If you paid $3 million for a building and it developed a $250,000 leak 10 months later, how would you feel about it?

As you ponder the question, know that you did just that. The San Mateo County Harbor District reports that its headquarters at 504 Avenue Alhambra in El Granada sprang a leak back in April. Actually, a “water plumbing failure” occurred in a second-floor breakroom on an otherwise quiet Sunday. The damage was substantial. Drywall, ceilings, insulation, cabinetry — it all had to go.

As one does when one’s building is raining, district officials called the insurance company and arranged for a flood mitigation company to come out and mop up. The insurance company estimated the cost of repair at $68,982.60 and cut a check.

Of course, water damage is often more extensive than first thought. A contractor found damage to the second- and third-floor balconies and exterior walls that was apparently unrelated to the leak in the breakroom — and presumably a problem when the building was purchased.

So, staff put out a bid for the project. Along came Castillo Plumbing Inc. of Burlingame — and only Castillo Plumbing Inc. of Burlingame. It was the only bidder on the project that, as staff learned when they opened the bid last week, had now ballooned to $231,490.

Not to worry! Officials negotiated a better deal, according to a staff report. And Castillo took off a whopping 1 percent, or $2,449, from the final tab. (Actually, expect to pay more. The deal includes a 10 percent contingency for “unforeseen challenges,” which means the contractor is likely to get $251,549.98 for the work.)

This expense, by the way, is conveniently tucked into the consent agenda of tonight’s meeting. That means staff is asking your elected representatives to cut the check without any discussion whatsoever. (See our editorial of July 6 for more on the perils of the consent agenda.)

Did we mention the district bought this building 10 months ago? If it were your home, you might wonder why the prepurchase inspection didn’t catch plumbing so faulty that it would cause a quarter-million dollars in damage before the ink was dry on the deal.

It gets better. The district wanted to buy this lemon of a building eight years before it ultimately did so, but stepped away at the time because an inspector said, even then, it would require $200,000 in repairs.

Want to feel still worse about your investment? The building ultimately cost taxpayers $3 million — 40 percent more than the original price of $1.8 million back in 2013. Mind you, the district paid $1.3 million in 2019 for a separate parcel near the actual harbor on which to build a new headquarters. But it bought the leaky old building on Avenue Alhambra too.

“I think the purchasing of the building will save the district money in the long run over building our own building on the Coastside,” General Manager Jim Pruett said at the time.

Maybe so. The good news for Pruett and other harbor stewards is it wasn’t their money anyway.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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(3) comments

Steve Hyman

I couldn’t disagree more with the statement above. I’d think a realtor would be a great person to ask for a recommendation. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and over that time I’ve seen good inspectors and contractors and bad ones. Since they all cost around the same, why wouldn’t you use the best. No agent wants problem like Clay mentioned above.

If someone asks me who to you, I freely give my advice as a friendly service. I get nothing out of it other than turning my client on to someone good.

John Charles Ullom

You assume they did an inspection in the first place. The current board majority are inept, corrupt, and ignorant.

I tried to pull this item from the consent agenda, twice. President Nancy Reyering refused to allow discussion of this item prior to being voted on. They simply did not want to talk about it.


Worth remembering, relevant to this story or not: There are more than a few charlatan building inspectors (and appraisers) out there. Always do your homework before hiring either, and never, ever hire a building inspector suggested by a real estate agent!

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