San Diego construction management firm faces questions over Orange County work

Gafcon contracts with SD County school districts

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego business is in the middle of allegations that millions of public dollars were misspent in Orange County.

Gafcon, Inc. does business in San Diego County too, as a construction project manager and consultant.

Gafcon's most controversial project is in Orange County, where the city of Irvine hired the company to help create the Orange County Great Park. It was billed as Orange County's version of San Diego's Balboa Park.

A January 2014 audit by the city of Irvine covered Gafcon's work on the project, in addition to other companies. Over a decade, $200 million in tax dollars was spent to transform a marine air station into the park.

Auditors wrote, "Gafcon allocated approximately $7.0 million to itself for design management in its initial proposal. It appears that the negotiated initial contract value for design management was approximately $6.0 million.” (See editor's note below.)

The audit claims Gafcon wielded "considerable political pressure" and that the company "was not vetted," violating city of Irvine policy.

"Gafcon is proud of the work that we have done in Southern California," a company statement said. "Our work continues to be recognized for its innovative and efficient planning and management, and we have not seen an impact to our business."

Team 10 found Gafcon, which has offices at 701 B Street in San Diego, also does work for San Diego Community College District, the San Diego Unified and Carlsbad Unified school districts, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and the Grossmont Union High School District.

"That is just one layer of an onion that we need to peel back," San Diego attorney Kevin Carlin said. "There's lots more layers."

Carlin is interested in Gafcon's consulting deals and how much public money was spent to secure them.

Team 10 found Gafcon's CEO is the secretary of the Grossmont Cuyamaca Community College District Foundation -- a fundraising arm for the schools -- while Gafcon was doing project management for the district.

On Wednesday a district spokesperson said there was no conflict of interest to have Gafcon CEO Yehudi Gaffen on the foundation board, even as his company managed construction projects for the district. The spokesman said the district attorney checked before Gaffen got onto the board.

Carlin is in the process of weeding though thousands of documents following the money trail, he said. He said he doesn't know if there is wrongdoing in San Diego County but suspects influence has been exerted.

"The questions that come up in my mind are who are the players?" Carlin asked. "Who are the enablers? Who are the people that are profiting by this, and who are the people getting fleeced by this? I know the answer to the last question: the taxpayers."

Gafcon issued the following press release in response to the city of Irvine audit:

Gafcon to Cooperate With City of Irvine in Great Park Audit

IRVINE, Calif., Jan. 28, 2014 - As a party in the joint venture Great Park Design Studio, Gafcon, Inc., looks forward to assisting the City of Irvine in its review of the Orange County Great Park project. Earlier this month, auditors retained by the City of Irvine completed a preliminary audit of the procedures, contracts, revenues and expenses related to the Great Park. The recent release of the preliminary audit report was Gafcon's first opportunity to learn of the substantive areas of inquiry for the audit. Unfortunately, upon review, Gafcon determined that the report contains numerous factual inaccuracies, incorrect assumptions and speculative preliminary conclusions.

The City of Irvine is now considering a resolution that would provide for a full and complete audit and investigation concerning the Great Park. Gafcon looks forward to assisting the City of Irvine in this process. Gafcon previously offered its cooperation to the City's auditors, and has now contacted the City's Special Counsel for the audit and restated its intent to cooperate with all reasonable and appropriate requests.

Gafcon began working on the Orange County Great Park project in 2005, in conjunction with Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Inc. The two entities joined to form the Great Park Design Studio, which served as the primary contractor during the Master Plan design phase and the Schematic Design Phase. Since beginning work on the Great Park project, Gafcon has cooperated with the requests of the City of Irvine, including prior audits commissioned by the City. Gafcon is pleased to note that previous reviews and audits of the project have found no material issues regarding Gafcon's performance. Gafcon followed its contractual requirements and related directions given by the City of Irvine and the Great Park Board of Directors in a professional manner, completing the work on time and within budget.

The Great Park has received numerous national awards from key organizations for planning and vision, including the Southern California Association of Governments 2010 4th Annual Compass Blueprint Recognition Award-Honorable Mention, American Institute of Architects 2009 AIA Honor Award in Regional and Urban Design, the American Society of Landscape Architects 2009 ASLA Professional Honor Award for General Design, the American Planning Association (National) 2009 APA Focused Planning Issue Award, the American Society of Landscape Architects 2009 National Award for Research, the American Institute of Architects 2008 AIA Honor Award in Regional & Urban Design, the American Society of Landscape Architects 2008 ASLA National Honor Award for Analysis & Planning, American Planning Association (California and OC Chapters) 2008 APA Focused Planning Issue Award, California Society for Ecological Restoration 2007 SERCAL Members Award, and selected as part of the 2008 Sustainable Sites Initiative Case Study. Gafcon is proud of its work on this landmark project and looks forward to assisting the City of Irvine in reaching fair, prudent and accurate audit findings.

(*Editor's note: The original story used partial quotes from a specific paragraph in the audit. The partial quotes inferred the company received more money. The partial quotes have been replaced with the full paragraph from the preliminary audit.)

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