Riverbank legal loss on skate park soars

RIVERBANK -- The city could pay more in legal bills for its skate park than what it paid to build it.

The city may be on the hook for more than $870,000 after losing a 5-year-old lawsuit filed against it by Barham Construction, the Ceres company that built the 9,000-square-foot park. It opened in June 2004, about eight months behind schedule.

The park cost about $575,000 for construction, design and other costs, according to city officials.

The legal bills still are adding up, and the $870,000 does not include what the city has paid an attorney to handle the case. The city has paid its attorney $176,000 in the current and past budget years. Information on prior years was not available last week.

The city is appealing a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge's rulings -- including the awarding of attorney fees -- against the city to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno. The appeal could take 18 to 24 months.

"We wouldn't be appealing this if we didn't believe we were correct," City Manager Rich Holmer said. "In my opinion, this was a case that was a slam dunk for the city. I'm shocked that we didn't prevail. The whole issue is one of a company that did not do its job on time."

Barham Construction's president laid the blame on Riverbank for the delay.

"It was the most mismanaged project I've ever seen in my life by the city," said Doug Barham, whose company has built several skate parks, including parks for Modesto and Turlock. "No one there would make a decision. It was a disaster trying to get something accomplished."

Barham sued the city in September 2004 after it withheld its last payment of $155,467, which included damages of $500 per day for the project not being completed on time. The city filed a counterclaim against Barham. The trial took more than 30 days over several months in late 2008. Both sides said they offered to settle the case but their offers were rejected.

In June, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger M. Beauchesne awarded Barham the $155,467, which included nearly $40,000 Barham owed to subcontractor Ragsdale & Son of Waterford. Ragsdale sued Barham to collect what it was owed.

"I never had an experience like this before and I hope to never do this again," said Ragsdale owner David Wall, adding his complaint was with the city for withholding payment, not Barham. "To spend $200,000 to collect $40,000 is insane."

On Nov. 2, the judge awarded attorney fees and court costs of about $646,000 to Barham, Ragsdale and Barham's insurer.

The judge imposed 10 percent annual interest on the $155,467 from June 2004 to June 2009, said Barham's attorney, John Cassinat of Elk Grove. He calculated the interest at about $77,500.

Work on the skate park started in July 2003 and was expected to take 106 days. The city issued its notice of completion for the park June 11, 2004.

Barham said the project was delayed in part because the city did not provide a pre-manufactured bathroom in a timely manner. Other delays, he said, were in hooking up the utilities for the bathroom, in park park design errors and in construction because of heavy winter rain.

Beauchesne rejected the city's claim that Barham was responsible for cracking in the skate park's concrete.

"The judge found that the cracking was not the result of contractor error but a design issue," Cassinat said.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at or 578-2316.