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Artesia Cemetery Board Awards Public Contract to Firm Suspended by the State and With an Expired Contractor’s License

BY BRIAN HEWS • Friday August 9, 2019 • 12:30 p.m.

Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community Newspaper has exclusively learned that the Board of the Artesia Cemetery District (ACD), led by former ABC Unified School District Board member Lynda Johnson, violated California’s Public Contract Code in the award of a large construction contract to rebuild the aging facilities on the grounds of the ACD.

The ACD was given a grant this year from L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn to repair the facilities, neglected for years, at the Cerritos-based cemetery.

Most of the funds would be aimed at repairing the ACD’s office building and landscaping, with the landscaping consisting of trimming trees, while the 1,400 square foot administrative office needed major repairs.

The construction contract in question was awarded to Chula Vista-based Pro Builders Design Consultant (Pro Builders) during a “special emergency meeting” called by Johnson on May 15, 2019.

The only other bid reviewed during the meeting was submitted by 800 Remodeling based out of Westlake Village.

According  to the minutes, the meeting took only twenty-two minutes.

The award of a public contract is subject to strict rules under the Public Contract Code and involves public advertisement, the submission of sealed bids, and the public opening of bids; the contract is subsequently awarded to the lowest “responsible” bidder.

In the ACD’s case, Pro Builders submitted a bid of $189,000, with an extremely questionable “coordination, profit, and overhead fee” of $30,004, for a total of $189,000.

It was noticed by HMG-LCCN that Pro Builder’s committed a $9,000 math error, leaving out nearly $9,000, from its construction calculations on the contract, but forced the $30,004 overhead fee to arrive at $189,000.

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Page from Pro Builder’s bid showing math error.

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According to the minutes, no explanation was given for the $30,004 “coordination, profit, and overhead fee,” and it was only questioned by the ACD’s District Manager and former State Senator Tony Mendoza.

800 Remodeling submitted a bid of $116,000, all-inclusive with a 15% discount, for a bid of $99,000.

Yet despite the $90,000 difference, the ACD Board voted to award Pro Builders the contract.

HMG-LCCN inquired with two contractors who indicated a project similar to ACD’s would land between $50-$120 per square foot placing “responsible” bids between $70,000 and $168,000.

800 Remodeling’s bid was $99,000, therefore under the Public Contract Code, 800 Remodeling should have won the project.

Yet the ACD Board quickly voted 3-0 to give the contract to  Pro Builders violating Sections 20160-20175.2 of the Public Contract Code. 

With the contract in hand, Pro Builders, who said they could finish the project in 6-8 weeks, received a $47,000 check immediately, two weeks after that another $47,000, finally another $47,000 just days later.

The final $48,000 payment was due upon completion.

Three weeks into the process, HMG-LCCN was alerted to inconsistencies and began investigating Pro Builders via a series of public records requests to the ACD.

And what was found will raise serious questions about Pro Builders and the motives behind the award of the contract by the ACD Board, above and beyond the fact that the project was not awarded to the lowest bidder.

Research on the Secretary of State’s website indicates a very questionable past for Pro Builders.

Pro Builder was incorporated as an LLC #33510014 in 2015 at 1910 State St. #112 in San Diego and owned by Jesus Santoya.

The LLC was cancelled in early 2017.

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In early 2016,  Santoya formed a “C” corporation #C3876092 under the same name, with an address of 6645 Jonel Way in Bonita, Ca. 

Online records show that the company is currently suspended by the California Franchise Tax Board.

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In addition, an internet search showed 6645 Jonel Way in Bonita to be an open lot.

But in what is the most damaging evidence of possible favoritismby the ACD Board, research on the California State Contractors Board website showed that Pro Builder’s contracting license had expired April 30, 2019.

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Pro Builders bid a public agency project knowing that its license had expired and did not inform the Board during their presentation at the May 15 meeting.

But that did not matter to Johnson, who indicated during the twenty minute meeting that, “Pro Builder’s bid was much more thorough.” 

Yet Pro Builder’s bid, unlike 800 Remodeling, did not include their contractor’s license nor a construction bond.

The questionable handling of the entire process did not go over well with L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn. 

When informed of the situation, Supervisor Hahn told HMG-LCCN, “I am going to try to get to the bottom of why this contract was selected and whether or not its selection was within cemetery district guidelines. If anything is found to be outside of district policy, I will take appropriate action.”

Emails in to Ms. Johnson went unreturned at time of publication.

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