Dealing a defeat to construction magnate Ron Tutor, the L.A. City Council today awarded a $271 million LAX contract to rival firm Clark/McCarthy.
The contract attracted some attention because Tutor's lobbyist, Veronica Becerra, is dating Councilman Dennis Zine — who had publicly questioned the airport's rationale for giving the job to Clark/McCarthy.
After that was reported, Zine recused himself from today's vote. But even without him in the room
there were plenty of council members willing to go to bat for Tutor.
Coucilwoman Jan Perry and Councilmen Tony Cardenas, Ed Reyes and Richard Alarcon all voted against giving the contract to Clark/McCarthy. Despite their opposition, the contract was approved on a vote of 9-4.
The bidders were competing for the chance to build a new utility plant at LAX, which will provide heating and cooling for the airport terminals. Airport officials determined that Clark/McCarthy had the lowest bid at $271 million.
Tutor's bid was tossed out because it did not comply with the airport's design specifications. But Tutor and his lobbyists made the case to the council that Tutor could do the job for $30 million less than the winning bid.
Perry, Reyes, Cardenas and Alarcon all raised questions about the airport's selection process, at times cross-examining airport director Gina Marie Lindsey. When Councilman Tom LaBonge suggested that it would be best to defer to the airport staff, Alarcon shot back: “The city of Bell could heed the advice not always to pay attention to their staff.”
It's become commonplace in city government to look down at Bell, where the majority of the council is facing corruption charges. But it's a little weird for Alarcon to do it, since he himself is under indictment for perjury and voter fraud.
Speaking of which, guess who gave $1,000 to the Alarcon Legal Defense Fund? If you guessed Ron Tutor, give yourself a gold star. But back to the matter at hand.
It emerged from today's hearing that Tutor is in fact quite lucky to still be in a position to do business with the airport at all. Roger Johnson, the deputy executive director at LAX, testified that Tutor's proposal used the wrong weather data in an apparent attempt to willfully deceive airport staff.
The staff gave each bidder baseline weather data to work from, so that all proposals could be compared fairly. Tutor's proposal used temperatures that were too warm in winter and and too cool in summer, making Tutor's project appear more energy efficient.
When airport staffers called Tutor on this, Tutor's response was that the airport had given them the wrong data. Airport staff said that was impossible, at which point Tutor said that something in its own model must have corrupted the data. “It's difficult to see how that could have happened,” Johnson said.
This sounds arcane, but it's serious stuff, and it prompted LAX to launch an investigation into Tutor's “trustworthiness.” LAX scheduled a hearing of “non-responsibility.” If Tutor were found “non-responsible,” that could hurt its ability to win jobs not only at LAX, but at airports around the country. Instead of going risking that, Tutor withdrew its protest.
In a settlement reached in November, Tutor dropped its proposal and agreed not to sue, and the airport dropped the investigation.
End of story? No, because Tutor then tried to persuade the council not to award the contract to Clark/McCarthy and to rebid the work, which would put Tutor back in the running. Points for chutzpah, but in the end it fell short.