Chico couple shares journey to fix faulty foundation
Newly appointed Planning Commissioner Dave Kelley already has personal experience with a local building contractor and he’s been on the job only for about a month.
Kelley moved to Chico from Portland with partner Rose Lagler a little more than a year ago and then last June purchased a Drake Homes house in northeast Chico.
Two weeks ago the couple received a $6,713 check from Drake Homes to fix the cracked and sloping slab that served as the floor to their house. The check arrived after a six-month bureaucratic journey involving repeated contacts with the builder, the state and the city.
Soon after moving into their Valley Forge Drive home in the Hancock Park neighborhood, Lagler and Kelley decided to take up the carpet and replace it with a wooden floor.
But the flooring contractor told Kelley, an architect at Thomas & Hendricks, and Lagler, a former preschool teacher, that the concrete slab under the carpet had cracked and now was too uneven to accommodate the installation of a wooden floor, at least one that could be guaranteed.
The slab had been poured by Drake subcontractor Richard Leighty Construction.
The couple contacted Virginia Drake, who operates the building company founded by her late husband Dan, one of the biggest builders and political influences in Chico for 25 years.
Leighty Construction came back and tried to fix the slab by grinding the high spots and filling cracks, but the flooring contractor again said he couldn’t lay a wooden floor and guarantee it. Drake Homes, as the general contractor, is ultimately responsible for the work of its sub-contractors.
In a July 9 letter to the couple, Virginia Drake wrote: “We have discussed the issues addressed with our subcontractors and we feel that the house and repairs have been done in compliance with the standards of the industry, construction performance guidelines, specs and codes.”
The couple had their doubts.
“Virginia Drake said a lot of things,” Lagler recently recalled.
The couple contacted the city Building Department and learned the building inspector does not sign off on the pouring of the slab during new-construction inspections. The city had no way of telling if the slab included weld-wire mesh and a vapor barrier, as called for in the building plans.
The city building code reads: “A concrete slab or underfloor inspection shall be made after all in-slab or underfloor building service equipment, conduit, piping accessories, and other ancillary equipment items are in place, but before any concrete is poured or floor sheeting installed, including the subfloor.”
And the home warranty, at least for the slab, had expired by the time the couple discovered the problem.
The city told them to get touch with the California Contractors State Licensing Board, which they did.
“It took us six months to get our foot in the door,” Lagler said. “The contractors’ board has all the control; they call all the shots.”
She said she learned that Gov. Schwarzenegger had drained the board of its budget, which already lost one-fifth of its investigators since 1999. During the same period residential building permits increased by 40 percent. According to an Aug. 15 Los Angeles Times story, the average licensing board examination takes 169 days.
So for half a year the couple lived on a cracked concrete slab without carpeting.
They put signs in their front yard offering tours so neighbors could come through and see their dilemma. They got funny looks, but no takers.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, a deputy investigator from the state board paid them a visit. Now things started moving. The couple next contacted an engineering firm out of Sacramento because local firms told her they did not want to get tied up in possible litigation with Drake.
Gary Finley, an engineer out of Redding, came in and took core samples of the cracked slab. On Dec. 1 Finley submitted his report that said the work “does not meet industry standards for good workman-like construction.”
The report goes on to say, “Contractor failed to install concrete slab floor that was reasonably free from: severe cracking, pop-outs (concrete nail damage), and a flat/smooth and level surface to apply finish flooring. Contractor’s attempt to power grind floor (leveling process) has failed miserably, leaving gouges and tool marks of up to 2/8 of an inch deep over a large area of the [living room] and [dining room] floor.”
Finley wrote that the “slab is cracking throughout the residence and attempts at repairs are crude.”
Costs for repair, Finley concluded, amounted to $6,713. The information was forwarded to Drake Homes, which wrote the couple a check for that amount just before Christmas.
The repairs are now in the works.
“Our floor is being ground down as we speak,” Lagler said last week by phone.
A few days later Kelley had mixed emotions.
“I’m happy about the fact the floor is going in,” he said, “but I’m not happy that we had to wait so long.”
On Sunday, Jan. 2, the couple held another open house for neighbors; this one attracted as many as 40 people from their Hancock Park neighborhood.
“A lot of them suspected they did have slabs that are cracked or popped-up,” Lagler said. “And they said they had no idea we’d been living like this for six months. They thought we were just unhappy and fussed a lot.”
She said their intentions for the open house “were not to be vindictive toward Virginia Drake, but just to let the neighbors know how to fix it.”
Kelley said that as many as a third of the homeowners who came to the open house said they had ceramic floor tiles either cracking or pulling up off the floor in their homes.
A woman at the city building department reported this week that she believed the department had received at least one inquiry from another Hancock Park home owner since Jan. 2.
For his part, Kelley said he will not let this experience bias his attitude toward Drake Homes in his service as a planning commissioner whenever that company comes before the commission.