City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has handed a major victory to HMS Host, the LAX concessionaire that has been at the airport since 1965.

In a letter Tuesday to the city's Board of Referred Powers, Trutanich recommended disqualifying Host's rival, SSP America, from competition for the new airport food and beverage contract.

Airport officials put the contract out to bid in an

effort to freshen up the offerings at LAX, which are routinely ranked

among the nation's worst.

The airport staff recommended awarding the contract to SSP America, which put together an all-star lineup of Los Angeles celebrity chefs, including Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Joaquim Splichal and Nancy Silverton. The contract is worth some $600 million in revenues over 10 years.

Host finished last, and filed a protest alleging the selection process was flawed. In August, Host's lobbyists complained that SSP had an unfair advantage because it does business with SmartDesign, an architectural firm that  was used as a consultant on creating the bids. (SmartDesign has also done work for Host.)

In his letter, Trutanich concludes that a court would void any contract awarded to SSP on account of its relationship with SmartDesign. The city attorney also concludes that Host would be disqualified because Alan Rothenberg, the chair of the Airport Commission, serves on the board of California Pizza Kitchen, which is part of Host's proposal.

Trutanich says the board “may choose to reject all bids” for the contract and start anew. That would work in favor of Host, which is the incumbent contractor. It could take a year or more to redo the bid process, during which time Host would continue to serve as the airport's major food and beverage contractor.

This is also a big win for John Ek, Host's top lobbyist. As the L.A. Weekly reported last month, Ek raised $3,000 for Trutanich earlier this year.

Over the weekend, the L.A. Times reported that Trutanich provided legal advice to Ek in 2003. The Times also reported that Ek's wife, Esther Ek, has gone on vacation four times with Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who serves on the Board of Referred Powers.

Previous coverage:
July 1: Food Fight at LAX
July 9: L.A. City Council To Award Massive LAX Concession Contracts
July 19: Tony Cárdenas To Hold Fundraiser At Restaurant Bidding For LAX Business
July 23: Cárdenas Won't Take From LAX Concessions; But His Chief Of Staff Will
July 29: LAX Media “Eat-In” Brings Protesters Out
July 30: Fate Of LAX Concession Contracts To Be Continued
Aug. 4: Conflict Charges Fly at the $600 Million LAX Bakeoff
Aug. 12: Janice Hahn Concerned About Conflicts On LAX Concession Contract

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.