ “feet to the fire.”

“The community has a legitimate concern,” he said. “The concern needs to be heard and if contracts are not being filled they need to be held accountable.”

Kennedy said he was open to hearing what the issues are and addressing them.

“The next step is if staff finds out there’s legitimacy to these concerns,” Kennedy said. “We need to meet with the developer and developer’s representatives and the attorneys and those who are doing the work to obtain the local hire. We need to make sure the project is on track.”

“This is a significant contribution to the overall project,” he said. “It cannot be dismissed and cannot be sugar-coated. They must keep their obligation to the city itself because we set those conditions to do the development.”

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