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Los Angeles City Council approves LAX construction contract

The Los Angeles council awards a $271-million contract to rebuild a plant that provides heating and cooling for LAX. The agreement was criticized by lobbyist for a rival firm, who is also the girlfriend of Councilman Dennis Zine.

January 05, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to award a controversial $271-million construction contract that had come under fire from a well-connected lobbyist who is also the girlfriend of a council member.

On a 9-4 vote, the council hired the joint venture known as Clark/McCarthy to rebuild the central utility plant at Los Angeles international Airport. That facility provides heating and cooling for LAX.

The decision on the contract had been delayed Dec. 17 after members were asked to do so by Veronica Becerra, who represents Tutor Perini Corp., one of the companies that sought the work. Becerra is also the girlfriend of Councilman Dennis Zine, who called for the delay during that meeting while Becerra was sitting in the audience.

Since then, Zine decided to step aside from voting but insisted that his relationship with Becerra does not constitute a conflict of interest.

Throughout Tuesday's meeting, airport officials fended off hostile questions from council members about their decision to hire Clark/McCarthy, which submitted the lowest bid of the companies that qualified for the work. Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said Tutor Perini did not make it through the screening process that would have allowed it to become one of the bidders.

"Tutor Perini failed," she said. "They did not make the grade."

Timothy Buresh, vice president of Tutor Perini, had no comment after the vote.

After Tutor Perini was out of the running, airport officials found what they described as more troubling issues. Tutor Perini submitted a proposal containing assumptions about local temperatures that were dramatically different from the ones required for companies seeking the contract, they said.

Tutor Perini's plan assumed that temperatures around LAX were 20 degrees cooler than normal in the summer and 5 degrees warmer in the winter, airport officials said. Those numbers would have made the proposed plant look more energy efficient than it would have been in reality. When the airport opened an investigation into those numbers, Tutor Perini responded with "multiple and contradictory sets of information" and demanded a hearing, Lindsey said.

Before that hearing took place, the company withdrew its proposal, Lindsey said.

Councilman Tom LaBonge urged his colleagues to approve the contract with Clark/McCarthy, saying they should "have faith in our departments that do the work."

Those statements did not reassure council members Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Jan Perry and Ed Reyes. Alarcon said he didn't believe the airport had enough documentation to show why Tutor Perini was disqualified and suggested that the company be reintroduced now into the airport's bidding process.

Tutor Perini is based in Sylmar, which is part of Alarcon's district. Ronald M. Tutor, Tutor Perini's chief executive, contributed $1,000 in August to Alarcon's legal defense fund, which helps pay for the councilman's defense in an ongoing felony voter fraud case. That case alleges that the councilman lied about his residence.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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