Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The $5,000 Door

If you find yourself visiting Bastanchury Park (one of Fullerton’s busiest sports parks) for a soccer or softball game, you might notice a banged-up door on the snack bar with some sheet metal screwed on to it as a (you’d think) temporary repair. The snack bar was broken-into back in July of 2021 and this was the repair job. Fortunately none of the equipment (which belongs to the rent-paying league who uses it) was stolen, but it’s now been more than five hundred days and this mangled door still remains. I know, I know… one door. It’s not exactly “Breaking News!”, but there is an important lesson to be learned from this, so I’ll get to that point as quickly as I can.

Would you accept this as a permanent fix from your landlord? Would insurance pay out a theft claim knowing this is how the City left the door?

As I was talking to the Public Works department (the group responsible for this kind of repair and maintenance work) about why the door hadn’t been replaced and my concern for the city’s insurance liability should the snack bar be broken-into again, I was contacted by a city employee by the name of Dana Huffman with the following email:

Erik, A new door will cost $5,000 to replace. It is our understanding that the door is fully functional. Would you like to meet me at the location so we can discuss?

Now I should tell you that in a former job I was a construction project manager on military, Federal, Bio-Safety Level 3 Labs, and state projects so I knew with a high degree of confidence that this price was utter bullshit. But it’s been a few years, the law changes a lot here in CA, and maybe I was missing something, so I figured what the heck when he asked if I’d like to meet at the location to discuss the issue.

We meet and I’m told by Mr. Huffman that he has done some internet searching and based on two prices of $3,700 and $2,900 that the door will cost about $3,500 and that the install would be around $1,500. The city is required to pay contractors prevailing wage rate ($66.32/hour for a carpenter) on contracted work and that can make prices higher than many would think, but even with that considered this is way out of whack. In construction it’s a normal practice to add 15% overhead and profit to a cost estimate, but even if we bump this up to 30% overhead and profit, Mr. Huffman’s $1,500 labor estimate comes out to more than 17 hours of work to replace a single door. That’s two full days AND an hour or a full day for 2 people to replace one door.

We also had a spirited discussion on why the door needed a 3 hour fire rating when there’s a wall vent 5 feet away with no fire rating, which is just inflating costs and wasting more of your money for no discernable reason. That was about enough for that day so I wrote down the door’s manufacturer and model number (Amweld 15LE 3068 16), thanked Mr. Huffman for his time, and moved on.

Hopefully the fire will know to head for the door and not the large hole in the wall.

A couple minutes of internet searches for a 36×80 steel exterior door with 3 hour fire rating found much lower pricing here ($884), here ($1,128), and an exact model number replacement here ($622 with shipping), so I asked Mr. Huffman to share where he found the prices he quoted and he ignored me. He then ignored my second and third requests to get this information.

A simple “I was mistaken” or “Good, that will lower our cost” would have sufficed here if an error was made, but by ignoring my requests for honesty and transparency it made me want to dig deeper into this issue. I began to think his high cost estimate was intentionally inflated in order to influence me to not push for the door to be replaced.

To get information that City Hall, or it’s employees, are withholding one needs only submit a legal public records request with the City Clerk. These immediately become legally binding requests and if the City doesn’t turn over any relevant data as required by law they open themselves up to a lawsuit and court costs.

So into the city’s records portal I went and put in requests for Mr. Huffman’s browser history and emails. After that, interestingly enough, Mr. Huffman’s manager Bill Roseberry emailed him asking for the source for the pricing with the intent to takeover the email exchange with me but I never heard anything from Mr. Roseberry. I don’t know what Mr. Huffman told him as he didn’t respond via email and Mr. Roseberry never emailed me so I guess we’ll never know.

Bill asking for that which does not exist. Profound.

Dana, Send me the website where you got the door pricing. I’ll send it to Eric and take over the conversation.

Shortly after not responding to me and his manager, Mr. Huffman re-emerged with a different story: His two prices of $2,900 to $3,700 had now grown to many prices with a high of $3,300.

Did you really though???

Erik when I look back through my internet history there were many sites I visited typing in 3 hour fire rated doors.  The highest price I found was $3300.  There also were many different sites that sold the doors for $600-$1500.  I am not sure why there were such a discrepancy in prices as it makes it harder to compare apples to apples.  I do know that any location that has vandalism needs to have a quality heavy duty door.   As we talked about before, anyone doing work for the city needs to have a DIR number, 2 million in insurance and pay prevailing wages.  In our case whenever prices vary so much we typically would get 3 bids from qualified contractors using the same scope of work.  That probably is the best way to accurately find the true cost.

This is why public record’s requests matter. Based on the records request response from the city, I was told what appears to be a bold-faced lie. In the world of “trust but verify” I asked for a source and to nobody’s surprise nothing was given. So I requested Mr. Huffman’s internet history to find it. That came back with no searches for doors at all from his laptop (other than him clicking the links I sent him days after the fact) and IT saying they can’t pull anything from his phone (which is laughable and violates the law). I could keep digging and I guess ask for his text message and call history but I think at this point I can reasonably conclude I was lied to by City staff with the intent of influencing me, a representative of the City Council, and continue on with my day.

This entire fiasco, this entire exercise in verification, is the heart and point of the story: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. Apparently there’s no one amongst the approximately 65 maintenance employees of public works that can (or are allowed to) do a simple door replacement. Are we really to believe that instead of paying $19-30/hour to a currently employed City maintenance worker and the price of the door – to paint and hang a door on an existing frame with existing hinges and pre-drilled holes mind you – that it’s better to pay a contractor likely triple the hourly wage of our employees, for an excessive amount of time, for double the price of the door, AND an additional 15-30% (at least) markup?

Does that benefit the city, the city employees, the parks, the leagues using the parks, or anyone (other than the contractors)?

This is just one door that I see regularly and decided to have a closer look into, but it begs the question of what other similar waste (and possibly fraud) is happening in the City? How many other $5,000 doors are out there that are ignored because “it’s just a door”.

And one final comment about Mr. Huffman: He’s getting paid $85k/year to be dishonest to representatives of the City Council and by proxy dishonest to the people of Fullerton.