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Watchdog agency moves to revoke license of Santa Rosa contractor

To sue or not to sue?

Six months after the Tubbs Fire destroyed her Coffey Park home in October 2017, Stella Agudelo signed a contract with Santa Rosa-based American Pacific Builders to rebuild it.

Agudelo, now 81, moved in two springs later. But the house had lots of problems. The garage door didn’t reach all the way down to the driveway, leaving a gap. Under the house, duct work had sagged onto the dirt of the crawl space. The fence leaned into the backyard because its posts weren’t set in cement. The list went on.

Once the builder handed over the keys, however, it stopped responding to Agudelo and her daughter, Adriana Call. Problems were never resolved.

While they’re considering legal action against the contractor, “I don’t really know what that’s going to cost,” Call said. “It’s not as if we can hire a high-end attorney.”

Whether they sue American Pacific Builders or not, the company now finds itself in mounting legal trouble.

Agudelo was one of at least five American Pacific clients who have filed complaints against the builder with the Contractors State License Board, which polices the construction industry in California.

On June 24, Thomas Sager, a supervising special investigator for the Contractors State License Board, referred those five complaints to the Attorney General’s office for the filing of an “Accusation” to revoke the company’s license.

N2021-346-20220624-Accusation.pdf

“This is the most serious enforcement action available to the CSLB,” the licensing board explained in a letter to each of those five clients.

That 25-page “Accusation” lists 25 separate “Causes for Discipline.” Those include departure from accepted trade standards; deviations from plans and specifications; willful and deliberate disregard for building laws; failure to pay subcontractors; failure to pay for materials or services; contract violations; and abandonment.

Steven Bates, who owns American Pacific Builders, has 15 business days to file a Notice of Defense and request a hearing, said Kevin Durawa, a spokesman for the license board, “or the license may be revoked by default.”

The company’s license is due to expire Aug. 31, 2022, unless renewed. It’s unclear whether Bates intends to seek a hearing: he did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

American Pacific’s website was offline Friday. A woman who answered the phone at its offices said the company is “not building right now,” although it is still “doing warranty work and some other things like that. They’ve still got projects going on.”

The company explained to Call, shortly after her mother moved in, that COVID-19 was preventing them from taking care of her “punch list” items of work that still needed to be done.

“But they were still working on other homes. I called and told them, it’s not COVID. You guys are still building. You need to fix this stuff. But they pretty much just dropped the ball,” she said.

Another client who filed a complaint with the license board was Mary Rogers, who at one point grew so exasperated by the builder’s failure to return her calls and emails that she walked into its Guerneville Road offices unannounced. There, she said, Bates told her the company couldn’t do any more work on her house because she’d filed that complaint.

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” she replied.

Not all of the company’s disgruntled customers filed complaints against the builder. A year ago The Press Democrat spoke with 14 unhappy clients, along with two subcontractors the builder had failed to pay. The company took on 37 Tubbs Fire rebuilds in Santa Rosa, according to Jesse Oswald, the city’s chief building official, and also signed a smaller number of contracts for rebuilds outside city limits.

Don and Debbie Johnson didn’t file a complaint with the license board, which isn’t stopping them from suing.

After American Pacific finished work on their Coffey Park house in spring 2020, the city of Santa Rosa signed off on the final permit.

To be on the safe side, the Johnsons hired an independent inspector, who found problems the city had missed. When those issues were brought to the building department’s attention, it performed another inspection, which revealed a list of deficiencies, including problems with floor joists, grading and drainage issues. That prompted the city to revoke that final permit until American Pacific fixed those problems.

It took the company another two and a half months to do that. Even after the final permit was restored, Johnson said, “they didn’t fix everything.”

So, they’re taking legal action. “They violated their contract, then they just abandoned us,” said Don. “We’re asking for a couple hundred thousand dollars to fix their f----ups, and to pay our attorneys’ fees.”

Taking up more space than any other complaint in the Accusation document is one filed by A.G. and J.G. — Angela and John Ghigliazza, who signed with American Pacific after losing their house off Mark West Springs Road. The investigator meticulously lists 49 violations, from failure to pay the plumbing contractor to installing the spiral staircase backward to failure to put insulation under a third of the main house.

The Ghigliazzas are now in litigation with the company, and declined to comment for this story.

Cross-Complaint (00881147-2x9C71C).pdf

In March, two years and nine months after signing with American Pacific — and only after paying $248,000 to different builders to finish the job, following the company’s abandonment of the project — Angela and John and their four sons were finally able to move back in.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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