Architects "Hugely Responsible" for Failed $3.5 Million Healdsburg Animal Shelter, Lawsuit Alleges

Lawsuit claims breach of contract, other violations, on part of architects, contractors.


Two architects who designed and approved plans for the troubled and building should bear the bulk of blame for the building's numerous defects and ultimate failure, according to a new 192-page lawsuit unveiled Wednesday.

In addition, results of a financial forensic audit of money raised for the new building, also released Wednesday, indicates that those funds were never co-mingled with operations expenses at the shelter and that there was a "firewall" separating the building fund and shelter operations account.

"The good news is that, if you were a contributor to the building fund, that your investment is being protected," said HAS Board Co-Chair Bill Anderson at a "We're going after the people who made a mess of this building."

According to the lawsuit and the forensic audit, both of which will be available to the public Thursday on the Healdsburg Animal Shelter website, South African architect Sean Rodrigues and local architect-of-record William Lyons both knew that their plans were flawed because they had access to a detailed assessment of their draft plans by the Shelter Planners of America.

The Shelter Planners' report, which is attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit,  showed 28 separate defects that needed to be corrected before the new building was constructed. According to the lawsuit, the two architects ignored the Shelter Planners' report, never made the corrections, and never shared a copy of the report with the HAS Board of Directors.

"The architects bear the brunt of the responsibility," Anderson said at the forum, attended by about 25 people. "They are hugely responsible; they had a professional and ethical obligation that has been breached."

Anderson said the suit, which now faces up to two years to make it through the legal process, should result in some recovery of the construction expenses. Whether that would mean the building will have to be torn down and rebuilt, or just rehabilitated, he said it was not immediately clear.

The decision on what to do with the building will be up to the insurers, Anderson said. That decision won't be made until the lawsuit is settled over the next 18 months to two years.

"It's like if you're in a car crash, the insurance company looks at the damages and then decides whether the car is totalled or whether it can be fixed," he said.

He speculated, however, that if the cracked concrete flooring had to be removed, re-poured and replaced, that such disruption could void the warranties for all the other adjacent subcontracted work, and therefore the entire building might have to be torn down and rebuilt.

Meanwhile, he said plans are in place to strengthen the for the next two years. will be working to fix the roof and make other repairs to renovate the existing shelter while the lawsuit is being processed, he said.

Anderson said the board also plans to hire a new animal control officer to replace former officer and to appoint several new board members in the next two weeks.

"Do we wish that we were not in the older building? Yes," he said. "Would we like to be in the new building? Yes.

"But those animals are being cared for perfectly," Anderson said. He said the board has already interviewed five candidates for animal control officer and has two more to go.

Other stabilizing moves have included appointing extensive animal welfare experience, beefing up policies on training and euthanasia and establishing stronger protocols in general.

Anderson, in an interview earlier on Wednesday, said in order to work at the shelter, and that will likely remain in place to "maintain professionalism," he said. He said the shelter lost between 10 and 12 volunteers after the requirement was put in place, but that controversy over the requirement has diminished.

Later Wednesday, at the forum, Anderson said after t was clear that the volunteer board members at the time were left in the dark as to defects in the archtects' plan.

Anderson said the Shelter Planners report was never sent to the board, and the volunteer board members at the time had no reason to question whether the architects they hired were doing the right things.

"You have a volunteer board, without significant construction experience, you would expect them to rely on the professional architects," Anderson said. "For example, I as a board member would have no way to know if something was ADA (disabled-access) compliant."

In addition to Rodrigues and Lyons, also named as defendants in the lawsuit are:

Syd G. Kelly Construction Inc., the general contractor; and subcontractors Arcadia, Inc.; Austin Creek Ready Mix, Inc.; Miller and Elwood Concrete, Inc.; Glazing Concepts, Inc.; Sierra Piperline inc.; M.K.M. Associates; and SDR Group.LLC.

They are alleged in the complaint, filed by San Francisco law firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP,  to have made the following violations: breach of contract (two counts); breach of third party beneficiary contract (two counts); professional negligence; breach of warranty (two counts); negligent supervision of construction; negligence causing property damage; and strict product liability.

