Bad concrete was allegedly sold to Bay Area projects 

The concrete supplier to the Golden Gate Bridge seismic retrofit project and several other Bay Area public projects has been accused of selling substandard concrete.

The owners of Pacific Cement Company, Ricardo Ramirez, 65, and Reynaldo Nunez, 55, were arraigned Thursday in criminal court on 14 felony charges, including fraud, grand theft, forgery and the unlawful storage and disposal of hazardous waste, in connection with sale of concrete to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District and the operation of the company’s Bayview plant.

The company is also under investigation for its involvement in several other Bay Area projects, including the San Francisco Municipal Railway’s Third Street Light Rail Extension project, the San Francisco Bay Bridge retrofit, the parking garage under the de Young Museum and the Burlingame wastewater treatment facility. The concrete used in the Burlingame facility was allegedly so unstable that a rock broke loose and jammed a pump, injuring an employee.

Pacific Cement sold 12,000 cubic yards of concrete to the Golden Gate Bridge project, of which about 108 cubic yards — enough to fill 12 cement trucks — did not meet building codes, according to chief engineer Denis Mulligan.

Concrete is made of water, cement and what is known as an aggregate, a mixture of minerals that gives the material its substance. Pacific Cement is accused of selling new concrete with an aggregate of crushed, used concrete. Recycled aggregate concrete is more susceptible to micro-cracking, requires more maintenance as it ages and is considered less stable.

"The Golden Gate Bridge is safe," assured the Golden Gate district spokeswoman Mary Currie on Thursday.

Mulligan said the substandard concrete was used for aesthetic purposes only, to cover new structural steel plating on the north tower of the arch over Fort Point. Bridge safety inspectors have taken samples of all other concrete poured during the retrofit, he said, and determined that it is unadulterated.

Mulligan said the bridge bought concrete from Pacific Cement from 2001 until July 2005.

"For three and a half years, they provided us good product," he said. But the last four deliveries, which took place over 21 days in July 2005, contained recycled aggregate. Mulligan said the "weighmaster" certificates, which accompany the delivery to certify its contents, had been falsified.

Pacific Cement has a history of legal troubles. In July 2005, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the company over its environmental violations, which were discovered in routine inspections by the San Francisco Port Authority. The District Attorney’s Office then began investigating the company.

During that investigation, Pacific Cement truck drivers allegedly reported delivering recycled-aggregate concrete to the Golden Gate Bridge, according to a report filed by a District Attorney’s Office investigator.

Nunez’s lawyer, George Ketchum, indicated the charges against his client were excessive. "It was as if somebody went through the bar exam to see how many crimes they could find over the same act," he said.

Both Ramirez and Nunez pleaded not guilty Thursday, according to George Beckwith, Nunez’s attorney.

The two defendants were released Thursday on $250,000 bail. A third defendant, Pacific Cement employee Mark Brieno, 45, has not yet been charged for medical reasons, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

amartin@examiner.com

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