A major international shipping line is asking a judge to halt a controversial bidding process for a prized terminal site at the Port of Los Angeles, claiming that the port appears to be favoring competitor Evergreen Marine Corp. in its efforts to create the "greenest" terminal in the nation.
P&O Nedlloyd Container Line Ltd. filed a petition on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking a court order to stop the current search for a new port tenant.
In court papers, P&O questioned why port officials unexpectedly threw out all four bids in late September, even though P&O appeared to have met the requirements for building a project with new technology for reducing air pollution.
The petition lists several instances in which P&O contends the port appeared ready to lease the land to P&O, only to alter course and negotiate with Evergreen. It states that at one point port officials were about to sign a five-year agreement with P&O when the port representative got a phone call from the Los Angeles mayor's office telling him to leave immediately for a meeting with Evergreen.
The court petition is the latest twist in the search for a "green" tenant for the Terminal Island site.
That search already has drawn the attention of federal investigators looking into alleged wrongdoing in city contracting practices.
Spokesmen for the port and Mayor James K. Hahn on Friday declined to comment on the petition or its allegations. Neither Harbor Commission President Nicholas Tonsich nor interim port Executive Director Bruce Seaton had read the petition yet, a port spokesman said.
Commissioner Thomas Warren said he had not been notified of the petition and therefore could not comment.
After rejecting all bids in its first search for a tenant, the port changed its requirements and launched a new search for tenants in late October. Five bids were received by the deadline Friday afternoon. The Harbor Commission is expected to choose a tenant next month.
A top P&O official on Friday questioned why, in the first round, the port threw out his company's bid and three others. He said his company had the strongest proposal. P&O bid again, but because the guidelines were changed, it is unclear which bidder will have the strongest proposal in the new round.
"We don't understand why there was a second bid, and we don't think it's fair to us or the public. The criteria was reduced, and we don't know why," said Robert A. Agresti, executive vice president for London-based P&O's North American trade operation.
Several clean-air and community groups have rallied behind P&O's efforts to build a green terminal. They say that the bids from the first search, made public last month in response to a request from The Times, indicate that P&O would have been the least-polluting tenant for berths 206-209, often called the Matson property after a former tenant.
The groups wrote to Hahn and five other officials on Thursday, asserting that the guidelines for the second search would result in a terminal producing more toxic air contaminants than the original guidelines.
A court hearing on the petition is expected Monday.