3. Why did you vote to proceed with the demolition of Beverly Vista?
Since I joined the board in December, 1997, one of the most time-consuming areas has been grappling with our FEMA problems. My FEMA file includes several hundred pages of materials, and I have many pages of handwritten notes.
Briefly, the history of this is as follows. The Northridge earthquake occurred in January, 1994. The district did not do a good job in applying for disaster relief funds from FEMA. Deadlines were missed and key opportunities were lost. By the time Barry Brucker and I joined the board in December, 1997, this was looking more and more like a lost cause. Nonetheless, we engaged a law firm to pursue this, as well as a consultant. This has cost the district a lot of money, but I believe that we have received a fair return on such expenses so far.
At our meeting on July 14, 1999, Allison Okyle, Barry Brucker, and I voted to proceed with the demolition of Beverly Vista, even though this may jeopardize some of the FEMA applications. Why did we do this?
First, I can speak only for myself. Nothing in this website purports to be any attempt to speak for anyone else.
Below is a spreadsheet that I prepared for my own use to quantify the best possible case results and worst possible case results, depending on whether or not we proceed with the demolition. As you can see, the worst possible case would be to defer the demolition, yet receive nothing from FEMA. Although I believe that this is unlikely, the district has not been particularly lucky lately, and I believe that it is always important to consider the worst case. I have also considered the somewhat remote possibility that the FEMA/SHPO process could delay our application for Proposition 1A funds for Beverly Vista. In a worst-case scenario, this could cost us more than $3 million.
As you can see, I have assumed in my timeline that if we were to defer the demolition, we could still demolish the buildings by the time school is out in June of next year. This is a dubious assumption, due to the possibly insurmountable dangers to the safety of the children and to the possibility that the FEMA process could take longer than everyone would hope. Nonetheless, I have tried to give the other side the benefit of every doubt.
I have also given the children of Beverly Vista the benefit of the doubt by placing a value on having a grass play area for the first time in five years and placing an additional value on getting rid of decaying buildings that pose a safety hazard, both in terms of children playing in the buildings (which we know has happened) and in terms of any fumes that might be emitted. These values are purely subjective, but I have given them a lot of thought and they make sense to me.
As you can see, I have not given up on receiving the bulk of disaster relief funds that the district would otherwise be entitled to. My understanding is that we will definitely be losing at least $479,000 of the Beverly Vista grant money, as well as roughly $200,000 of the section 404 funding (i.e., the portion attributable to Beverly Vista). However, as to the balance of the funds, my understanding is that it is possible that we could still receive all of this.
Why "walk away" from roughly $679,000?
My reasoning is as follows:
1. It is possible that we could indefinitely defer the demolition of Beverly Vista, yet still not receive a penny of any of this funding. Although I believe that it is more likely than not that we could conclude the process both successfully and within a reasonable time frame, this is far from certain. Even though I believe that the District is legally entitled to receive these funds, actually receiving them would be far from a sure thing.
2. We are informed by PCM3, our construction adviser, that deferring the demolition could cost as much as $200,000, due to possible cost escalations. Furthermore, if the plans for the new building at Beverly Vista were to be delayed while details are worked out with SHPO, this could lead to construction cost escalations, as well as delay the date when the children of Beverly Vista will at last have decent facilities.
3. Continuing this process could cost us more than $200,000 in legal fees and in fees for preparation of a historical study of the district's buildings.
4. If we deferred the demolition, we would have to pay $10,000 to $20,000 to put temporary roofs on Building A and Building D.
5. At this time, I am extremely concerned that we may not be able to establish that the trailers at Beverly Vista are safe for occupancy by children. It is possible that we may need to remove some or all of such trailers, and replace them with new trailers or some sort of alternative buildings. If this happens, we may need to put the new buildings on the existing play area, at which point Beverly Vista would have no play area at all, other than the kindergarten play area on the roof of Building E. Children need exercise at school, both to let off excess energy and for their overall health and state of mind. Currently, I am very concerned about the play area that we have, because I have been told that we are experiencing an unprecedented number of playground related injuries, due to the fact that children are playing in such close proximity to each other. It is difficult to imagine how hazardous that the situation could become if there were no play area at all.
