San Francisco

San Francisco Mayor Calls for Better Vetting of Construction Bids

San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed on Thursday ordered that the city’s transportation agency bolster screening of bidders in light of what NBC Bay Area uncovered about the troubled safety record of the Twin Peaks Tunnel retrofit project contractor whose worker was killed on the job last week.

Also Thursday, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency says it has opened a probe into whether Shimmick Construction Co. accurately answered a key question about its safety record in a bidding questionnaire last November: whether or not it had willful and serious citations over the last decade.

The company answered “no” and ended up getting the $40 million contract to seismically retrofit the two mile train tunnel that links West Portal to the Castro. The contractor was facing an Aug. 25 completion deadline last week when signal technician Patrick Ricketts was crushed by a falling steel beam.

NBC Bay Area’s review of worker records shows, in fact, Shimmick had been issued three serious and willful safety citations back in 2011 during a project in Yorba Linda. Workers twice hit an exposed gas line and allegedly took shortcuts in building a system designed to prevent trench walls from caving in.

Paul Rose, spokesman for the MTA, acknowledged Thursday his agency has simply taken contractors at their word about their safety record in awarding contracts.

“There was no reason to question whether or not a contractor was providing accurate information,” he said. “Going forward, we will implement a verification process to check those questionnaires.”

He said the agency is separately probing whether Shimmick responded truthfully in the pre-qualification questionnaire.

In a statement Thursday, Shimmick, says it did.

“Safety is core to everything we do and our response to the pre-qualification for the Twin Peaks tunnel project is accurate,” the company wrote.

“That said, we do not take these matters lightly and ensure thorough investigation so they can be prevented in the future. Our priority right now is supporting Mr. Rickett’s family and fellow employees during this difficult time.”

A legal interpretation is at the heart of the dispute. Experts say in worker safety case law, such citations are not considered official while they’re under appeal. The three serious and willful citations at issue in the response have been tied up in civil court for three years, with no sign of resolution.

Gerald Cauthen, a consultant who has worked for Muni in the past, says he can’t believe the city did not verify a response to such a vital question.

“If you don’t do any of that, and just say ‘Well we don’t care about the questionnaire,’’’ he said, “Why ask the question if it isn’t going to be checked? It’s got to be checked, it’s part of the process.”

Mayor Breed’s statement Thursday echoed that sentiment: “When it comes to awarding multi-million dollar contracts that impact the safety of our residents, there needs to be a better system of checks and balances.”

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