Alan Rothenberg resigned today from the Los Angeles Airport Commission, in a move that should make it easier for the commission to award airport concession contracts.
Rothenberg was the source of a conflict of interest that forced the commission to recuse itself on the first round of concession contracts last summer. The job of awarding the contracts fell to the City Council's Board of Referred Powers, which dragged the process out and was widely seen as overly influenced by the bidders' lobbyists.
In a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Rothenberg said he was stepping aside to allow the second round of concessions contracts to move forward without needless delays.
To take but one example, Councilman Bernard Parks managed almost single-handedly to award a retail contract to his friend and contributor, Magic Johnson. LAX staff had recommended awarding the contract to another firm -- Areas -- but Parks balked at that and persuaded his colleagues to give it to a joint venture including Magic Johnson Enterprises. The contract was worth $30 million a year over 10 years.
"We simply cannot take that risk as it might adversely impact LAWA's ability to complete the concession upgrade by December 2012," Rothenberg wrote. "Accordingly, I am submitting this resignation so that the awarding of concessions contracts can proceed in as orderly and expeditious a process as possible."
That's good news for Gina Marie Lindsey, the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports. Her recommendations are likely to carry much more weight with the Airport Commission than they did with the Board of Referred Powers.
It's also probably good news for the group of L.A. celebrity chefs that tried to win a contract in the first round. Those chefs -- including Joachim Splichal, Nancy Silverton, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger -- vowed to bring a higher level of cuisine to LAX, which is generally held in low regard, food-wise. They bid for a major chunk of the business at the airport, and were the top choice of Lindsey's selection panel.
But it was a different story when they got to the Board of Referred Powers. The incumbent firm, HMS Host, mounted a successful lobbying campaign to deny them the contract, which was referred back to LAX for rebidding.
The chefs intend to try again, and will probably have more luck if the contract stays with the Airport Commission this time around.
Rothenberg serves on the board of California Pizza Kitchen, which was part of Host's bid. That was the conflict that kicked the whole thing up to the Board of Referred Powers -- where it seemed like the conflicts of interest were just as bad or worse.