The forensic financial audit, done by showed that the money for the building fund was properly handled, and that there was "no malfeasance" by any of the board members, Anderson said.

HAS attorney Maureen Corcoran said the Aug. 10 lawsuit was filed as a cross-complaint because it was a response to earlier mechanics' liens filed in Sonoma County Superior Court by some of the subcontractors on the building who allege they have not been paid. Corcoran said the cross-complaint responds to those earlier complaints and also includes additional defendants.

She declined to disclose the fee agreement between HAS and Sheppard Mullin, whom Anderson described as "not only the best construction defects law firm in California, but probably the best in the country."

Asked whether the shelter would allow installation of a dog exercise yard and possible public dog park at the new shelter building while the litigation is in progress, Anderson said he would look into it, but that he didn't want to do any action hastily.

Anderson said. "Now, that has calmed down, and we can get back on track with the operations."

Any money raised for Healdsburg Animal Shelter going forward will be for day-to-day operations. No money raised would be used to try to fix anything at the new shelter, Anderson said.

NKSC September 14, 2012 at 03:38 AM
I will remind Healdsburg Animal Shelter that you are putting your Shelter at risk once again for more attorney fees with that Volunteer Contract. These "muzzle" contracts have already have been successfully been overturned in Los Angeles and NewYork, to name two cities you might recognize. I will also remind Healdsburg Animal Shelter you are proofing to your citizens as you did to No Kill Sonoma County you have no desire to maintain your Shelter's No Kill status. You are refusing to answer certain questions. Healdsburg Animal Shelter is starting to have issues with transparency. This is not how a No Kill Shelter behaves. Mr. Andersen, you refused to answer my questions. You staff never answered my questions either. Mr. Andersen, you promised me that those Shelter animals would have a safe place back in June during the whole lawsuit process. Well it's September now and you haven't done anything for them yet. Your first priority should have been make sure they had a safe place. It's September 13th, just what are you waiting for next summer?
Marlo Maria September 15, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Yes, Some Girl, and not just swimming pools but chocolate waterfalls, edible flowers filled with whipped cream and lots of Ompah Lompah's running around singing and dancing while they work!
Ann Carranza September 17, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I am a decades' long supporter of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, and I've been following the distressing news coming from both daily operations and the lawsuits over the new shelter with dismay, and of course, I have written about the Shelter for Healdsburg Patch. HAS co-chair Bill Anderson touts the "new transparency" of the organization but I hereby call to question that purported transparency. In the HAS-Financial Statement dated July 16, 2012, you'll find the following statement: "Management has elected to omit substantially all the disclosures ordinarily included in financial statement prepared in accordance with the income tax basis of accounting. If the omitted disclosures were included in the financial statements, they might influence the user’s conclusions about the Company’s assets, liabilities, equity, revenues, and expenses." The link to this [lack of] disclosure: http://www.healdsburgshelter.org/Sept-2012-Forum-Documents/HAS-Financial-Statement-12-31-11.pdf The financial statement is signed by Thomas Rackerby. What remains hidden from us? I join the Healdsburg community in calling for transparency from the board of directors of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter. Instead of being placated by the most recent "disclosures," I think we have even more cause for concern. This is truly sad news.
Mike DeCoss September 18, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I agree Ann. We have been waiting for the "forensic audit' results since February. The repolrt posted on the HAS website certainly dosen't look like anything more than a summary of theri QuickBooks file. If you decide to have a forensic audit of your books, why would you contract with your CPA/Tax Preparer to do the job. I would think there would be benefits from a fresh pair of eyes.
Sandra F. September 18, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Perhaps we are all missing some important facts. Who was responsible for the shady contractors that did such sloppy work? Now is the time to get the contractors used to own up and take care of their mess. If you read the audit, the last page says $929,110 was paid to the City of Healdsburg. Really? In return for....? The shelter has always been a great asset to this community. We can't let politics and someone that made sloppy deals take away from all the good things they have done.


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