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Convicted inspector monitored safety at dozens of schools

Richard Vale is shown here on the day he was served with a search warrant in 1991.Courtesy Doug Devine/Los Angeles Department of Building and SafetyRichard Vale is shown here on the day he was served with a search warrant in 1991.

A school construction inspector previously convicted of a felony in a construction safety-related case has worked on at least 15 school projects in Southern California in the last few years, records show.

California Watch reported April 9 that the Division of the State Architect – the chief regulator of public school construction – certified inspector Richard Vale in 2005 without checking his background.

Vale had been kicked out of the city of Los Angeles inspector program in 1991. Documents show prosecutors had accused Vale of conspiring with a contractor to overlook makeshift, faulty seismic anchors installed in several unreinforced masonry buildings in Los Angeles. Vale pleaded no contest to conspiracy to obstruct justice.

California Watch reported that despite his background, Vale had inspected several school projects: the reconstruction of R. Roger Rowe Elementary and Middle School in Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County; the new gym, swimming pool and locker rooms at Palo Verde College in Blythe; and a $2 million renovation project at Needles High School in San Bernardino County – where he was the welding inspector.

But records from the state architect’s office show Vale has also been approved to inspect the following projects:

School District City Project description  Contracted amount Dates of construction (estimated) Inspection type
Strathern Street Elementary School Los Angeles Unified North Hollywood Alteration to fire alarms  $1,160,173 December 2008 - June 2010 Project inspector
El Rancho High School El Rancho Unified Pico Rivera Construction of gym  $4,888,000 December 2007 - January 2010 Masonry inspector
John H. Francis Polytechnic High School Los Angeles Unified Sun Valley Alterations to classroom and auditorium buildings  $582,000 June 2008 - ? Project inspector

In addition, Vale’s 2009 application for the Strathern Street Elementary School job shows he was assigned to inspect nine other Los Angeles Unified School District projects at the same time in the San Fernando Valley. The list indicates Vale spent between six to 12 hours per week on average on each job.

It’s unclear whether the inspection companies that hired Vale checked his background. On the Rancho Santa Fe job, Vale worked through a San Marcos-based company, Consulting & Inspection Services LLC.

The company’s president, Kent Schafer, did not return calls requesting comment. But the firm's contract with the district called for background checks. The company provided the Rancho Santa Fe School District with a document certifying no employees or sub-consultants had been convicted of a serious or violent felony conviction.

Vale’s conviction, however, doesn’t quality as serious or violent under the Penal Code. That definition includes sex crimes, assault with a deadly weapon and arson, for example.

Although the state architect’s office does not conduct background checks, officials learned of Vale’s criminal conviction in 2006, when a construction manager from an outside firm sent an e-mail about it. The e-mail was forwarded to then-State Architect David Thorman, but the warning was ultimately ignored and the agency kept approving Vale for more work.

Vale hung up on a reporter Tuesday night. Before the April 9 story was published, Vale told California Watch the conviction occurred many years ago.

“You’re talking about trying to smear me and also one of the finest agencies in the state of California over something that was a long time ago and was put to rest by a lot of people,” he said.

While Vale is not currently certified as a school inspector, he was allowed to work on projects as recently as 2010 because the state architect’s office granted him an extension to pass the test required to renew his license.

Vale’s certification was set to expire in September 2009. But records show the state architect’s office granted him a six-month extension to pass the recertification exam.

That means Vale was allowed to start new projects during that period, said Gretchen Zeagler, a public information officer with the Department of General Services, the parent agency of the state architect’s office. Officials also allowed Vale to finish any projects he started during that period.

Meanwhile, Vale has been trying to pass the recertification test. He took it most recently on March 22, records show.

UPDATE: Richard Vale did not pass the March 22 exam to gain recertification as a school construction inspector, according to the Division of the State Architect.

 

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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