The State Worker

Scaffolding purchase prompts blast from California Board of Equalization chairman

Work crews this weekend will replace leased scaffolding outside the defective Board of Equalization headquarters with scaffolding purchased by the state, prompting board Chairman Jerome Horton to blast the Brown administration for failing to find a new facility for the agency.

Horton said Thursday that while the change may make financial sense in the short term, it sends a signal that the Department of General Services intends to keep Equalization’s 2,200 or so employees in the troubled building. The downtown Sacramento structure has a history of toxic mold, defective elevators, leaking windows, corroded wastewater pipes, floods, and exterior glass panels that spontaneously break or pop off. Employees have blamed some illnesses on the building, and Horton and other board members want a new facility for the tax-collecting department.

Horton said General Services’ decision to move from renter to owner is “officially making the scaffolding permanent” around an “irreparably broken building” that sparked a $50 million tort claim earlier this month. The board has paid out $2.3 million in connection with building-related employee injury claims.

“We have to relocate these affected BOE employees and consolidate our operations,” Horton said.

Work crews on Friday will start switching out the plywood-and-pipe structure, aiming to finish the job Sunday. The equipment will be used for other projects when it is no longer needed at the 450 N St. tower, officials have said.

Taxpayers have spent about $60 million on repairs to the 21-year-old building. Pending fixes to its corroded sink-and-toilet-water system and to replace faulty exterior glass panels will cost another $115 million, according to a board estimate, plus the unknown cost of disrupting operations.

The state more than two years ago erected the leased scaffolding at the building’s base and on its parking structure’s top level to shield employees and pedestrians should more glass panels fall. The $10,000-per-month lease on the scaffolding has expired. That prompted General Services, which acts as the state’s landlord and is in charge of building maintenance, to buy new the scaffolding for about $100,000.

General Services has said the structure isn’t a health hazard, that the building is regularly monitored for air quality and meets all government workplace safety standards.

The department also lacks the money or the authority to unilaterally move the tax board’s operation out of 450 N St., said spokesman Brian Ferguson. That would require the Legislature to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars for a new facility and to pay off bond debt on the existing structure. Then the state would have to launch a lengthy bidding and selection process. Moving the 2,200 employees in the tower, if it ever happens, will take years.

“In the meantime,” Ferguson said, “DGS continues to make repairs – including the switch-out of the scaffolding – that are in the best interest of both the workers in the building as well as taxpayers.”

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