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L.A. Council approves LAX contract, Zine declines to vote because of lobbyist connection

January 4, 2011 | 12:51 pm

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to award a controversial $271-million construction contract that had come under fire from a well-connected lobbyist who is also the girlfriend of one of the council members.

On a 9 to 4 vote, the council hired the joint venture known as Clark/McCarthy to rebuild the Central Utility Plant at Los Angeles international Airport. That facility provides heating and cooling for LAX.

The decision on the contract had been delayed on Dec. 17 after a majority of the council was asked to do so by Veronica Becerra, who represents competing bidder Tutor Perini, one of the companies that sought the work. Becerra is also the girlfriend of Councilman Dennis Zine, who called for the delay during that meeting.

Since then, Zine decided to step aside from voting but insisted that his relationship with Becerra does not constitute a conflict of interest.

Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, airport officials fended off hostile questions from council members about their decision to hire Clark/McCarthy, which submitted the lowest bid of the companies that qualified for the work. Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said Tutor Perini did not make it through the screening process that would have allowed it to become one of the bidders.

“Tutor Perini failed,” she said. “They did not make the grade.”

Timothy Buresh, vice president of Tutor Perini, had no comment after the council's vote.

Once Tutor Perini failed to make the cut, airport officials found what they described as more troubling issues with their bid. Tutor Perini submitted a proposal with temperature assumptions that were dramatically different from the ones that were required for all the companies that were seeking the work.

Tutor Perini’s plan assumed that temperatures around LAX were 20 degrees cooler than normal in the summer and 5 degrees warmer in the winter, airport officials said. Those numbers would have made the proposed plant look more energy efficient than it would have been in reality. When the airport opened an investigation into those numbers, Tutor Perini responded with “multiple and contradictory sets of information,” Lindsey said.

Tutor Perini also demanded a hearing, which the airport agreed to hold. But before it took place, the firm withdrew its proposal, Lindsey said.

After hearing that testimony, Councilman Tom LaBonge called for his colleagues to approve the contract with Clark/McCarthy, saying they should “have faith in our departments that do the work.”

Those statements did not reassure council members Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Jan Perry and Ed Reyes. Alarcon said he believed that the airport did not have enough documentation to show why Tutor Perini was knocked out of the running and wanted to know why Tutor Perini could not be reintroduced now into the airport’s bidding process.

Tutor Perini is based in Sylmar, which is part of Alarcon’s district. Ronald M. Tutor, Tutor Perini’s chief executive, contributed $1,000 in August to Alarcon’s legal defense fund, which raises money to pay for legal fees associated with Alarcon’s defense in an ongoing felony voter fraud case.

Cardenas, meanwhile, has been Lindsey’s biggest critic on the council over the last year. Cardenas sharply criticized the executive director’s handling of food and beverage contracts at LAX. During multiple hearings, he posed a series of questions that had also been offered by one of the losing bidders, HMS Host.

RELATED:

Zine won't vote on LAX contract because he's dating employee of a bidder

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

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