County haggles over $40k with general plan consultant

The sun sets on a field in the San Juan valley.

Approval of the county’s general plan didn’t mean all the related business was finished.
On Tuesday, county supervisors found out a consultant had an outstanding request for an additional $20,000 on top of a contracted amount of $220,000. That contractor, Michael Groves, senior principal at EMC Planning Group, contended to supervisors that a county planning official had recommended in early 2015 he do a total of $40,000 in non-contracted work and come back for a funding request after the plan’s completion.
The original contract with EMC was for $200,000 in work with a $20,000 contingency, or a total contract amount of $220,000.
Groves recounted how he had requested an added $40,000 on top of the $200,000 amount and that the payment was held up over discrepancies from a relatively new county staff official, Brent Barnes.
Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-1 to allocate the additional $40,000 to EMC. Supervisor Anthony Botelho dissented and said he disagreed because the amount goes beyond the contracted agreement.
Supervisors unanimously approved the 2035 general plan in July following eight years of planning sessions, public meetings, review periods, multiple consultants and environmental reviews, and even a debate over how many cattle should roam the hillsides over the next two decades. The county spent $1.2 million through the January 2013 release of the first, later scrapped, general plan. Supervisors hired EMC in February 2014 and agreed to the $220,000 figure, including contingencies.
On Tuesday, the board OK’d the final, updated piece of the general plan as well with approval of a housing element. Then Groves took center stage as he and supervisors debated over the final payment.
Groves pointed to additional, unaccounted costs, such as staff and counsel reviews, which added to the original costs. He contended that when he approached planning official Byron Turner about it in early 2015, Turner told him to hold off on the funding request until after the general plan’s adoption. Groves said he did it to be a “good soldier” and to get the project “over the goal line.”
Turner did not immediately respond to Groves’ comments, but the anecdote incensed officials and a public speaker in attendance.
“I am very concerned about the lead in to this because we have apparently a key member of the staff saying, don’t put in your request for more money now’,” said public speaker Marty Richman. “If money’s so important to the board, why are we letting members of the staff say that?”
Richman said if a staff member did say that, the county ought to pay up.
“They either represent you or they don’t,” Richman said.
Board Chairman Robert Rivas said Richman brought up a “great point.”
“That’s a problem,” Rivas said. “That’s a cultural problem in San Benito County.”
Botelho, however, said he understood nearly $11,000 in billings the contractor had not been paid for, but couldn’t support the other $9,000 without receipts.
“And I’m going to support paying for whatever our contract is,” Botelho said. “Anything above and beyond, I can’t.”

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