KNBC Analysis Of 600-Page Working Papers Prepared By LA City Controller As Research Support For Playa Vista Report Of June 5, 2007
This review examines the more than 600 pages of "work papers" used in preparing the City Controller's Report of June 5, 2007 titled "Subject: City's Oversight of Playa Vista Phase I Development." The papers, which derive from city agencies, were released in response to Public Records Act requests.
In particular, our review was undertaken as a reportorial exercise to determine if the work papers support the Controller's final conclusion at page 7, paragraph 2, of her Report, which reads: "...nothing came to our attention to indicate that required inspections relating to methane mitigation, or the project as a whole, were not performed."
Based on extensive analysis and review by our staff, consultation with experts and with members of the Grassroots Coalition, including Patricia McPherson, who have assembled voluminous city files on Playa Vista through Public Records Act requests, we proffer the following: The Controller's concluding statement above is factually, demonstrably incorrect as measured against the work papers collected by her own auditing staff.
Indeed, her conclusion seems to be an arbitrarily expanded version of an equally indefensible statement contained in a document prepared by one of her auditors titled "Playa Vista Compliance Review" and included in work papers at Tab C-1. It states: "During the review nothing came to our intention (sic) to indicate that inspections were not performed at any of the 18 projects (reviewed). This conclusion is based on the documents reviewed and listed on the spreadsheets, as well as from information obtained during interviews with DBS management and DBS inspectors" (emphasis added).
Conspicuously lacking in this sourcing information is any reference to auditor interviews with Fire Department Inspector Michael Ng (at work papers Tab B-5), which often contradict both DBS testimony and documentation and the Controller's Report on key issues. Indeed the sourcing statement above suggests that for some reason the Controller and her staff ignored, marginalized or dismissed what they learned from Fire Inspector Ng.
Further, an auditor's note with apparent DBS annotations at Tab-35 of the work papers suggests that the Controller allowed the Department of Building and Safety to qualify and soften other judgments she included in her seven-page report. (See our comments at the top of page seven below).
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Why the Controller's final conclusion above is deemed factually incorrect:
First, the Controller's work papers indicate (at tab C-1) that only 18 of the 33 building sites at Playa Vista were examined in the audit. In fact a close examination of the documentation shows that her auditors reviewed only part of some sites (e.g. Icon at 63400 Seawalk). Moreover the actual number of building projects reviewed may be closer to 16 than 18 since in several instances (e.g. Tapestry 1 and 2) one site with two addresses was counted as two separate sites. In any case, because only a portion of Playa Vista's building projects were examined, the Report overreaches in suggesting that its final conclusion applies to "the project as a whole."
Second, the Controller's final conclusion above is contradicted by the following statement on page 5, paragraph 1, of the Report: "testing of methane detection systems for single family homes was performed on an inconsistent basis." If the testing was inconsistent, the reasonable inference to be drawn is that the testing was incomplete or uneven -- i.e. not fully performed.
Third, the Controller's final conclusion is explicitly contradicted by Fire Inspector Michael Ng in testimony and documentation provided to the auditors and included in the work papers.
For example, in his "Correction Notice" for "Courtyard Capri II," dated 01/15/07 (at C-12), Ng wrote "Only 6 of 16 homes available for testing. All 6 tested failed." In an additional handwritten note he underscored the seriousness of these failures by stating: "All central dialer tests failed (no signal [could be] rec'vd by monitoring company indicating high level methane alarms.).
In a record of Ng's testimony included in the work papers (at B-5), the Controller's auditor states in reference to the Capri II series of single family dwellings: "On January 15, 2007, Inspector Ng performed the initial acceptance tests on six single family homes at Lee Court Homes II. These homes were completed in 2005 but had never been tested by the LAFD due to the written agreement between management. All six homes failed the acceptance test performed by LAFD…There were numerous deficiencies noted in the correction notices… Not all of the homes were able to be tested on January 15, 2007, since it was a City Holiday and not all of the homeowners responded to the testing request…Inspector Ng subsequently performed additional testing of some of the remaining homes, all but one failed the acceptance test performed" [emphasis added]. The reference to "some" indicates that not all of the remaining homes were tested.
In another conversation with the auditors, dated April 11, 2007, Ng is said to have indicated that as of that date "he has yet to receive authorization to resume re-testing of the Lee Court Homes II that failed acceptance tests."
In short, from Ng alone we learn that not all the required inspections have been performed at Playa Vista
Fourth, any assurance that such "required inspections" have been successfully performed is further undercut by statements made by DBS' own inspectors to the Controller's staff. Without notable exception, these statements show that the DBS lacks the expertise, organization and documentation to vouch for the inspection process.
Based on interviews with DBS inspectors (work papers at B-1 through B-4), the Controller's auditors note: -that three of the four on-site DBS inspectors interviewed, Alex Velazquez, Newton Gerhardt and Tim Moore, have no training in methane inspection, -that Gerhardt "did not actively participate in the testing done [by outside contractor Taft Electric], -that Moore "did not perform any testing of the systems… [and] did not perform any electrical inspections at single family homes," -that "DBS did not have the expertise to provide a deputy certification of methane," -that DBS "inspectors receive certifications from [outside] deputy inspectors, contractors and engineers," -that Velazquez "received written activity reports from Deputy inspectors… [and] receives certification from the installer that the methane barrier is installed according to guidelines", -that "DBS does not maintain a central files for the PV inspection records [and that] "[i]nspection records for each of the site locations will have to be requested from the assigned DBS inspectors," -that "there may not be a specific DBS document for each approval given by an inspector," -that "a DBS inspector may not even be aware of a permit that was opened and falls under his specific responsibilities," -that Velazquez "acknowledged that he has been unable to account for all of the inspection files for all the projects he has inspected," -that Principal Supervisory Inspector at Playa Vista Richard Fortman "explained that he could not guarantee that each and every inspection document still exists and is available for review," and -that "DBS confirmed that permits are still being closed as they are discovered even though the projects have been completed" -- and even though the ultimate authority for what's required at Playa Vista, the Chief Legislative Analysts Report approved by the City Council in June 2001, states (Tab C-9 of working papers): "No Certificate of Occupancy shall be issued for any building [at Playa Vista] until the methane system, as required by Methane Systems requirements attached as Appendix 1 are operational and a qualified methane engineer has certified the system to be operational."
In her Report (see test at page 5) the Controller observes that "DBS relied on non-City engineers, consultants and deputy inspectors to assure that the systems were operational…[and] required the manufacturers of the methane systems to certify the deputy methane inspectors." But she does not mention the additional fact (noted in her "Audit Procedures" at Tab B-9) that the deputy inspectors are not only manufacturer-certified but "developer paid." Nor does the Controller note, as do her auditors (B-9), that "no determination was made whether DBS Inspectors were qualified to review the deputies' work product."
