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L.A. officials halt search for golf cart concessionaire and give work to unionized city employees

September 1, 2010 |  1:29 pm

The board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks voted Wednesday to cancel its search for a company to handle its golf cart rental concession, ending a seven-year search that was derided as both heavily politicized and painfully slow.

The commission, whose members are appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, voted unanimously to allow the department’s unionized workforce to rent out the carts at seven 18-hole courses.

Park officials have tried three times to go out to bid. After a winning company was finally recommended by the department in 2008, the City Council refused to sign the contract, saying instead that park officials should stick with the incumbent concessionaire, J.H. Kishi Co.

Commission President Barry Sanders said the decision to cancel that contract -- and turn the work over the city employees -- would give the department flexibility if it decides in coming years to bid out all of the city’s golf course operations to a single company. Still, he acknowledged that the city’s lengthy search process, originally designed to prevent cronyism and insider deals, has become cumbersome and costly for all sides.

"If I were a potential contractor under these rules, I would think twice" before submitting a proposal, he said.

Wednesday’s vote was a victory for Service Employees International Union Local 721, whose representatives have pushed since 2003 to have city workers run the golf cart concession. The concession has been held since at least 1975 by Kishi, which was criticized by City Controller Wendy Greuel last month as having under-reported golf cart revenue.

"Every time we have an outside contractor at any department, we always have to go back and redo their work," said Andrew Ortiz, a Recreation and Parks employee who is also a union steward.

A lawyer for Kishi said his client is comfortable with the city’s decision. The company will remain on a month-to-month contract until the transition to the city workforce is complete.
 
Ready Golf Centers President Michael Bernback, the owner of the company that was slated to get the contract two years ago, said he believes Kishi will hold on to the work for years as city officials struggle to take over the concession.

"They don’t have the budget to lease out the carts. They don’t have the experience. And the union employees are so much more expensive than the nonunion employees,” he said.

Parks officials recommended a private contractor twice in 2008, partly because the department was unable to purchase insurance for the carts. At the time, the department warned that hiring freezes would make it more difficult to deliver the service.
 
Jon Kirk Mukri, the head of the parks department, said his agency would now seek to acquire the golf cart lease owned by Kishi. Repairs of those carts will be made either by city employees or a city contractor, he said.

Commissioner Jerome Stanley said he hoped the city also could find a way to shield Kishi’s workers from losing their jobs during an economic downturn. Mukri said he cannot guarantee that those 40 employees would be spared.
 
"My first responsibility is taking care of my own employees," he said.
 
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
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