State calls temporary halt to pier repairs

Repairs on the historic Malibu Pier have practically ground to a halt, bogged down in part by a joint-venture construction contract gone sour. The state will call the contract to a halt May 22 and put it out for rebid, which probably will delay the restart until early September.

Caught like a bystander in the ferocious conflict between the contractors, the state has been unable or unwilling to release money to pay subcontractors because the contractors can’t agree on it.

According to Hayden Sohm, superintendent of the Malibu Sector of the California State Parks system, the state has cut Phase 1 of the project short. Uncompleted portions of Phase 1 will be included in Phase II, which will be rebid and awarded to new contractors.

Phase I now includes new piles and decking on the long part of the pier, or “stem,” only.

“It goes back quite a while,” Sohm said. “For reasons I am not aware of, the joint venture has basically fallen apart. There is a lot of acrimony and contentious behavior between the two entities. This has manifested itself in problems with pier construction.

“We’re in the process of winding down the contract,” Sohm said. “It is not solely problems with the two partners. There are issues with the construction process.”

Those issues include previously undetected pier damage that surfaced as the work progressed and a crane accident that left the operator, the 20-year-old son of a subcontractor, with a fractured pelvis. But the project has been most significantly impacted by the escalating conflict between the two contractors, Bruce Darian of Malibu and Accent Builders of Lakeview Terrace. Relations between Darien and Accent, who together signed a contract with the state for Phase I, have been characterized by tension and charges of threats, angry verbal and physical confrontations, restraining orders and one citizen’s arrest.

Darian is a Malibu contractor and environmentalist who has been involved for eight years with the pier.

Accent, owned by Anthony Frederico and his son, Ronald Frederico, is an offshoot of Superior Gunite, the financial heavyweight behind the contract.

The origin of the conflict is murky. Both sides say they originated the bid and brought the other party in. Darian’s version is, “I needed a company that could put forth the advanced finance and bonding capacity that had to be in place for the pier. This company (Accent) wanted to work with me. I filled out the bid and all the subs came to me. I brought everything together. They were strictly to be behind-the-scenes money.”

According to Anthony Frederico, 64, a long-time mutual friend, Darian’s uncle, asked Frederico, as a favor, to work with Darian on the project. Frederico, who has been in business 45 years, said his company does $30- to $40 million in business a year, including the retrofit of the Los Angeles Coliseum; previously he had no interest in bidding the pier job.

“Bruce had never done a job over $20,000,” Frederico said. “He was tied into the pier and wanted to do it. It was my bonding, my money. If you want a joint venture, you usually don’t joint venture with somebody with no money.

“So I offered him $1,000 a week to work as a superintendent, doing work. When the job was done, I would get the first $50,000 of profit, he would get the next $50,000, and we would split after that. We wrote it out. I signed it and sent it. Unknown to me, he never signed it.

“At our first meeting with the state in August or September, my son said that Bruce would be the superintendent. Bruce stood up and said, ‘I am a joint-venture equal partner, not the superintendent. I have to sign everything.’ When we were through with the meeting, I got a letter from his attorney saying he was a true joint venture partner. I called him and said, “Bruce, it’s my money. You want to sign on my money.’ From that day on he became a complete idiot.”

According to Frederico, the state “has not sent a dime. The state accepts what we are doing, but Bruce sent a letter saying don’t pay.”

He added, “All he had to do is go to work with his bag and nails, just go to work. He decided to become a legal beagle.”

Frederico said neither he nor his son had threatened Darian, but that he had yelled at him. He said the “90-year-old judge” who granted the restraining orders heard him say an expletive “75 times” on Darian’s 20-minute tape and was offended. But that’s the way you talk on a construction site,” he said.

Another court session is scheduled shortly.

Darian said he was to be the general contractor as they merged in a joint venture. The two contractors joined forces, winning the Phase I contract on May 20, 1999, with their low bid of $664,000.00.

They signed a contract with the state as Darian/Accent, a joint venture. But they neglected to sign a contract with each other. Nor did they establish a joint-venture bank account.

The start date for the project was Oct. 25, 1999.

According to papers provided by Darian, even before the start date, he charged that Accent attempted to repudiate the joint-venture agreement, signing subcontrators on its own, without reference to Darian. He said his joint-venture partners became more forceful. In a letter dated March 10, Darian wrote to the Contractors State License Board, “Commencing May 1999, shortly after the joint venture was formed, the Fredericos have engaged in a series of threats against my life, repeatedly assaulted me, vandalized my personal belongings and attempted to extort money from me. Addtionally, the Fredericos have induced subcontractors at the job site to threaten, verbally assault, and challenge me to fight.”

He also wrote, “Anthony Frederico threatened to shoot me on several occasions if we lost money on the project.”

Darian also wrote the board that Anthony Frederico demanded he pay $25,000 to fund the joint venture or sign an agreement giving Accent authority over the project.

During the course of construction, Darian took the matter to court and was granted restraining orders against Anthony and Ronald Frederico, specifying that at the construction site, “defendant (either Frederico or Anthony) is to stay a reasonable distance from plaintiff (Darian) unless a state official or neutral, non-affiliated third party … is present.”

With the job being carried on by Accent and the subs it had signed, Darian became odd man out. The employees blame him for the state’s refusal to write checks to anyone other than the joint-venture partners. Although the state is obliged to maintain primary contact with Darian, the construction employees “just ignore Bruce like he isn’t there,” according to subcontractor Ken Patrick, president of DCA Drilling and Construction of Camarillo.

“He tried to get every man on the job fired,” Patrick said. “Bruce doesn’t have employees. He shows up by himself. He tapes and takes photos. It’s pure harrassment. Nobody really likes him.”

Huntington Woodman, supervisor of Accent, said, “Bruce asked workers to do things. We were told never to do anything for him.”

Armed with a camera and tape recorder, Darian, working from a red construction shack on the gounds of the pier parking lot, keeps detailed records of the constuction activities, including reporting working conditions and environmental concerns.

Lifeguards at the cramped Baywatch office on the pier (shared with the state construction supervisor), according to one of the lifeguards, have been called on a number of times to break up confrontations. Darian called sheriff’s deputies several times, but no one was arrested.

Events came to a head May 2 when Anthony Frederico, who according to state reports is rarely at the site, ordered Darian to remove red circles he had painted on piles Darian claimed were leaking creosote through the fiberglass wrap. Darien refused. Frederico called for a deputy, who advised Frederico he could make a citizen’s arrest for vandalism. He did so, and Darian was removed from the job in handcuffs and taken to Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. His dog, “Action,” was taken to the animal shelter. Both were released later.

“This is the best location I ever had and the worst job,” Woodman said. “The politics were horrible. It was a nightmare for me.”

Woodman called the joint venture “the partnership made in hell.”

“I’m personally tired of not being paid since November,” said Patrick after the last pile of Phase I was successfully pounded into bent (row) 21. “I haven’t been paid dime one since November. Accent has not been paid dime one since November.”

Darien remains defiant. “They ruined my reputation. I want just compensation and my name cleared.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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