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Industry in mixed state, both in and out of the job site

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San Diego’s construction industry seems to be a mixed bag of cement with no solid foundation yet of whether it is improving as indicated by backlogs, employment and housing construction. There was also significant news outside the actual building of structures: an iconic architect passed away, and pleas were entered in the South Bay corruption case.

By the numbers

Multifamily housing has seen an increase construction. There have been 3,422 housing unit permits issued through May of this year, with 2,375 units (in 100 buildings) coming from multifamily designation. This is up from a year ago, when there was a total of 2,368 housing-unit permits issued, with 1,456 coming from multifamily buildings.

In May, the latest American Institute of Architects Architecture Billings Index, which indicates if design services are increase or declining, had multi-family residential construction increasing in design services for the 13th consecutive month.

Construction employment in San Diego County as of May was at 56,100 jobs, an increase of 100 jobs or 0.2 percent from April of this year; however, there were 56,500 construction jobs in May 2012, a loss of 0.7 percent. This according to data released from the Employment Development Department.

Of the 56,100 construction jobs, 38,000 were from specialty trade contractors; 12,400 came from general contractors; and 5,700 were in heavy and civil engineering.

Construction backlog in the West region is up slightly at 0.54 months in the second quarter of 2013, compared to the same time last year, averaging 7.11 months per firm according to the Associated Builders and Contractors Construction Backlog Indictor.

“Despite rapid job growth in Arizona, California and Washington, construction spending growth remains constrained likely due to still high vacancy rates in many commercial real estate categories,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist for the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Fallen architect

Architect Graham Downes died of a brain damage caused by absence of oxygen due to a blunt force head and neck trauma after an assault in April, according to an autopsy report from the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The man accused of killing Downes has been charged with murder. Higinio Salgado has maintained his innocence.

Homicide investigators say there was an altercation with Salgado and Downes at the end of a social gathering hosted by Downes for several of his employees, including Salgado. Investigators confirmed that the night included both men drinking at least some alcoholic beverages with colleagues at a bar before the group went to Downes’ home.

Downes owned the firm Graham Downes Architecture, which closed on June 30.

South Bay corruption case

Thirteen former and current South Bay school officials, a construction bond manager and a contractor pleaded not guilty on April 12 to charges of taking and accepting bribes. The trial for the 13 defendants starts on Feb. 18, 2014.

The pay-for-play allegations include the offering bribes in exchange for favorable outcomes in construction contracts with the involved schools, and the acceptance of those bribes or gifts. The indictments cite a collective 232 charges.

The cases involve 15 defendants in all. Two of them had previously entered not guilty pleas.

With all defendants now at the same point in the hearings process, all 15 have been given the same dates for future proceedings. Two pretrial conferences have been set for each, scheduled for July 17 and Oct. 29.

Also defendant Jeff Flores, president of Seville Construction Services, faces accusations of illegal dealings with officials from multiple South Bay-area school districts.

Henry Amigable, a former executive at Seville Construction Services, was sentenced in March on a misdemeanor conviction related to the corruption cases.

-Compiled by Carlos Rico.

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