The Controller does acknowledge in her Report (at page 6) that "DBS' poor record keeping resulted in inconsistencies over project documentation and the permit approval process… [that] there is no centralized record-keeping system organized by site location… that certain documents may no longer exist…[and] that there is no uniform process [at DBS] for cross-checking or following up on specific open permits by an assigned inspector or for a given site location."
But the Controller also makes the extraordinary admission in her Report that she has effectively cherry-picked the evidence her auditors gathered. In particular she states: "While the completeness of the files varied and not all individual permits for the sites had adequate documentation to substantiate appropriate approval, we focused on those documents that provided assurance that methane mitigation systems were inspected according to approved plans" [emphasis added].
Note: on the way to completing that sentence the Controller concedes that "not all individual permits for the sites had adequate documentation to substantiate appropriate approval." She does not explain how, given this inadequacy, she can justify focusing selectively "on those documents that provided assurance that methane mitigation systems were inspected according to approved plans."
Nor does the Controller make any reference in her Report to the following information that her auditors collected in conversations with Fire Inspector Michael Ng (at B-5): namely, that Ng, having been on site at Playa Vista for six years, is the only on-site inspector from any city agency who has any training in methane and methane inspection, that Ng maintains complete files on all his inspections (which focus exclusively on "active mitigation systems" -- methane gas detectors and related vent systems), and that Ng offered to have the DBS inspectors accompany him to training sessions but they declined.
Nor does the Controller take note of Ng's remarks to her auditors about the dangers inherent in relying on manufacturer-certified, developer-paid deputy inspectors to perform baseline inspection work at Playa Vista. In an audit interview on April 11, 2007, Ng expressed "concerns" that "the decision [on required detection systems] be made by independent and informed parties, not non-independent contractors who have vested conflicts of interest." Ng also advised the Controller's auditor that there is "an independence issue; an installer cannot be an independent tester over his own work."
In addition, Ng cited the cautionary example which he saw as personified by one paid consulting engineer, Sepich whose firm (Methane Specialists) is still doing deputy inspections at Playa Vista. Ng noted that when Sepich was designing the active mitigation systems for one PV building, Fountain Park Apartments, the firm low-balled the number of required detectors, even though comparably sized structures had "ten times" the recommended number. According to the auditor's interview notes, Ng "believes that this engineer bases his recommendations on the expectations of each developer (cost factor), rather than from a logical and consistent standpoint."
In short, Ng warned that the deputy inspectors do not have the independence to guarantee the integrity of the inspection process.
He also noted that shortcuts in the system design, testing and inspection could place firefighters (and implicitly the public) in danger in the event of methane leakage at Playa Vista. In an October 31, 2006 interview (at B-5) Ng explained that methane detectors designed by DBS and installed at Capri 2, a complex of 28 single-family dwelling at Playa Vista, were dangerously flawed. By his account, DBS had failed to require that sensors be placed in the lowest level of the buildings, in the garage where the ventilation system is located. He said this "would impose a safety risk to the LAFD when they responded to an actual emergency" and that "the fire fighters would assume that in the event of methane detection in the home the ventilation system would have been activated when in fact it might not be the case." Ng noted that when LAFD objected to the design, "the DBS said that they would accept full responsibility." Ng, however, refused to give a passing acceptance test to any of these homes.
In another set of interviews – November 29, 2006- January 22, 2007 -- Ng reported that Lee Homes had later installed garage detectors in the first set of dwellings he had examined and that on "retest" the systems had all passed.
However, according to a document he provided to the auditors titled "Court Homes Methane Pre-test" (at Tab C-12) sixteen other homes in the Capri 2 complex received an "NA" (non-applicable) rating when inspected for garage sensors – in other words these homes had no garage sensors. On January 15, 2007 Ng tested the non-garage sensors and related components in six of these homes and gave the systems a failing grade. He subsequently retested these systems and all but one failed.
There is no indication in the work papers – and certainly no indication in the Controller's report – that Lee Homes has since installed sensors in the garages of these dwelling and thus obviated the danger Ng described.
The Controller's Report is equally silent about another danger Ng identified. In an October 31, 2006 interview he noted that the Taft Electric Company provides an annual inspection report on gas detectors throughout Playa Vista to certify that they are properly calibrated and operational. He went on to point out: "the annual reports have documented violations of ventilation fans that are not operating correctly or have been turned off." The auditor, who recorded these remarks, added: "outside the annual inspection he [Ng] does not believe that there is anyone that monitors the fans on a regular basis."
The Controller's 7-page formal report makes no mention of this.
The Controller does note (page 5 of Report) that one set of single family homes, Capri 1, has no methane detectors because of what DBS claims are low methane concentrations under the complex and because of what the DBS sees as a loophole in the requirements established in the Chief Legislative Analyst's Report adopted by the City Council in June 2001. The Controller states that a footnote in the requirements (which she characterizes as "guidelines," though in fact the courts have determined them to be legally enforceable) allows DBS to approve "equivalents" for the systems prescribed. She goes on to say: "DBS considered the elimination of a detection systems, as endorsed by a qualified methane engineer citing the adequacy of prevention systems for these homes, as an ‘approved equivalent'." She does not acknowledge that the "qualified methane engineer" was "developer-paid." Nor does she explain how no methane detector is the "equivalent" of an actual one.
Nor does the Controller record the cautionary note Ng sounded with her auditor when he was asked about the elimination of these detectors on grounds there is little methane under the Capri 1. In a series of interviews from November 29 2006 – January 22, 2007 Ng warned that methane gas is "migratory, meaning that it has the capability to move from location to location, including a level 1, area, such as Lee Court Homes 1."
As reflected in CLA Report (at work papers C-9 – see concluding pages titled "Methane System Requirements") a Level 1 area is one where methane concentrations are found to be 100 parts per million or less. Though the Controller has taken DBS' word that Capri 1 is a Level 1 area, her work papers include (at Tab C-10) a "Playa Vista: Phase 1 Methane Mitigation" chart, provided by DBS, that shows that Capri 1 is actually a Level 1 and 2 (higher gas concentration) area. Thus the rational for eliminating the detectors, which the CLA report prescribes for all sites and all methane level across Playa Vista ("Methane System Requirements"), becomes all the more dubious.
The Controller's Report (at page 5) does take note of the evidence provided in her work papers that the LAFD and DBS agreed in 2005 to relieve the Fire Department of its inspection responsibilities for methane detectors in single family homes at PV and that the two agencies restored this responsibility to the Fire Department in February 2007. The Controller attributes this back-and-forth to "a lack of clearly defined responsibilities" on the part of the LAFD and DBS at Playa Vista (at page 5 of her Report). She also faults the "guidelines" (CLA "Methane Mitigation Requirements") for "vagueness" (page 3 of Report) and states that "no distinction was made [in the guidelines] between commercial or residential properties, or different types of residential projects, such as single-family and multi-family homes."
