State lawmakers passed an emergency bill Friday that would resurrect a troubled plan to build an emergency communication system in Los Angeles County for police and fire agencies.
The project, which is estimated to cost around $600 million to $700 million, derailed last month after three years of planning, when county lawyers belatedly realized the nearly completed contract negotiations to build the complex system violated state rules on how contracts for publicly funded projects must be structured and awarded. County officials made the drastic decision to start from scratch and divide the project into three separate contracts in order to adhere to the state regulations.
The delay put at risk at least $283 million in federal funding that needed to be spent by approaching deadlines.
County leaders went to Sacramento in search of help. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) agreed to author a bill that would legalize the single-contract approach. With the current legislative session ending Friday, Lowenthal had only a few weeks to push the bill through both houses of the Legislature.
With Friday's unanimous vote by the Assembly, the bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Oct. 9 to sign or veto it. Because the bill was assigned urgency status, if Brown does sign it, it will become law immediately. A spokesman for the governor declined to speculate on whether Brown planned to sign it.
"There was no way we were giving up a great public safety tool just because someone forgot to dot their I's or cross their Ts," said Lowenthal, who chairs the Joint Committee on Emergency Management. "Federal money isn't so easy to come by these days, and we can't afford to let this get away."
The system is intended to allow the scores of police, fire and other emergency-response agencies in the sprawling county to communicate and share data during major incidents such as an earthquake or terrorist attack.
The idea for it was born out of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, during which emergency responders in New York City were hamstrung by an inability to communicate easily. If it is built, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System would be one of the largest and most complex of its kind in the country.
If the bill is signed into law, plans for the communication system will still be a few months behind schedule, since project officials will be forced to retrace steps already taken. They will have to once again solicit proposals from companies vying for the lucrative contract and formally evaluate the submissions. The first time around, negotiators had all but reached a deal with technology company Raytheon, which plans to resubmit its proposal, according to a Raytheon spokesman. A spokesman for Raytheon's main competitor for the job, Motorola, did not immediately return a call for comment.