SANTA ANA — Stung by embarrassing delays at the new John Wayne Airport terminal expansion, county supervisors Tuesday unanimously stripped the primary contractor of a $25-million parking garage and road job.
The action left Taylor Woodrow Construction California Ltd. with the airport's $60-million terminal contract, but supervisors warned that it too could be in jeopardy if problems persist.
Supervisors and other county officials insisted that the firing would not affect the airport's scheduled Sept. 16 opening. That date had already been postponed from April 1.
"This was a step that none of us wanted to take, but we're going to get the airport open on time, and this will do that," said Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the airport. "I'm optimistic that things will go well from here on out."
The decision capped a frantic week of legal and public relations jousting as the county and the contractor girded for a protracted legal battle expected over project delays, design changes, fines for late work, the county's overall supervision and now the decision to fire Taylor Woodrow from the parking garage contract.
On Tuesday, the finger-pointing continued. County officials, for instance, revealed that Taylor Woodrow had let one of its state construction licenses lapse and suggested that this would bolster the county's legal position. And the construction firm continued to blame delays on the county and its project manager.
Threats of lawsuits were repeated during the stormy board session in which company representatives lectured the elected officials on the role of the judiciary in a democracy, and the supervisors, some of them openly angry, snapped back.
"The table is being set for a litigious food fight," Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said as Taylor Woodrow attorneys stood uncomfortably at the lectern. Later, the supervisor said he and his colleagues were "waiting for their invitations," and he predicted that the county would have to battle it out with the company in court.
The parking garage and road work is more than eight months behind schedule, and the construction firm could face up to $2.5 million in late fines as a result.
As part of Tuesday's action, the county will turn over the parking structure contract to its airport project manager, a consortium of firms known as HPV. The remaining work, valued at between $158,000 and $400,000, will be paid for with money withheld from Taylor Woodrow.
The $60-million agreement to build the new airport terminal remains in place, though the supervisors voted to add a list of rigorous new conditions intended to speed up work on that facility.
But that plan also commits the government to shelling out more money in overtime expenses, and officials estimate that the county could spend an additional $1 million to guarantee that the Sept. 16 deadline for the terminal will be met.
While county lawyers braced for a legal challenge to Taylor Woodrow's dismissal, they vowed not to let any court battles affect the airport's progress.
Company officials appeared to lay the groundwork for a court fight, presenting supervisors with a pair of voluminous reports that document Taylor Woodrow's progress at the airport. The reports, prepared by a Denver-based consulting company, charge that the county shares responsibility for project delays.
But the county's legal staff made points of its own.
In response to questions from Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, Ernest Brown, a special counsel reviewing work at the airport expansion, told the board that Taylor Woodrow had let one of its state licenses lapse and therefore could not legally continue working on the road. Legal experts said that might also prevent Taylor Woodrow from successfully challenging its dismissal.
Documents supplied by the Contractors State License Board later confirmed that the firm's Class "A" engineering license was removed April 3. A company official who held the license left the firm in January, and the license was officially dropped as a result.
"We go to lawyers with licenses, we go to barbers with licenses. We ought to go to contractors with licenses," Stanton told Taylor Woodrow representatives. "The fact is, you ain't got a license."
In a prepared statement that Taylor Woodrow released immediately after the supervisors' meeting, Senior Vice President William Ostfeld criticized the board, saying its action Tuesday "does not make any business or legal sense."
Ostfeld, who did not depart from the prepared text, added that the company has directed its lawyers to "take immediate and appropriate legal action to ensure we receive a fair hearing and prevent the proposed wrongful termination of our contract."
Late Tuesday afternoon, Taylor Woodrow issued a second written statement, this one saying that the company "has fully complied with the licensing requirements for the Northwest Parking Garage and Elevated Roadway project."
According to the company, a Class "B" license is sufficient to do all remaining work on the road and garage, as well as the terminal. County officials agree that the garage and terminal can be handled with such a license, but they disagree when it comes to the road.
A September, 1988, letter from the State Contractors License Board appears to back the county position. In it, Richard Reed, a license classifications deputy with the board, indicated that both types of licenses were needed and that a Class "A" license was required for "fixed works requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skill," including "highways, streets and roads."
The elevated road is very nearly complete, but even the company agrees that some minor work remains to be done.