A fair-minded reading of the CLA Report and the requirements it establishes (at work papers C-9) does not support the Controller's characterizations. The CLA Report makes no distinction between residential and commercial projects because on pages one and two of the actual document, the mitigation and detection requirements are clearly applied to all properties at PV (indeed the Controller's own auditor pencils in the margin of page one of the CLA Report included in the work papers: "rules for all properties"). Moreover, Inspector Ng in his October 31, 2006 interview with the controller's auditor (work papers Tab B-5) refers a "matrix," long in existence, "which details the responsibilities for each department." (See copy of the Matrix at work papers C-27.)
Thus the "vagueness" and lack-of-clear-jurisdiction themes appear to be latter-day rationalizations by the Fire Department and DBS to justify changing or ignoring the legally enforceable CLA ground rules. In fact, the minutes of a meeting between Fire Department and DBS officials dated January 4, 2007, and included in the work papers (at B-6-1), show these officials floating the idea that "the CLA report does not clearly state that the LAFD should perform inspections of single family homes." In an "inter-departmental correspondence" dated February 22, 2007, officials of the two agencies seem to acknowledge that the CLA requirements, which grew out of the DBS' proposed "Playa Vista Methane Prevention, Detection and Monitoring Program," are much clearer than they have previously acknowledged (and clearer than the Controller allows). The memo states: "Single-family dwellings located in the Playa Vista Phase I area are required to comply with the ‘Playa visa Methane Prevention, Detection and monitoring Program' dated January 30, 2001. LAFD and LADBS will review the plans for methane detection systems in all single family dwellings…Acceptance testing of methane monitoring and detection systems will be conducted by LAFD inspectors."
Final evidence that the Controller's Report misrepresents or at least misapprehends her auditors' work product is contained in the spreadsheets (work papers at Tab C-1) the auditors prepared on 18 residential building sites at Playa Vista. (There was no review of commercial sites like Electronic Arts, which is located in an area of the highest methane concentrations.) (See page one of this analysis for comments on the number of sites examined).
The spreadsheets, based on documentation from the Department of Building and Safety (and presumably from the Fire Department, though this is not apparent from the sheets), contradict the Controller's contention that "nothing came to our attention to indicate that required inspections relating to methane mitigation, or the project as a whole, were not performed." In numerous instances, these spreadsheets indicate that the auditors knew – or had reason to know -- that required inspections had not been performed at Playa Vista or were inadequately documented.
The spreadsheets are keyed to the methane detection and mitigation requirements set out in the CLA Report adopted by the City Council and thus made legally binding in June 2001 (at tab C-1).
As can be seen from the actual text, the CLA Report establishes three levels of methane mitigation, detection and monitoring requirements depending on the gas concentrations beneath each building site. These requirements, broken down into "Levels," are summarized at the end of the CLA Report in the chart labeled "Methane System Requirements."
The "Level 3" requirements apply to areas of the highest methane concentrations (12,500 parts per million – the lowest explosive level – and above).
"Level II" embraces areas with methane concentrations measured in the middle range at 1000 parts per million to 12, 500 ppmv.
And "Level 1" includes areas with concentrations of 100 ppmv and below.
(Parenthetically, it should be noted that the Controller's work papers include two charts provided by DBS with inconsistent methane Level ratings for at least eight Playa Vista building sites – e.g.. the same site may be listed as a Level 2 area on one chart and a Level 3 area on the second chart. This creates obvious confusion as to what mitigation measures are required. One of these charts, titled "Office of the Controller – Compliance Review Playa Vista – Schedule of Residential Building Projects" can be found at work paper Tab C-1. The other chart, at Tab C-1, is titled "Playa Vista: Phase I Methane Mitigation."
The sites with differing methane Level ratings are as follows: 6011 S. Dawn Creek (listed in one chart as Level 3 and in the other chart as Level 2); 6021 Dawn Creek (Level 3 and 2); 6020 S. Celedon Creek (Level 3 and 2); 5625 S. Crescent Park (Level 2 and 3); 13075 W. Pacific Promenade; 13080 Pacific Promenade (Level 2 and 3); 6400 S. Crescent Park East (Level 3 and 2); 6020 Seabluff Dr. (Level 2 and 3); 13001 W. Bluff Creek Dr. (Level 3 and 2); 5864 Kyot Way (Level 1 and Level 1 and 2); 13028 Villosa Place (Level 1 and Level 1 and 2.)
The CLA Report states (page 2 of the text): "Building system requirements [Level ratings] will be determined based on the highest methane concentrations located beneath the building site as indicated on the applicable methane soil gas site survey." But given the migratory nature of methane gas described by Inspector Ng in his audit testimony (at work paper Tab B-5), presumptively gas levels can change, and the CLA Report provides for continuous electronic monitoring in Level 2 and 3 areas to detect such variances (page 3 of the CLA text), and manual sampling every quarter in Level 1 areas to the same purpose (page 4 of the CLA text). (There should also be other sampling – see our "Still Working On It" addendum below.)
According to the CLA Report, several of the required mitigation, inspection and monitoring requirements are universal, i.e. applicable to all sites. Every building at Playa Vista, regardless of the gas concentration Level, requires a sub-slab impermeable membrane to keep subterranean methane from seeping up into the building, and membrane-related collection vent pipes to detect any leaks and to siphon errant gases away from the building.
In addition, every building requires a methane detector at its lowest floor level to detect any methane in the air; audible and visual alarms to alert residents to such emissions, and a system for "automatic notification of the LAFD."
Finally, every building at Playa Vista, Phase 1, regardless of methane level, must receive "annual testing" of all systems and be subject to "continuous methane sampling and data collection accessible by the homeowner's association, LADBS and LAFD via the internet."
At the upper extreme, Level 3 buildings must not only have all the above technology and monitoring protocols in place; they must also be equipped with one or more 50 foot vent wells to siphon off methane gases deep in the earth.
At the lowest extreme, Level 1 buildings must have all of the universal detection/monitoring devices and protocols in place except for continuous monitoring via the internet. Unlike other buildings at other levels they are subject to quarterly manual gas sampling, with a quarterly written report on the sampling to be provided to the Fire Department and the Department of Building and Safety.
At Levels 2 and 3, the CLA Report requires a mechanical ventilation system to be installed that will be triggered if methane concentrations elevate. It also mandates that data be collected from sensors below the impermeable membrane and sensors between the membrane the lowest floor/basement level.