6. Even if it is possible to solve any problems with the existing trailers, either by getting them off the site or by improving the ventilation and hygiene, I place a high-value on providing the children of Beverly Vista with grass to play on for the first time in five years. This should all have begun in 1995, after the decision was made to vacate the trailers. For reasons that are not their fault, a whole generation of children will end up enduring seven or eight years of trailer blight. It is my job to make sure that this is seven years, not eight, if humanly possible. I also put great value on one year of grass play area, to give the children some respite from their previously unshaded blight of concrete, bungalows, flooding, playground injuries, no auditorium, etc.
7. Even if we proceed immediately with the demolition, we may still receive all of the disaster relief funds, excluding the approximately $679,000 relating to Beverly Vista. The board as a whole will have to decide whether pursuing such other funds seems like a worthwhile endeavor, but my personal feeling is that if we work together a constructively with FEMA and SHPO, they will realize that our decision to proceed with the demolition was sincere and that the children of Beverly Hills should not be deprived of this funding.
8. Recently, Barry and I'm met with representatives of FEMA. They were cordial and reasonable, and I believe that they genuinely care about doing right thing.
9. We have not been helped by the fact that before Barry and I joined the Board, the district missed a number of important deadlines. Ask yourself why we are still dealing with this now, even though the earthquake was over five years ago. Ask yourself why we have not received the bulk of the funding that we should have received, when other districts have already received their funds and rebuilt their schools. This is not FEMA's fault, nor is it possible to blame the three Board members who have, since being elected, carefully monitored the situation to make sure that no additional deadlines are missed. However, we now find ourselves dealing with a skeleton FEMA office, because the vast majority of the Northridge claims have already been resolved and the vast majority of FEMA employees have moved on to deal with other disasters. Our urgent need to move forward with the Beverly Vista would place a heavy burden on such skeleton office, and I fear that our deadlines could not be met despite FEMA's expressed desire to expedite this.
10. Proceeding with the demolition has been a very difficult decision for me, almost as difficult as my decision to vote for the demolition of Building A, as opposed to renovating Building A. I recognize that reasonable people could argue that we should defer the demolition at least for several months, in the hope of receiving all of this funding. However, I am very concerned about the health and safety issues that would be raised by trying to demolish Building D while children are present. Yes, we would probably come out somewhat better financially, but this would be scant comfort if a child were seriously injured. Furthermore, as set forth above, and in the spreadsheet, it is possible that we could come out far worse financially and it is likely that our financial loss will be far less than the value of a safe school that has a grass play area for a year. Considering the lack of good fortune that has plagued Beverly Vista since the earthquake and considering that my general inclination is to be conservative (and not risk injuries to children or loss of over $3 million of Proposition 1A funds), I am comfortable with the decision that we made to proceed with the demolition.
Finally, I would note that I have prepared a number of other spreadsheets that incorporate various assessments of the probabilities of particular outcomes. These are extremely speculative, but I am personally satisfied that taking into account a reasonable range of probable outcomes, and putting a reasonable value on non-economic factors (i.e., safety and security issues and providing a green play area for children), the Board has made the best decision under the circumstances.
I would also note that I had a lot of trouble making this decision, because there are so many factors and probabilities to consider. When we first voted on this, I voted against it, then I changed my mind after sitting down and working on a preliminary version of the spreadsheet set forth above. During the 10 days or so after we voted on this, I constantly questioned this decision and did a lot of homework and questioning of my prior analysis. Even now, I sympathize with some of the opposing arguments. However, taking into account all of the factors, I am confident that we did the right thing.
Click here for a draft of my response to Richard Stone's letter that appeared in the July 23, 1999 edition of the Beverly Hills Courier criticizing our decision to proceed with the demolition.
Barry Brucker and Principal Irene Stern celebrate removal of first brick from Building A at Beverly Vista.