CARLSBAD — A local nonprofit is in a fight with the city over building permits for a boxing gymnasium for at-risk youths.
Frank Sorino, president and CEO of Join Hands Save a Life, has been attempting to construct the building for nearly two decades at 3275 Roosevelt St. However, due to an all-volunteer workforce, construction has suffered delays, setbacks and a lawsuit against the city, which was dismissed.
The City Council voted 4-0 (Mayor Matt Hall was recused due to a conflict) to deny Sorino’s appeal to expire the building permit.
The original permit was issued in August 2001 and since then, Sorino said the volunteer schedule was in conflict over the city’s required scheduling, thus causing delays. In 2018, all electrical, plumbing, landscaping, subfloors were installed, Sorino said.
He railed against the city for its lack of notification using 2016 standards and not informing him until last year.
“This is like a fortress,” Sorino said. “This is going to be the safest building in Carlsbad.”
He said the building is 90 percent completed and the city is wasting time. In addition, he said he has a professional plumber, who volunteered his time for the installation, yet the city has yet to inspect it. Mike Peterson, the city’s building official, disputed Sorino’s 90 percent claim of completion.
Sorino also directed his wrath at Neighborhood and Services Director Debbie Fountain for lying to the City Council in 2002 about the nonprofit’s application for a Community Development Block Grant. He said she admitted, during a court proceeding after filing a lawsuit, the nonprofit had turned over all appropriate materials.
In addition, he said the city maintained property liens from 2001-2006 for grant funds never received. Join Hands received $60,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to acquire the property, with a lien against the property for the money.
Construction funds were an estimated $600,000, but the money was reallocated.
“The way we’ve been treated is disgusting,” Sorino said. “They treat us like we’re the enemy. If you’re not going to help us, at least get out of our way.”
Fountain, though, said grant funds were provided over several years, but the conditions called for liens. She said the federal government, which provides Community Development Block Grant funds, directed the city to reallocate funds away from Join Hands as they were not used in a timely manner.
In addition, the construction work either had to be all volunteers or paid work, not a combination, per the federal guidelines.
“We kept extending their building permit to help them along,” Fountain said. “The problem is, we never anticipated how long it was going to take. We were aggressive and pointed in our instructions … and that he needed to get the construction completed.”
She said Sorino can file for new building plans from an architect for the interior, and get a “final” permit for the exterior of the project. The new plans must be compliant with new regulations and redesign the interior, but not require a full demolition and rebuild.
In addition, per federal regulations regarding the Community Development Block Grant funds, Join Hands can still re-apply for those funds but must still file a construction schedule using either all volunteer or paid workers and spend the money in a “timely fashion.”
“We would not have let the building permit go on for 18 years if we didn’t care about helping to get this project done,” Fountain said. “This is the only project we have with a building permit that is outstanding for 18 years. We want to make sure we have a safe building.”
Since the project was approved 17 years ago, there have been numerous code changes including requiring fire sprinklers, California Green Building Standards are now applicable, energy requirements are more stringent and disabled access requirements are more restrictive, to name a few.
Councilman Keith Blackburn said he couldn’t support the appeal, but would throw his support behind pushing through new permits and requests for Community Development Block Grant funds.
“I have concern because it seems to be the city’s fault every time you turn around,” Blackburn, adding it would be best if Sorino stepped aside from the management of construction.