Measured against these CLA mandated requirements, the Controller's spreadsheets reveal extensive omissions and/or shortfalls in the inspection, monitoring and testing data. Indeed, though auditor notations vary dramatically in specificity and clarity from one spreadsheet to another, it would appear that not one building project examined had a complete set of the required methane-related inspections.
The most obvious of the omissions/shortfalls pertain to requirements for continuous monitoring and inspection, and for performance tests.
Continuous sampling via the internet
The CLA Report declares (text page 3): "In areas of Playa Vista where methane soil gas concentrations, as indicated on the applicable methane soil gas survey, are above 100 ppm, methane concentrations within the building system shall be monitored continuously by an electronic monitoring system. The methane concentration data shall be accessible (read only) over a secure Internet connection to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Department of Building and Safety and the property owners association (or building owner as applicable.) In addition, an annual written report of the data together with any recommendations from a qualified methane engineer will be provided by the property owner's association (or building owner, as applicable) to the Department of Building and Safety and the Los Angeles Fire Department. Copies of the written reports also shall be provided to the Playa Vista Master association."
Nowhere on the eighteen spreadsheets is there ANY data entry relating to the required "sampling & data collection – Internet" listed under the heading "Monitoring and Maintenance." And nowhere does the Controller take note of this omission and its implications in her seven-page Report.
Nowhere in any of the spreadsheets is there mention of the required annual reports on data collected through continuous monitoring via the internet. Under the heading "Monitoring and Maintenance – Supporting Documents" there are, repeated references to "Taft Report." As evidenced by interview notes at Tab B4-4 of the work papers, DBS officials have tried to convince the auditor that the annual Taft Report is comprehensive and "needs to be 100 percent compliant to be accepted by DBS."
But in fact, as can be determined from a textual review, the Taft reports and quarterly supplements apply only to the methane detectors at the lowest floor level of the buildings at Playa Vista and to the immediately related fans and vents. Indeed, an auditor acknowledges as much in "Audit Procedures" at Tab B-9 of the work papers. Here the auditor writes: "Taft Electric Company was the primary installer of detection systems…Taft Electric Company was responsible for providing annual maintenance or monitoring reports to DBS and LAFD certifying that the systems are operational according to stated guidelines." The Controller's own seven-page report makes no direct mention of Taft, its limited responsibilities or the limited scope of its inspection work. Nor does the report take note of Fire Inspector Ng's caveat about the adequacy of Taft's inspections. As remarked previously, in record of an October 31, 2006 interview with Ng, the Controller's auditor noted: "The annual [Taft] reports have documented violations of ventilation fans that are not operating correctly or have been turned off. Outside of the annual inspection he [Ng] does not believe that there is anyone that monitors the fans on a regular basis."
Annual testing and reports on all "individual building systems"
The CLA Report states under the heading of "Maintenance and Reporting" (page 5 of the text): "Individual building systems will be tested, maintained, and serviced at least annually by the building owner or property owners' association pursuant to the manufacturers specifications and to the satisfaction of the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Department of Building and Safety….On or before July 1 of each calendar year the building owner or the property owner's association shall submit a certification of the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Department of Building and Safety that the annual testing, maintenance and service has been completed and certifying that the system is operational."
Nowhere in the spreadsheets is there any reference to the required annual testing, maintenance and service of "individual building systems" or to the annual reports that are supposed to document such testing. As indicated above, the annual Taft Reports apply only to methane detectors and related fans and vents. They do not cover any annual testing – if any takes place -- of the membranes, of the fifty foot vent wells, or sub-slab-mechanical ventilation. Indeed, in the spreadsheets, under the heading "Testing/Monitoring," there are NO entries that reflect any annual testing of any of these devices. Nor is there any indication anywhere in the work papers that such testing takes place, that the related annual reports exist or that the auditors or the Controller thought to ask for them.
Quarterly manual gas sampling and reports in Level 1 areas
The CLA Reports states (page 4 of the text): "In areas of Playa Vista where methane concentrations, as indicated in the applicable methane soil gas site survey, are less than 100ppmv, methane concentrations within the building prevention systems will be manually sampled. Sampling will be conducted quarterly, provide that the methane concentrations remain below 100 ppmv… If in any quarter the monitoring data indicate that methane concentrations exceed 100 ppmv or if the monitoring data is highly variable, the Department of Building and Safety or the qualified methane engineer may require additional manual sampling of electronic monitoring of the methane concentrations. A quarterly written report of the monitoring data shall be provided by the property owners' association (or building owner, as applicable) to the Department of Building ands Safety and the Los Angeles Fire Department."
According to the spreadsheets, only one set of dwellings at Playa Vista – the collection of Lee Group A (aka Capri 1) single-family homes at 13028 Villosa -- falls under a Level 1 heading with methane concentrations of 100 ppmv or less. Another set of Lee Homes (Capri 1), at 5864 Kiyot Way, is shown on the appropriate spreadsheet to include Level 1 and Level 2 methane concentrations. Neither of the Capri I homes spreadsheets shows ANY entry related to the required "manual quarterly assessment" or to required quarterly reports on these assessments.
Moreover, auditor notes inscribed at the bottom of the Lee Group A spreadsheet indicate spotty overall documentation: "TCO [Temporary Certificate of Occupancy] issued in 2003, renew every 6 months/No FD sig.[nature] on TCO. The majority of Lee Group a had no sign off on TCO by FD. No C of O [Certificate of Occupancy] – Need additional sign-off by Fire, DWP, Public Work… Deputy Report – Lost – Grading." DBS inspectors listed on the Lee Group A spreadsheet are Newton Gerhardt and Alex Velasquez. (Gerhardt is also the only DBS inspector listed by name on the other Lee Homes 1 spreadsheet). In an October 31, 2006 interview with the Controller's auditor (at work papers Tab B-5), Fire Inspector Ng indicated "he does not believe that Mr. Gerhardt has adequate training on methane mitigation systems." Velasquez, in his own interview with the auditors (Tab B-1) "acknowledged that he has been unable to account for all of the inspection files for all of the projects that he inspected."
The Controller, in her seven-page Report, makes no mention of the readily apparent omissions in the Lee Homes 1 spreadsheets, and is silent about her own auditor's notes concerning Gerhardt's lack of qualifications or Valasquez' lack of paperwork.
One additional note about the Lee Homes I. As Inspector Ng, among others, reported to the auditors, and as the Controller acknowledges in her Report, the DBS eliminated the gas detectors in the Lee Homes (Capri 1) series, in part because of the low level of methane concentrations.
