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City Hall lobbyists withdraw bids for L.A. redistricting contract

The L.A. City Council Redistricting Commission, which is drawing new boundaries for the 15 council districts, decides to have its existing staff develop an alternative public relations strategy.

November 23, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

The top two firms competing to secure a $100,000 public relations contract from the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission abruptly dropped out of the running Tuesday, throwing the panel's work into turmoil.

Dakota Communications and Cerrell Associates withdrew their proposals shortly before the 21-member commission was scheduled to vote. They did so the same day The Times reported that they have an array of lobbying clients at City Hall, including airport concessions and shopping malls — a fact that irritated some neighborhood activists and advocacy groups.

Cerrell gave the commission 30 minutes' notice of its decision, officials said. In a statement, Cerrell President Lisa Gritzner said her firm pulled out because it did not want the commission to experience "unnecessary distractions."

The third-place candidate was disqualified by the city's lawyers because it has financial ties to political consultant Michael Trujillo, one of the commission's members.

The commission is charged with drawing new boundaries for the City Council's 15 districts, work that will have major implications for elected officials and the public. The panel is under the gun to hold several hearings before Christmas and more next year.

Commissioner Jose Cornejo, former chief of staff to Councilman Tony Cardenas, urged the panel to find another company. But others voiced doubts that they could accomplish a proper recruitment effort with the clock running out.

"It's not like we've got a lot of time," said Commissioner Julie Downey, who was appointed by City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.

The panel voted to have its existing staff develop an alternative public relations strategy and canceled four hearings slated Dec. 3-12 — deciding to reschedule them later.

The commission already was off to a turbulent start. Some on the council, including Councilman Bernard C. Parks, expressed displeasure with the panel's decision to hire Andrew Westall, who until recently was a legislative deputy to Councilman Herb Wesson, as its executive director. Critics had questioned whether Westall would be inclined to draw district lines in a way favored by Wesson and his allies.

Meanwhile, neighborhood activists and advocacy groups had complained about the notion of lobbying firms handling part of the outreach to the public.

Dakota has represented such clients as Home Depot, Playa Vista and Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. Cerrell has 22 clients at City Hall, including Fresh and Easy, a grocery company that has been trying to expand in various neighborhoods across the city, including the district where Westall was a legislative staffer.

Rick Taylor, a partner with Dakota, said his firm lacked the resources to work on so many hearings before the holidays.

"We dropped out because we did not think it's realistic," he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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