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The End Game

The official line on the new City Hall, whose "soft opening" is supposed to occur this spring, is that the $343 million project will be completed on time and on budget. That's what you'll read in the periodic updates the city manager's office gives to the City Council and what you'll hear from city spokesman TOM MANHEIM. "Schedulewise, we're doing fine," he says. A source familiar with the construction of the 18-story tower and accompanying 10-story rotunda isn't so optimistic. He says, schedulewise, the project appears to be way behind. So far behind, in fact, that city leaders might have to ask for more money since they've almost blown through their contingency budget, which the city reported at $8 million last month. The evidence against a June soft opening is largely anecdotal and mathematical. It has taken 30 months to construct 75 percent of the project. That means it should take another 10 months to finish the last 25 percent, typically the most time-consuming part of construction because of the detail work that's required. It's also expensive to pay welders double-time to complete framework on Saturday nights, as was the case last weekend. Our independent observer says the project should be closer to 95 percent completed if the city expects to begin moving in furniture by June. The key to completion will be fire-alarm and air-balance tests, required to make final adjustments to the air conditioning. Manheim could not say when the tests were scheduled or when they'll be completed. But before contractors can run air and fire tests, they'll first have to start up the air-conditioner fan systems, which could take a month. They'll have to test the central plant equipment, including chillers, cooling towers, heating-system boilers, power-distribution equipment and backup generators. This could take two months. There are also things like stairwell doors and thermostats that must be installed before tests can run. All of which points to a delayed opening, which points to a final price tag exceeding more than $343 million.

SCC Revs Up

One of the more embarrassing things about Silicon Valley governments is how inept they are at providing content over the Internet. In an age when many employers, in jurisdictions outside of the South Bay, can check criminal records on the web, researchers still must sort through microfiche for the same information in Santa Clara County. Fortunately, SCC administrators are trying to join the digital age. They've already put probate, civil and family law cases on the web. By the end of summer, they expect to add the traffic database. That leaves only criminal cases, which aren't expected on the web until late 2006. The reason? The criminal database, the Criminal Justice Information Control system, is legacy software that dates to the Nixon administration. So many different branches of government—the district attorney, law enforcement and the courts—use CJIC to track cases that any downtime will muff up a lot of people's lives. More importantly, it will take millions to convert it to a web-based system.

Gonzo's Dark Secret

The rumor of the week, which has actually circulated for months, is that Mayor RON GONZALES ordered a tunnel to be dug under the new City Hall so he wouldn't have to walk among the plebes filtering in and out the main entranceway. The version Fly heard last week went like this: A guy was sitting at a coffee shop, eavesdropping on a couple of cops who said a tunnel was under construction that supposedly connected to the mayor's condo on First Street to the new City Hall at Santa Clara and Seventh streets. The guy at the coffee shop actually picked up the phone to report the cops' remarks. It's a good rumor, one we'd love to believe, but doesn't appear to be based in fact. There is indeed an underground entrance. But it doesn't connect to the mayor's house. It connects to underground parking, some of which has been reserved for city officials, but most will be alloted for plebes. There is also a covered, elevated walkway about 100 feet in length, connecting the 18-story tower to a separate building containing the council chambers. The walkway has been built into the large concave wall forming the backdrop to the open-air plaza where the orblike rotunda sits. The walkway has been unofficially dubbed the "mayor's walk," though city officials are quick to point out the walkway will be open to the public. As far as a tunnel to the mayor's house, it's probably too cost prohibitive, even for our wild-eyed mayor. A pedestrian access tunnel from the new City Hall to the mayor's condo three-quarters of a mile away would run about $36 million. Besides, how could he prevent City Hall guests from arriving through his secret passageway?

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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