However, as noted previously, the spreadsheet for Lee Homes 1 at 5864, lists the complex as being both a Level 1 and a Level 2 methane concentration area. The CLA states, as remarked above, that "building system requirements will be determined based on the highest methane concentrations located beneath the building site as indicated on the applicable methane soil gas site survey." Thus, per the CLA, Lee Homes 1 (Capri 1) should have the more robust methane mitigation and inspection requirements of a Level 2 area, including active methane detectors. 50 Foot Vent Wells The CLA Report states in its appendix, "Methane Systems Requirements," that "subsurface ventilation" is required for Level 3 building areas where the highest methane concentrations have been detected. The spreadsheets interpret this requirement as applying to "subsurface ventilation (L3) Pipes to 50 ft vent wells." Nowhere in the spreadsheets for the 18 building sites reviewed is there ANY explicit inspection data relating to continuous monitoring and testing or even annual assessments of and reporting on the 50 foot vent wells. This seems consistent with DBS' responses to Public Record Act Requests filed by Grassroots Coalition for information relating to continuous monitoring and testing of the vent wells. In each instance, DBS declared that there was no data responsive to the request. (It is also consistent with what an aide to Councilman Rosendahl learned from Playa Vista representatives during a tour of the PV site on July 6, 2007. The aide was told flatly that the 50-foot vent wells do not work – an extraordinary, indeed unprecedented concession from Playa Vista.) Regarding the 50-foot vent wells, the "Supporting Documents" entries in the spreadsheets appear to relate exclusively to installation of the wells. Even then, they are often inconclusive. For three of the eighteen sites reviewed (5744 Celedon, 6346 Seawalk, and 13001 Bluff Creek), the spreadsheets show no "Supporting Documents" whatsoever for the vent wells – which could mean that the auditors received no documentation from DBS relating to the wells' installation In two instances (6020Seabluff and Villa d'Este), the spreadsheets list only "permit" as documentation for the vent wells – which could mean that the only evidence of the vent wells' existence resides in shorthand entries in the DBS computerized PCIS system showing that a permit was issued or finaled for the wells. Even more problematic are three Level 3 spreadsheets that refer to inspection certifications for 50 foot wells by Carlin Environmental Consulting, (CEC), a consultant paid by Playa Vista, whose website advertises expertise in installing liquid-boot membranes. In these spreadsheets (for 13200 Pacific Promenade, 6028 Crescent Park, and 6104 S. Crescent Park) a "notes" entry appears in the "Supporting Documents" column with no further information, followed by an unsourced entry that reads "deep vent well completed and inspected 7/30/03." Underneath an auditor has appended this note: "CEC Dec. 3, 2003 letter indicates that the mitigation and system and monitoring system has been installed and operating effectively." There is no explanation of how a "letter" from Carlin suffices for 50 foot-vent-well documentation or inspection data in lieu of city-generated verification and sign-offs. Eleven of the spreadsheets for Level 3 buildings at Playa Vista list Alex Velasquez as a DBS inspector of record. He is the individual who "acknowledged" to the Controller's audit staff (at work papers tab B-1) "that he has been unable to account for all of the inspection files for all of the projects that he has inspected." On two other Level 3 spreadsheets. Newton Gerhardt appears as the sole DBS inspector of record. Inspector Ng described him to auditors (at Tab B-5) as someone with no training in methane. On various Level 3 spreadsheets, the auditors list "DBS Notes," "B-94," "DBS Plan check" and/or "permit" in the "Supporting Documents" column, sometimes with dates but often without any elaboration. These entries are so unspecific as to make impossible any analysis of their meaning or veracity. In fact there should be multiple B-94 inspection-document entries for every mitigation device at Playa Vista and every site. The auditors frequently insert a singular "B-94" into the spreadsheets, suggesting that they are referring to just one document. If only one B-94 is available for each device per site the record would seem woefully inadequate. Sub-slab Membranes The CLA report states (page 3 of text): "…building prevention system elements shall include…a City of Los Angeles approved methane gas membrane designed to prevent methane gas from migrating into enclosed building areas. As indicated on various spreadsheets, a smoke test is the accepted method for initially verifying the integrity of the membrane. The CLA Report also states (page 3 of text): "Methane sensors above and below the methane membrane may also be utilized to assist the qualified methane engineer in determining the integrity of the methane membrane." Nowhere in the eighteen spreadsheets is there any indication that the sensors related to the membranes are being monitored continuously to enable a qualified inspector to determine the continued integrity of the membranes. Moreover, according to the spreadsheets, only ELEVEN of the eighteen sites reviewed had smoke tests conducted on their sub-slab membranes. Two more had smoke test entries noted in incorrect spreadsheet columns. The spreadsheets for five sites showing smoke tests (5300 S. Playa Vista Drive, 12963 W. Runway, Villa d'Este, 5700 Seawalk and 5701 Kiyot) provide no dated documentation for them in the "Supporting Documents," and spreadsheets for the last two of these sites include only the phrase "Methane Report" in the "Supporting Documents." This phrase, "Methane Report," which also appears as a "supporting document" for various other inspection entries in the eighteen spreadsheets, is never explained in the work papers and corresponds to no documentation noted on DBS' computerized PCIS website or produced in connection with any PRA responses we have examined. The spreadsheets list NO smoke tests for the following sites: 5864 Kyot (Capri 1); 6346 Seawalk; 5562 Brisa Way; 13080 Pacific Promenade and 13001 Bluff Creek (under construction). Of these, only two (Bluff Creek and Seawalk) show dated spreadsheet inspection entries for the membranes themselves. Only one (Seawalk) shows any dated spreadsheet inspection entry for "sensors below membrane" and "sensors between membrane and slab inside building." The absence of dated entries raises questions about the completeness of the inspections and of the membranes themselves. The two sites whose spreadsheets list the "smoke test" entry in inapplicable columns are 5625 S. Crescent Park West and 13200 W. Pacific Promenade (along with 6028 S. Crescent Park and 6104 S Crescent Park which are listed on the same spreadsheet.). Both spreadsheets contain auditor's notes referring readers to a "letter" from CEC, Carlin Environmental Consulting. On the spreadsheet for 5625 S. Crescent Park, the notes read: "August 28, 2003 letter from CEC noted that the [sic] all components of the methane barrier system, passive and active venting systems, and electronic monitoring systems are successfully installed. On the spreadsheet for 13200 W. Pacific Promenade, the auditor's notes read: "CEC Dec 3, 2003 letter indicates that the mitigation system and monitoring system has [sic] been installed and operating effectively. It appears that here again the auditors concluded that these broadbrush CEC letters substitute for B-94 inspection notes and other customary city-generated verifying documentation. Methane Detectors The CLA Report states (page 2 of the text): "All buildings will be equipped with methane gas detection systems within spaces located in the basement levels of the buildings and data collecting sensors below the lowest floor/basement slab…" As the