A 2 1/2-year effort to overhaul concessions for passengers at Los Angeles International Airport made significant progress Monday when a special City Council panel approved four of five food and beverage contracts that had been contested by competing companies.
The five-member Board of Referred Powers voted 4 to 1 to award three contracts to Areas USA, based in Florida, and one contract to the THS-Marbella Food Service Partnership, which involves the Delaware North Companies, a longtime concessionaire at LAX.
Also on a 4-1 vote, the board threw out all bids for the most lucrative food and beverage contract — a decision that will force Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, to re-solicit proposals at a later date. The contract is worth an estimated $56 million annually to the airport and the contractor.
Board members said they rejected the bids based on an opinion by Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich that SSP America Inc., which had been recommended by LAX staff, probably had a conflict of interest involving an airport consultant who had worked on bid guidelines. The company has disagreed with Trutanich.
"We are very, very glad we got the approvals we did," said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of the airport agency. "I'm sorry to have recommended that we reject the one bid, but we had no choice. We had no clear legal path."
Lindsey said she would confer with her staff and the city's Board of Airport Commissioners to determine how to proceed with a re-bid of the remaining food and beverage contract.
At least for now, Monday's vote ends the involvement of the Board of Referred Powers, which approved seven of eight concessions contracts that were brought before it months ago because of a potential conflict involving airport commission president Alan Rothenberg.
Rothenberg sits on the board of and owns stock in California Pizza Kitchen, an airport concessionaire that does business with HMS Host, which competed in the current bidding for contracts at LAX.
Host has provided concessions at LAX for more than 40 years and fought tenaciously to keep its place at the airport. The company was successful in its bid protest against SSP. However, Host was not recommended for any contract, nor did it prevail in its effort to have the entire bid process thrown out.
"The rejection of the largest package acknowledges the serious flaws in the process that we raised," said Susan Goyette, a spokeswoman for Host. "We continue to maintain that those same flaws existed in the remaining packages as well."
Two other retail contracts still must be voted on by the airport commission. If approved, Lindsey said she wanted to get all nine contracts to the council for final approval by the second week of October.
Councilman Tony Cardenas, who chairs the Board of Referred Powers, cast the only vote against the four contracts that were approved. He said he had issues with the scoring of bids by LAX staff and was disturbed that some airport evaluators destroyed their notes.
"I wasn't about to go along to get along. That's what got people in trouble in Bell," said Cardenas, who contended that his colleagues had provided only the minimum amount of scrutiny required by law.
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.