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Protocol Cited in Vote to Deny El Toro Closure Pact to Cabaco

Supervisors: Firm's change in manager scuttles the contract. Board's action could delay conversion by months, cost millions in lost leases.


In a move that one official said could delay by months the county's plans to take over El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday not to hire the firm that was the top contender to oversee the base closure next year.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, the crucial vote, rejected the proposal on grounds that the county staff had not followed procedure in choosing Cabaco Inc. and its designated manager, Col. Jim Ritchie, to oversee the transition from military to county ownership.

"Like many other instances on many other issues in this county, the process was not followed correctly," Spitzer said.

But Gary Simon, head of the county team overseeing the base conversion, warned supervisors that, by rejecting the Cabaco contract, they had set the process back at least five months, and that could end up costing the county millions of dollars.

"I'm shocked, dismayed and frustrated," Simon said. "The result of this board's action will be that the county of Orange will not be prepared to take over the base" in July 1999.

County officials were planning to lease the Marine base's golf course, horse stables and office space after next July. The revenue from those agreements would have been used to cover the cost of base maintenance, which could be as much as $10 million a year, Simon said.

Now, he said, it is unlikely that the county will be ready to lease any of those facilities next year, and the money for maintenance will probably have to come from the general fund.

Simon said it took the county staff five months to find well-qualified firms to handle the transition and complete the interview process.

Simon had supported hiring Cabaco and backed its plan to appoint Ritchie as property manager for the site. Ritchie, who is now in charge of the military's procedure for closing the bases at El Toro and Tustin, would have retired from the Marines to take the job.

Under the $1-million contract, Ritchie's duties would have included gathering the base's property records and taking inventory of hazardous materials in the buildings.

Ritchie, a 30-year Marine veteran who piloted helicopters during the Vietnam War, said military lawyers reviewed his request to work for Cabaco and did not find any conflict.

But Spitzer became concerned when Cabaco's original candidate for the management position was suddenly replaced. George Martin, a 26-year Marine veteran, had been Cabaco's choice, and the firm was chosen ahead of Boeing partly on Martin's presentation.

But a few days after the supervisors chose Cabaco, Ritchie was brought in to replace Martin, even though Ritchie had not been interviewed by the county's selection staff.

Spitzer said Tuesday that by not following procedure, the county may have violated the federal law that governs awarding of such contracts.

Supervisors William G. Steiner and Jim Silva voted for the Cabaco contract. But they could not approve the measure without Spitzer's support because Supervisors Thomas W. Wilson and Charles V. Smith cannot vote on the issue--they have conflicts of interest.

Steiner said after the vote that Cabaco was to blame for the outcome.

"If anybody dropped the ball it was not the county staff, it was Cabaco," he said.

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