HomeCity NewsDespite Dissent, City Picks Designer for Center’s Revamp

Despite Dissent, City Picks Designer for Center’s Revamp

The city will move forward with Crane Architectural Group as the designer for the face-lift of the San Marino Center, a decision made in a narrow 3-2 vote after a lengthy and at times circular debate on the matter.
Vice Mayor Ken Ude, Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski and Councilman Steve Talt backed the proposal to contract with the Fullerton-based firm for $349,660. Crane will join city officials in the coming weeks in public outreach sessions to solicit ideas from the community on how they would like the building, which will tentatively house the Recreation Department, to be revamped. The decision came amid public criticism; some residents contended that the city should have used a traditional bidding process to identify a contractor — in matters involving professional services like architecture design contracts, it’s not legally required — and that an architect should be hired only after public input.
The council majority, however, argued that picking an architect now allows the panel to directly participate in public outreach.
“Public input will come,” Talt said at Friday’s council meeting. “In my impression about how things are done, we do need to retain the architect who will listen to the public and input these ideas that the community has. We are not tearing down the center and starting from scratch. We are doing a rehabilitation.”

Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey, however, maintained that it was good government to make the process competitive, even if that’s not legally required; she and Councilman Steven Huang voted against the contract and also favored, in effect, going back to square one and soliciting bids.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the city to enter into any contract, particularly of this magnitude that’s over or approximately $350,000 without three bids,” she said, adding that the importance of the project required solid diligence. “That requires significant input from San Marino residents, as well as the competing bids, that is our fiduciary responsibility to all residents. Those are necessary parts before we continue forward. In order to get the best architect, in order to the best contractor, in order to get the best community input, all of this needs to be done with great care and the amount of time necessary to achieve those goals.”
For the next several weeks, residents have a variety of chances to weigh in on the final design to be considered by the council, which may make a decision as soon as Sept. 9. This week’s virtual Town Hall meeting hosted by the city represented the first such opportunity.
As city officials began to seriously explore remodeling the building, which was constructed in 1952 and has not been significantly updated since, Crane was asked to work up preliminary sketches of what that redesign could look like as a starting point for more formal discussions. The firm has previously worked with the city, most recently on a disability-accommodation evaluation for the Stoneman School building and the schematics for the Lacy Park restroom, which is under construction.
“That’s one of the reasons why you have this professional services agreement exception,” Talt said. “You want to be able to have the relationship and make sure they’re qualified to do it before you go ahead and agree with them, especially with something [like] engineering and architecture.”
Shepherd Romey still disagreed, and at one point questioned whether approving this contract was even permissible under a city code, adopted several meetings ago, regarding contracts for services.
Citing a report from this meeting, she added that since 2016 “we’ve always had three or more bids, I assume, for services and contracts. I don’t think it would be legal for us to enter into this today without that process and without receiving at least three bids.”
It transpired there was the exception for professional services.
Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne said he recommended continuing to work with Crane because of the city’s positive working relationship with the firm and also because of its familiarity with San Marino. He emphasized that the city, ultimately, will dictate what does or does not happen.
“An architect doesn’t direct your project; you direct your architect as to what features you want to see and don’t want to see,” he said. “They provide you professional guidance with all of their experience.”
A summation of 34 public comments submitted beforehand indicated a variety of concerns about the process, including a fear that the city has essentially committed to a design behind closed doors. Many of the comments also asked that the City Council pump the brakes and take more time on a decision, not least because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could reshape what a recreation department looks like.
Shepherd Romey echoed those concerns, claiming that Crane’s mockups represented a plan devoid of public input. Her opponents again said their decision Friday was to move forward with the public input period and that the plans thus far are not close to final.
“I believe this is the step to get the community input, and that the design that Crane drafted is not locked in stone,” Ude said. “As Director Throne said, the community is the client and the architect will execute what the community tells it they want.”
Added Jakubowski: “We need to have a vendor before we can gather our data.”

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