Scrutiny of LAX pacts stepped up
Efforts to determine whether two major contracts at Los Angeles International Airport were awarded improperly intensified Wednesday when a City Council member called for further inquiries and the city controller announced that she would review airport contracting procedures.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn requested that the council review and take jurisdiction over a three-year, $41.5-million contract awarded Friday by the Airport Commission to Fentress Architects, based in Denver.
Fentress, known for its innovative designs of airports, museums and other public buildings, was hired to work on modernization projects at LAX, including a new midfield concourse and renovation of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
In addition, City Controller Laura Chick announced that her office would look into a contract awarded in March to DMJM Aviation Inc., a Florida company hired to manage the expansion and modernization program at LAX. The one-year contract is worth $25 million.
The controversy has centered over whether airport chief Gina Marie Lindsey improperly influenced the hiring of DMJM Aviation and Fentress, two companies that worked on improvements to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport while she was airport director there.
Lindsey, who became executive director of Los Angeles World Airports in 2007, said she welcomed the reviews and looked forward to working with the controller’s staff. She has denied any impropriety related to the Fentress and DMJM contracts.
“We’re happy to have these public forums so we can talk about this complicated process, one that we are proud of,” Lindsey said. “It’s a rigorous process that we followed to the letter in both contracts.”
DMJM Aviation was selected by airport commissioners although Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco was initially recommended for the contract during the airport’s evaluation process.
After weighing bids from competing companies, a review panel recommended 4 to 1 on Jan. 9 that Bechtel be awarded the project management contract, airport records show. A second review panel, convened Jan. 15-16, voted 5 to 0 in favor of DMJM.
Airport sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Lindsey was unhappy with the Bechtel recommendation and ordered the second review, which she attended. Lindsey said Wednesday that she supported the idea of a second evaluation but did not request it.
Airport records indicate that the selection process for Fentress, the architectural firm, had similar characteristics to the DMJM contract in that another firm was initially recommended and then fell down in the rankings during a second review attended by Lindsey.
In that competition, Santiago Calatrava-Gensler, a partnership formed for the bid, won the first round, 3 to 2. A second review panel voted 3 to 2 in favor of Fentress.
Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, said airport lawyers determined that the bid process related to the DMJM contract was legal and that they were likely to make the same finding when the Fentress contract was finalized.
At their regular meeting Monday, airport commissioners plan to discuss with airport staff and members of the evaluation panels how the DMJM contract was awarded.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on Hahn’s request Tuesday. A two-thirds majority is required for passage. If the council takes jurisdiction over the Fentress contract, it will be sent for review to the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, which oversees LAX. Hahn chairs the panel.
The council can recommend that the Airport Commission approve or reject the Fentress contract, but the recommendation does not have to be followed.
Chick said her office will review the DMJM contract process and check whether the airport’s bid procedures are being followed in the aftermath of previous audits by the controller.
In December 2003, an audit by the controller’s office concluded that the airport agency lacked a formal process for selecting bids on contracts and did not keep adequate records documenting its decisions. A follow-up report in 2005 said the agency had tightened up its procedures but still lacked consistent guidelines for awarding contracts, creating “an environment ripe for abuse.”