auditors learned from Fire Inspector Ng (work paper Tab B-5) and other sources, and as the Controller noted in her report, the DBS decided unilaterally to eliminate detection devices in the Capri 1 single-family complex partly on the grounds that it was an a Level 1 methane concentration area, though in fact the spreadsheet for "5864 Kiyot – Lee Homes 1" lists it as a combined Level 1 and 2 area. The spreadsheets confirm what the Controller's records without naming names: the single-family dwellings that make up Lee Homes 1 (Capri 1) at 5864 Kiot Way have no methane detectors in the lowest level of the buildings. More surprisingly, the spreadsheets for three more sites carry no inspection, testing or monitoring entries for methane detectors: 5300 Playa Vista Drive (Level 3, occupied); Villa d'Este (Level 3, occupied); 13001 Bluff Creek (Level 2, under construction). The spreadsheets for six other sites list only "permit" as the final "supporting document" verifying installation of detectors. One of these, for 6020 Seabluff, Units 1-116, pegs the "permit" to the following date: 8/30/2005. But the cover document which the auditors prepared for the spreadsheets – "Office of Controller – Compliance Review Playa Vista – Schedule of Residential Building Projects" (Tab C-1) – contains a handwritten auditor's note for this address that casts doubt on the adequacy of all inspections there. The handwritten entry reads: "Litigation…No TCO issued per city – de-watering." Further, among the Controller's work papers is an internal DBS e-mail, written by Inspector Richard Fortman on January 18, 2007 detailing documentation problems for 6020 Seabluff, including un-issued permit applications, un-reviewed application histories and non-finaled permits. Fortman states: "It will take weeks for me to process every application for an occupancy certificate…The current property at 6020 Seabluff Dive at Playa Vista has been waiting for weeks to achieve this goal. Until our staff fulfills this requirement I will not put my signature on any occupancy certificate." Since 6020 Seabluff is listed as still being under construction, some of these issues may due to work-in-progress. But Fortman's e-mail and the spreadsheet indicate that the problems may be of such magnitude as to obscure which inspections have taken place with adequate documentation and which have not. The spreadsheets for four more sites show only undated "notes" as "supporting documents" verifying installation of detectors. Two spreadsheets – for 5625 S. Crescent Park West and for 13200 W Pacific Promenade – rely on the broad-brush CEC letters to supplement the "permit" entry as inspection verification for the detectors. One of these spreadsheets, for the Pacific Promenade address, contains an additional free-floating entry at the bottom of the page that casts doubt on the reliability of all above entries. It reads: "Many line items in the Certificate of Occupancy Final Checklist (revised Oct. 23, 2006) has [sic] not been initialed. Some example line items include: copy of the fire life safety pre-test…" As Fire Inspector Ng points out in his audit testimony (at Tab B-5), the Fire Department customarily performs acceptance tests for methane detectors. Nowhere is there any indication of this in the spreadsheets. Indeed, where an "inspector" is listed for detector inspections – and this is done infrequently – it is "DBS" DBS/DI [deputy inspector]." This may reflect the fact that DBS signs off on the site permit after FD has signed the inspection matrix. But there is nothing in the spreadsheets – or in auditors' "Audit Procedures" or the Controller's seven-page Report – to clarify this. Ng also makes clear in his audit testimony (B-5) that Taft Electric performs "pre-tests" for the detectors and produces yearly inspection reports to verify their functionality and proper calibration. However, only one of the spreadsheets, for 6346 Seawalk, lists "Taft" in the "inspector/engineer" column for methane detectors and the required inspections. Thus, at the very least the spreadsheets provide an imprecise or incomplete guide to who is performing installation and maintenance inspections on the detectors.
Propriety of DBS Issuing TCOs and COs without full Inspection Compliance and Certification by Fire Department
The CLA Report states (page 5 of text): "No Certificate of Occupancy shall be issued for any building until the methane systems, as required by Methane System requirements attached as Appendix 1, are operational and a qualified methane engineer has certified the systems to be operational."
A Handwritten auditor's note at Tab C-32, with an asterisk at the top that reads "Provided by DBS 5/16/07,"contains notations about the issuance of Temporary Certificates of Occupancy at Capri 2 (Lee) Homes at PV. The "provided by DBS" caveat appears to refer to inserts in bold in the following notations: "According to CLA Guidelines, TCO's were authorized by DBS without obtaining the red'd concurrence from LAFD and Planning at Lee Home – Capri Court II." A marginal insertion in bold that reads "more accurate language" has an arrow pointing from the above notation to the following one in bold: "LAFD and Planning did not approve the issuance of some temporary Cert. Of Occupancies for some single family dwellings."
The bold addenda, apparently inserted by DBS, soften the meaning of the first notation and indeed the "according to CLA guidelines" is an inaccuracy since the CLA Report in no way allows TCO's to be "authorized by DBS without obtaining the req'd concurrence from LAFD…" Even so, enough is preserved of the initial auditor's notation to indicate that Capri II got TCO's "without Fire Department concurrence."
This is confirmed by an entry and a footnote in audit interviews, November 29, 2006 – January 22, 2007, with Fire Inspector Ng. Under the heading Lee Homes II appears the following paragraph: "A written agreement between DBS and LAFD management prohibited Inspector Ng from performing acceptance tests of the remaining  homes upon their completion." An auditor's footnote (1) to this paragraph reads: "Since Inspector Ng did not perform acceptance tests he also did not sign off on TCO's (see TCOs at w/ps C-15)."
In audit interviews (at Tabs B1-B5) DBS officials acknowledged that the permitting process is lagging behind occupancy. One audit note reads: "DBS confirmed that permits are still being closed as they are discovered even though the projects have been completed"
The spreadsheet for 6010 S. Celedon – which is shown on the "Playa Vista Phase I Methane Mitigation" chart to be a Level 2 area and occupied -- contains the following notation: "no certificate of occupancy on file."
The spreadsheet for 13200 W. Pacific Promenade, -- which is shown on the "Playa Vista Phase I Methane Mitigation" chart to be a Level 3 area and occupied – contains the following notation: "Many line items in Certificate of Occupancy Final Checklist (revised Oct. 23, 2006) has [sic] not been initialed. Some example line items include: copy of fire life safety pretest; inspector notes are complete and finaled with a matching HLFR code in PCIS." (The spreadsheet also lists two other sites 6028 S. Crescent Park and 6104 S. Crescent Park. Neither is listed on the "Playa Vista Phase I Methane Mitigation" chart.)
The spreadsheets would seem to indicate that two complexes have TCOs without properly documented inspections, and Inspector Ng's testimony indicates that at least 16 Capri 2 homes are without full TCO documentation. The spreadsheets also show that two sites have CO's without the requisite properly documented inspections. According to the CLA Report, the last two at the very least should not have received their CO's.
In fact, as already indicated, a review of all the spreadsheets show not one site or site complex that has all the inspections fully and properly noted. Thus it might be argued that many CO's have been issued without the criteria of the CLA Report having been met.
