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Vote on LAX concessions delayed for review of conflict-of-interest claims

August 4, 2010 |  9:24 am

The culinary catfight involving the selection of new dining spots at Los Angeles International Airport took another turn Wednesday morning when a five-member political panel again delayed voting on the matter.

The Board of Referred Powers, which features five of the City Council's 15 members, was supposed to hold a hearing Thursday to review and possibly select companies to take over the airport's retail, food and beverage concessions.

But a spokesman for the board's chairman, Councilman Tony Cardenas, said Wednesday the meeting would be postponed to allow City Atty. Carmen Trutanich to review new conflict-of-interest allegations filed over the airport's contracting process.

HMS Host, which was not chosen as one of the winning bidders, submitted a complaint alleging Los Angeles World Airports had two consulting firms working on the LAX bidding process even though they had financial ties to two winning bidders.

Adding to the circus-like atmosphere of the concession fight, HMS Host promised to spell out details of its legal complaint at a "tasting" event designed to highlight some of the restaurants in its LAX application. Those companies include Johnny Rockets, Starbucks and Pinkberry.

In its complaint, the Bethesda-based HMS Host said the winning bidders -- Areas USA and SSP America Inc. -- retained the consultants on projects in other parts of the country. HMS Host's lawyer, Jerold Neuman, said state conflict-of-interest law requires that the bidding process be scrapped even if there is no evidence of "malfeasance."

An airport spokesman said the agency would await a legal finding on the letter.

"While we're disappointed with another delay, we'll wait until the city attorney's office renders its opinion," said Mike Molina, deputy executive director of external affairs for Los Angeles World Airports.

Wednesday's HMS Host event at Maria's Italian Kitchen in West Los Angeles is at least the third stunt over LAX concessions so far this summer.

SSP America, which has grown frustrated over meeting delays and political machinations, staged a demonstration last week in downtown Los Angeles with tasting from its own group of prospective restaurants. That company hopes to provide LAX with dining spots such as Nick and Stef's Steakhouse, Border Grill and Panda Express.

Meanwhile, HMS Host held a separate protest to say SSP's food was too expensive for Los Angeles' working families.

The Board of Referred Powers is a panel established to make decisions when another city panel is deemed to have a conflict of interest.

In the case of LAX concessions, the president of the Board of Airport Commissioners was found to have a potential conflict involving one of the prospective restaurants.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall