Citizens Panel Joins in Criticism of Airport Land Bids

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adding its voice to growing protests, a citizens advisory council recommended Monday that the city delay award of a major lease for new aviation uses at Van Nuys Airport, which is scheduled for June 26, just four days before Mayor Richard Riordan leaves office.

One of the potential bidders is a businessman with ties to the mayor, and some critics have questioned the bidding process.

The panel asked the Airport Commission to reject the current bids, start over and allow the advisory council to review the solicitations for bids before they're sent.

"I think there was a certain amount of subterfuge involved here and there was an attempt on the part of the airport staff to rush this through," said Coby King, chairman of the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council also urged the Airport Commission not to approve the lease and to extend the bidding period from 30 days to 90 days.

Van Nuys Airport Manager Selena Birk refused Monday to disclose to the advisory panel who submitted bids for the land by the June 4 deadline, saying she wanted to "protect the integrity of the process."

Those who originally took out papers that would allow them to submit bids included Jerry Perenchio, who has ties to Riordan.

Critics of the deal, including City Council members and Homeowners of Encino President Gerald Silver, said it raises suspicions of favoritism and back-room deal making.

Silver, a member of the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council, said Monday he was "distressed by the backhanded manner" in which he felt the project has been handled by the Airport Commission, which he condemned for "its lack of candor."

The lease is for 5.8 acres at 7335-7337 Valjean Ave. Advisory council members contended that the action was fast-tracked to prevent the council from scrutinizing the proposal. The motion noted that a long-awaited master plan that would limit use of the site has not been adopted.

Advisory council member King supported the motion, saying that limiting potential bidders to one month of preparation was inadequate.

"I feel the procedure was a little too fast," King said. "Thirty days is not enough time for all of the interested parties to put together proposals."

King said he is concerned the deal looks bad, being pushed through just four days before Riordan leaves office.

"There is an appearance that the Airport Commission is trying to get this done just before the changing of government, and it probably should wait for the next administration," he said.

Councilwoman Laura Chick last week denounced the deal approval, saying it "smacks of back-room, closed-room dirty deals."

Since the deal has created outrage at City Hall, Riordan has said he has not pushed the Airport Commission he appointed for a quick decision.

Jessica Copen, a spokeswoman for Riordan, said Monday that neither would the mayor ask for a delay.

"The mayor is basically going to leave the decision to the Airport Commission and hope they will exercise their judgment and make the best decision," Copen said.

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