Alarms and Fire Department Notification System
The CLA Report states in reference to the universally required methane gas detectors at the lowest floor level of all PV buildings (page 2 of the text): "The detection system will activate a visual and audible building alarm if methane concentrations are detected at 12,500 ppmv within the building (25 percent LELK) or higher. Concurrent with the building alarm activation, an electronic signal will notify the Los Angeles Fire Department of the building alarm activation."
The spreadsheets contain little inspection information regarding the alarms and notification system referenced above, and what they do contain is uneven. Only one spreadsheet – for 13075 W Pacific Promenade has "FD" in the "inspector/engineer" column for alarms and the LAFD notification system. Other spreadsheets indicate DBS handled the initial inspection work. Who consistently inspects these systems? The spreadsheets provide no clarity whatsoever.
Moreover, two documents obtained by the Controller's audit staff indicate that whatever the available test and inspection information, it may not fully reflect the functionality of the alarms and the electronic signaling system designed to notify the Fire Department of alarm activation and the presence of methane. In a letter, dated May 2, 2006 to Jeff Lee of Lee homes (at C-1) a Playa Vista official, Doug Moreland, quotes Inspector Ng as saying that "some units at Capri Court II had inadvertently disconnected phone lines attached to the auto methane dialer systems." Moreland goes on to say: "the residents do not understand that the dedicated phone lines need to be connected at all times to the auto dialers for the system to function properly…[N]otification needs to be sent to the Sub-association Management Company about the importance of maintaining the dedicated phone lines."
In addition, as remarked previously, in a Correction Notice dated January 15, 2007, re failed acceptance tests at Capri II single family homes (at C-12), Ng writes: "All central station dialer tests failed. (No signal [could be] rec'vd by monitoring company indicating high level methane alarm.)"
In sum, the City Controller's final positive conclusion about the adequacy of inspections at Playa Vista is fatally at odds with the data her own auditing staff expertly collected. Further, her recommendations to the City – with the exception of those pertaining to DBS' poor record keeping – apply to a phase of the Playa Vista project, Phase II, that her staff did not even review. Given the evidence the Controller has gathered, some refinement of her final conclusion and recommendations would seem to be indicated, though we can only judge from the data provided to us. There may be other materials that we have not seen that might warrant further rethinking.
More Missing Inspection Data – City Council-Mandated Annual Report and public Task Force
As indicated in the work papers at Tab C-21, the City Council voted on February 6, 2004 to "hereby move that Council amend the Panning and Land Use Management Committee Report…relative to establishing citywide methane mitigation requirements: instruct the Department of Building and Safety to report back annually relative to what is being learned, what is being submitted as analysis occurs, and the levels of improvement needed; and further, instruct the Department of Building and Safety to create a task force, including but not limited to neighborhood Councils, individuals involved with development and experts as needed."
On March 28, 2006 City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district embraces Playa Vista, sent a letter to DBS inquiring about the public task force and the annual report mandated by the City Council motion. Following a DBS letter in response, he sent a second letter to the Department dated June 22, 2006 in which he decried the fact that a task force that DBS had created and described in the letter was not open to the public as the Motion contemplated.
Rosendahl continued: "To be clear, the task force you mention is [a] substantially different one than the one envisioned by the council motion. This is either an egregious mistake or a flagrant disregard for a directive from the City Council."
With respect to the required Annual Report, Rosendahl admonished the Department: "Your reply letter attached a copy of just one annual report, coincidentally dated a day before your letter was sent…I remain curious about the reports required for previous years. Further, the annual report you provided relies heavily on the work and feedback of the methane Task Force. Given my concerns about how the task force you have composed fails to meet the mandate or mission of the council directive, its use as a foundation for the annual report makes the entire document suspect."
Though the Controller's work papers acknowledge the City Council Motion, they make no mention of the adequacy of the DBS' follow-through, or Rosendahl's concerns. Since both the task force and annual report relate to the issue of accountability and City oversight of the Playa Vista site, some attention to these issues would seem warranted.
More Missing Inspection Data – Methane Mitigation Monitor, Planning Department and CEQA
Though representatives of the LA Planning Department advised the auditor's staff (work papers at Tab B-7) that their agency is largely a repository for inspection documentation generated by DBS and LAFD, LA City Council directives, building on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), have in fact mandated a methane mitigation monitor for Playa Vista answering directly to the Planning Department.
According to the law itself, "CEQA requires that each public agency adopt objectives, criteria and specific procedures to administer its responsibilities under the Act and the CEQA Guidelines (Section 21082). Accordingly, local agencies should revise their adopted CEQA guidelines and procedures as necessary to include the requirements of Section 21081.6. The task of designing, monitoring and reporting programs is the responsibility of the public agency which is approving the project." On June 12, 2001, The LA City Council adopted the recommendations by the PLUM Committee to note and file the CLA Report setting out mitigation requirements for Playa Vista, to direct the planning department to require the project mitigation monitor to oversee implementation of the mitigation measures described in the report and direct other city departments to coordinate with the planning department regarding implementation of the new methane mitigation systems." The existing environmental monitor at Playa Vista, mandated by CEQA, thus took on the additional duty of methane monitoring.
However, based on Planning Department audit testimony, the environmental monitor at Playa is not actively pursuing his methane mandate. That would seem to be an issue which the city controller and other city authorities might wish to address.
DBS's Handling of Facts – the SoCalGas issue and Avery
According to the working papers (at Tab P-4), the DBS provided the auditors with a power point presentation on Playa Vista. One of the "Points" stated: "Methane gas at PV does not come from gas stored at the S. Cal. Gas Storage Facilities."
This oft-repeated contention of DBS' has been challenged by an analysis issued by the Consumer Protection and Safety Division, California Public Utilities Commission, on November 18, 2004. The PUC analyst reviewed a report by Sepich Engineering on 3/25/99 and discovered that traces of methane with the helium marker of SoCal storage gas had been detected at Playa Vista. The PUC analyst stated: "The significance of this isotopic analysis report is the presence [of] Storage reservoir gas or Native PDR gas signature and the location of where the sample was collected (Area-D of Playa Vista Project). My opinion is that the probability of Storage Reservoir Gas sample from PDR area containing Ethane and 22 PPM Helium is greater than 50 percent…Furthermore the location where the sample was collected should be of major concern."
DBS had the Sepich report in hand long before the PUC uncovered it, but has continued to claim categorically that SoCal storage gas is not present at Playa Vista. DBS has acknowledged that if such gas has seeped into the project, this would change methane equations for the site and necessitate changes in mitigation requirements.
