Construction delays, added costs, and disgruntled businesses are mounting alongside the rubble left by the Valencia Streetscape Project, which is two months behind and still one block away from being completed on the west side of the street, between 19th and 15th streets.
This is the City’s latest move to widen and repave the sidewalks along the Valencia Corridor to provide pedestrians and bicyclists with better access to businesses.
But with continued rain, it looks like the Department of Public Works will have to tack on another “unforeseen field condition” to the project’s list of delays. With a budget of $6.1 million, the Valencia Streetscape Project has a pool of roughly $600,000 to cover the delays.
Ghilotti Bros., Inc, based in San Rafael, is the contractor for the Streetscape Project and didn’t respond to Misson Loc@l’s calls for an interview. According to city documents, Ghilotti Bros. has “satisfactorily completed” two city projects in the last four years, but the Department of Public Works was unable to comment on whether there were budget over-runs on those projects.
For the business owners that have been engulfed by seven months of rubble, noise and dust, frustrations are running high.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Ron Mallia, the owner of the car repair shop Excellent Automotive located between 19th and 18th streets. Mallia has seen sales drop 20 percent despite the two ramps provided by DPW to maintain customer access to the shop during construction.
A few doors down at Paxton Gate’s Kids, a store of nature-based curiosities and oddities, owner Sean Quigley said the City “hasn’t met any of the goals it promised” in terms of continued access to bike lanes and the drawn-out construction.
“From a business owner and contractor perspective, the whole thing has been poorly organized,” said Quigley. “You have three to four guys installing a lamppost that could have been done by one or two.”
Talk to any of the construction workers and they’ll say, “It’s going great.” James Jaye, the concrete foreman for Ghilotti Bros., also said that the construction team is well on its way to tearing up the east side of Valencia Street. Alex Murillo, the public works go-to man, agreed, “The project is still on schedule to be completed on time.” The expected date of completion is May 30.
Murillo remains positive that business owners will be happy with the results. He’s done his best to heed their requests to maintain visibility and access for the stores during construction.
“See that sign over there, in the obnoxious yellow?” asked Murillo, as he pointed to a sign tacked on to a lamppost on the corner of 17th and Valencia. “Sean called me up and said, Alex, let the public know we’re still open.”
They are, but business has still suffered. Paxton Gate’s Kids opened in December of 2008 and enjoyed increased monthly sales until August 2009, when construction began. Since then Quigley has seen a drop in sales to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Murillo, who boasts being on a first name basis with several of the business owners, was quick to respond to Quigley’s request and had large neon yellow signs posted on four street corners that read: “Local Businesses Open During Construction.”
These efforts will continue as Ghilotti Bros. plays catch-up. But in the last month and a half, construction work has continued to divert customers away from businesses.
“We depend on foot traffic but there’s no foot traffic,” said Jefferson McCarley, the manager of Mission Bicycle Company. “We’ve been running on fumes.”
The first setback was in October when construction workers came across an electrical duct bank that was higher than expected. Construction work was stalled for two weeks as PG&E came in, assessed the scope of the work, and lowered the duct banks.
When Amparo Vigil, owner of Puerto Alegre, asked Murillo to have construction continue into a holiday moratorium that would have brought all construction to a halt between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, Murillo walked up and down Valencia Street and asked other business owners if they would sign off on Ghilotti Bros. working through the holidays.
“Of course we all signed off on it,” said Matt Prentiss, owner of Munroe Motors located on the corner of 15th Street.
Business owners were hoping this would make up for lost time, but Ghilotti Bros. didn’t work through the entire moratorium. Construction workers clocked in extended hours and weekends from Thanksgiving up until December 15, according to Murillo. Construction didn’t resume until the first week of January.
“They couldn’t have been more disruptive had they planned it,” Prentiss said of the construction workers. Prentiss and his staff returned after the holidays only to find construction workers jack hammering the shop’s driveway.
“I couldn’t get into the shop,” he said.
Mother Nature played a role in further delays. The freezing temperatures coupled with the rain that hit the city throughout January made it difficult to pour cement and begin paving the sidewalks. Moreover, work has been stalled on the block between 18th and 17th streets – the final block on the west side – as PG&E finishes rectifying the duct heights.
Once ductwork is complete, public works will tally up the additional project costs incurred by the delays, said Kris Opborek, the Streetscape’s project manager.
“We believe the project can absorb the costs,” said Opbroek, who pointed out that ten percent of the project’s budget is designated to cover any unforeseen field conditions that may arise.
“Our immediate goal is to keep moving,” she said.
In this vein, construction has begun on the east side of Valencia Street at 15th street and will continue down to 19th street.
But for some businesses, things are looking up. Adam Hernandez, owner of Z-Barn on the stretch between 16th and 17th streets, is enjoying the newly paved and glittery sidewalk outside his furniture store.
“I have a feeling foot traffic will double,” he said, acknowledging that the construction and its delays did affect sales.
“Who’s to say it wasn’t the economy?” he said.