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Zine won't vote on LAX contract because he's dating lobbyist for bidder

The councilman says he sees no conflict of interest but will recuse himself from voting on a controversial, $271-million central utility plant.

January 01, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine says he will recuse himself from voting on a controversial, $271-million airport contract to avoid "any appearance of impropriety" regarding his romantic relationship with a lobbyist who works for one of the companies that sought the contract.

Zine said Thursday that he sees no conflict of interest regarding his relationship with Veronica Becerra, who works for Tutor Perini Corp., which tried without success to secure the contract to build the Central Utility Plant at Los Angeles International Airport.

In a prepared statement, Zine said he reached his decision after consulting the city attorney's office, which advised him that "the law is not entirely clear on whether or not a legal conflict of interest exists."

"My hope is that by voluntarily removing myself from this discussion, it will not distract from the importance of this multimillion-dollar contract," he said.

Zine's relationship with Becerra was first reported by the Daily Breeze.

Los Angeles World Airports has recommended that the construction contract go to the joint venture known as Clark/McCarthy, not Tutor Perini or its other competitors. Mike Molina, the airport's deputy executive director, said he respects Zine's decision on the contract, which comes up for a vote Tuesday.

Despite his plan for a recusal, Zine has voted on the issue once, persuading his colleagues Dec. 17 to delay a decision on the lucrative deal for two weeks. He cast that vote while Becerra was sitting in the audience.

Minutes after he did so, Becerra told The Times that she is, at least on some level, romantically linked to the councilman. "We date. It's not a big thing," she said.

Becerra also saw no reason for Zine to recuse himself on the issue. "He dates a lot of women in this building. He would have to back out of a lot of things" if he began stepping aside on matters involving those women, she said.

The city Ethics Commission's website lists Becerra as a registered lobbyist with the firm Rabuild Commercial, which in turn lists one client: Tutor Perini. At the time she attended the council meeting, Becerra said, she was a public relations representative of Tutor Perini.

Reached by The Times on Thursday, Becerra declined to discuss her relationship with Zine further. But in the previous interview, she said she had asked for the delay on her own behalf, not her client.

Becerra also sharply criticized the airport agency's bidding process and said she had asked eight council members, including Zine, for a postponement.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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