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.