Another example of apparent DBS fact-juggling is contained in the controller's work papers at Tabs C-2-0 and C-3. On February 26, 2007 the chief of DBS's engineering Bureau sent a letter to the Controller's Audit Division titled "Safety Regarding Methane Mitigation Systems Within Playa Vista Capri II." On page 3 of the letter he cited as "input from the city's methane task force" an un-attributed quote from an expert that reads: "it is abundantly evident that a passive system beneath a building is all that is required to protect the interior of the building from dangerous levels of methane gas instruction…" The letter was clearly designed to justify DBS' decision to cut back on mitigation measures at Capri II. What DBS did not acknowledged – but what an auditor noted in marginalia – is that the source of the quote was the engineering firm "Terra Petra" headed by one Hugh Avery. In a separate working paper at C-2-0, an auditor notes in a margin: "We are told by Richard Fortman, DBS and Michael Ng, LAFD, Mr. Avery is a paid consultant of Playa Vista." In other words, DBS was attempting to represent the opinion of a clearly interested party as independent authority for its position on Capri II.
Nowhere in the Controller's Report is there any indication that DBS attempted to suppress, ignore or manipulate data to buttress its positions, even though an outside observer might be tempted to question some of DBS's data and findings as a result.
Noteworthy omission from Controllers' Report – Alfred Babayans
Prior to the issuance of the Controller's Report, Councilman Rosendahl sent her a copy of a sworn declaration by former DBS engineer, Alfred Babayans, who helped design the mitigation systems at Playa Vista.
Among other things Babayans states under oath: DBS review procedures for permitting and approval of the methane mitigation systems at Playa Vista were "substantially relaxed…to favor the building contractors and limit the cost implications…"
He goes on: "I personally became aware that gas mitigation systems were allowed to be installed at Playa Vista by the City without first going through a blueprint review and design verification with the methane ordinance requirements…
"The methane mitigation systems…failed to comply with appropriate design requirements to assure safe operation over the range of anticipated operating conditions…
"A so-called Dual System was used in which subsurface perforated gas collection pipes were simultaneously used to also collect water – that was seeping into these gas collection pipes – and drained to a sump area. This practice is extremely dangerous because of the high probability that the perforated gas collection pipes will fill with water…and completely defeat the passively designed gas mitigation system..
"The above-described defective design features employed at the Playa Vista site also prevent – on an on-going basis – the ability to detect and determine if the methane mitigation system is actually venting gas into the atmosphere, as required to protect the building structures from explosion and fires. This is the central flaw of the passive mitigation system that was allowed to be installed at Playa Vista against my strenuous objections…
"I have reviewed various Declarations that have been prepared by LADBS employees who I formerly worked with, that purport to claim that the gas mitigation system at Playa Vista works as intended. Based upon my personal knowledge of the defects existing in this system, these declarations by current employees of the City are only self-serving conclusory opinions, not based upon the actual limitations of the system as installed…
"The serious design defects that exist in the methane mitigation system… were deliberately and intentionally allowed to be used by LADBS officials in order to favor cost cutting measures advanced by the building developers. This violated the established practices and procedures of LADBS… As result of these violations, there is an ever present risk of fires and explosions at the Playa Vista site" [emphasis added].
Given Babayans' expertise, the specificity of his allegations, and their obvious bearing on the utility of methane inspections and City oversight at Playa Vista, one might have reasonably expected him to be among those interviewed by the Controller's staff, especially since the Babayans declaration was presented to her by Councilman Rosendahl whose legislative responsibilities include the safety of Playa Vista.
But nowhere is Babayans referenced in the auditor's work papers or the Controller's Report.
Propriety of DBS Altering CLA Methane Mitigation Requirements
In an audit interview on October 31, 2006 (B-5), Fire Inspector Michael Ng made clear: "In regard to Lee Homes – Capri Court 1, DBS decided independently that no active methane mitigation systems would be installed in the single-family homes. DBS explained to LAFD that it was within their discretion to make a determination that no systems were necessary, as stated with the CLA report."
With respect to the legitimacy of this discretionary claim, code experts have emphasized to us the importance of an Attorney General's ruling in a Pasadena case several years ago whereby the A.G. voided Pasadena Ordinance No. 6847 that substituted a local building standard for the state mandated one. According to a law journal excerpt, "Attorney General concluded that Ordinance No. 6847 is not consistent with state law. Ops Cal Atty Gen 01-306. The legislature has enacted the California Building Standards Law (Health and Safety Code 18901 to 18949.31) and the California Building Standards Code (California Code of Regulations Title 24). The California building code is based on the 1997 edition of the Uniform Building Code. 24 California Code of Regulations 104.2.8 permits a building official to approve of alternate materials and designs, but such approval must be based on specific evidence that the proposed design is at least the equivalent of that prescribed by the California Building Code in strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability, safety and sanitation. Because the building official did not make such a determination but relied on the proceedings of the International Code council to validate the international Building Code, Ordinance No. 6847 does not comply with state law" [emphasis added].
Code experts say that Ops Cal Atty Gen 01-306 appears to void DBS' unilateral deviation from the Code standards at PV, especially in the absence of "specific evidence" of equivalency. They also say that the Appeals Court ruling in the Etina v City of Los Angeles has the same effect.
Thus, there appear to be two legal authorities that would warrant challenging the propriety of DBS' decisions (with Fire Department concurrence) to obviate Fire Department methane inspection duties at single-family homes at PV and to eliminate methane detectors at the Capri 1 single-family-homes complex.
"Still Working On It" – another Missing Inspection
Included among the Controller's work papers (at Tab C30) is a document called "Still Working On It" prepared by the city's peer reviewer for Playa Vista, Engineering Technologies Inc. (ETI). This document postdates the City Council's adoption of the CLA Report and is an attempt by ETI to underscore the importance of certain proposed mitigation and monitoring measures at Playa Vista. It's "recommendations" section states in part: "The methane mitigation systems proposed for these buildings must be thoroughly tested to insure that their performance meets the specifications. Gas samples must be collected from the sampling ports located both above and below the membrane and analyzed in a laboratory for their methane through butane contents. Simultaneous sample collection must be performed in the vent riser in order to determine how closely the vent monitoring system meets the requirements of monitoring the gas concentrations under the slab and in reducing the methane gas concentrations below the membrane to below 3.75 percent. If these testing and reporting procedures are not followed then a hazardous condition exists" [emphasis added].
This passage not only underscores the importance of the sampling explicitly mentioned in the CLA report, but stresses the criticality of yet another sampling process – that involving the "ports" located above and below the membranes. Nowhere in any records we have examined – and nowhere in the Controller's work papers – is there any indication that such port sampling has ever occurred. Indeed, interviews with Playa Vista workers and on-site inspection of the ports suggest these portals have never been opened, at least not in recent years. Methane experts tells us such "port" sampling would be of a piece with the continuous monitoring contemplated by the CLA Report.