Stimulus projects delayed by review backlog
Construction projects funded by federal stimulus money aimed at jump-starting California’s economy are being delayed as much as two months because of a bureaucratic backlog, the state’s inspector general said Monday.
Laura Chick, the former Los Angeles controller now overseeing stimulus spending as inspector general, said in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the agency in charge of reviewing projects needs more staff to speed up the process.
“Every day that a project is stalled is a delay in creating desperately needed jobs for Californians,” Chick wrote. The state Office of Historic Preservation must approve most new construction, but employee furloughs, combined with a surge of applicants, have created a glut of unapproved projects.
Chick said in an interview that “dozens and dozens of projects” have been slowed, though she could not say how much money is involved or how many plans have been delayed.
Simple building fix-ups have faced long waits. New air-conditioning, fire alarm and lighting systems worth $1 million at the Watts Healthcare Center had to wait 70 days for the go-ahead.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating we wound up having to wait,” said Watts Healthcare Corp. CEO William Hobson. “We wanted to get the projects done.”
Chick said she contacted the Schwarzenegger administration about the delays more than two months ago. “The problem did not particularly change. If anything, the backlog got worse,” she said.
Chick said she sent the letter Monday “to make sure it’s not the tip of an iceberg” in terms of stimulus projects delayed.
The governor’s office said it was aware of the problem and last week directed the department to eliminate delays by the end of January. “Like the inspector general, we are completely unsatisfied with the department’s efforts to address this,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Camille Anderson.
-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento