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Letter From MTS Board Member Could Be Key In Lawsuit Over Blocked Doorway At Border Transit Center

The disputed doorway at the McDonald's trolley station building is blocked by...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: The disputed doorway at the McDonald's trolley station building is blocked by a scissor gate, September 28, 2016.

A document obtained by KPBS shows a Metropolitan Transit System board member was concerned about how the agency awarded a contract to a private firm.

The document may prove to be crucial in MTS’s legal dispute over a doorway.

MTS closed the back doorway of the McDonald’s trolley station building in San Ysidro last summer.

The move has inconvenienced scores of people, including those with disabilities, who use the doorway daily to walk between the bus terminal behind the building to the trolley station in front, after crossing the border from Mexico.

Reported by Katie Schoolov

RELATED: MTS Lawsuit Over Doorway Creates Hassle For San Ysidro Passengers

The closure was part of a lawsuit MTS filed against the building owner Grand Central West, alleging the doorway was trespassing its property.

Grand Central West countersued, accusing MTS of trying to strangle businesses inside its building in order to give an advantage to the transit agency’s contractor, SYPS. Grand Central West also alleged that MTS violated state law by not putting the contract out to bid before it was awarded to SYPS.

A letter obtained by KPBS shows that MTS’s own board member — San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez— also thought the contract should undergo a bidding process.

“I am convinced that we need to consider the issue in a comprehensive manner,” Alvarez wrote in a 2012 letter to MTS’s CEO Paul Jablonski.

In the same letter, Alvarez also appeared to suggest he had elicited a promise from Jablonski to put the contract out to bid writing, “....I appreciate your commitment not to move forward with the agreement until Mr. Aguirre/Grand Central West has an opportunity to submit his management proposal.”

Miguel Aguirre is a partner in Grand Central West.

But Jablonski never told the rest of the MTS board about that letter, according to a deposition he gave in the case. And the contract was not put out to bid.

MTS and Jablonski declined to comment, as did board member Alvarez.

Grand Central West consultant Steve Padilla said Jablonski’s lack of disclosure raised questions.

"The CEO never goes to his executive committee and says, 'We have a concern raised by one of our board members, here’s the concern, here’s my response," Padilla said. "Never did any of that. And when you look at Paul Jablonski’s deposition, his whole attitude is basically, 'I didn’t think it was important. And it really does beg the question: 'What the hell is going on here?'"

Padilla has also argued that SYPS has not delivered on its contract with MTS. One example he has offered is a bathroom the company promised to build for travelers.

Photo by Amita Sharma

A bathroom built by Metropolitan Transit System leaseholder SYPS at the San Ysidro Transit Center is shown, Oct. 18, 2016.

Sketches before the facility was built show it was supposed to be enclosed. However, SYPS wound up placing the stalls in what looks like an open-air cage. Doors to the stalls do not extend to the floor.

Padilla has described the bathrooms as substandard. He said MTS’s approval of the facility is racially tinged.

“They’re harming the poor, brown border-crossers,” Padilla said. “Nobody cares about them.”

When Jablonski was asked about those bathrooms during a deposition, he said it was “up to them,” the travelers whether to use the stalls.

The case could go to trial in the fall.

The letter from MTS board member and San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez asked the agency's CEO to put a disputed contract out to bid, a position that is part of a lawsuit against MTS.


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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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