Alan Rothenberg cites potential business conflicts in quitting airport commission

The president of the Los Angeles airport commission resigned Thursday, saying his ties to a popular restaurant chain have complicated efforts to transform the dining and shopping experience for travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.

Alan Rothenberg, an attorney and investment banker in Century City, sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announcing his departure from the Board of Airport Commissioners, where he has served for five years.

The seven-member panel sets policy for Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport and Van Nuys Airport. Commissioners have been heavily involved in the long-awaited modernization of LAX, which includes new concessions and an extensive remodel of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

"It's very sad to part three-fourths of the way through a massive program that has been very rewarding," Rothenberg said. "But to stay would risk slowing down both the concessions effort and the Bradley West project."

Rothenberg's role on the commission became complicated in April, when the Los Angeles city attorney's office disqualified him and the panel from voting to award multimillion-dollar concessions contracts at LAX.

City lawyers concluded that Rothenberg had potential conflicts of interest because he serves on the board and owns about $1 million of stock in California Pizza Kitchen, a restaurant chain directly and indirectly involved in bids for concession contracts. Rothenberg requested the review.

As a result, eight airport concessions contracts were sent to the city's Board of Referred Powers, a panel of five council members that decides matters that involve possible conflicts of interest. In a process marked by heavy lobbying by bidders, the board took several months to award the new contracts for restaurants, beverage stands and retail outlets.

Because of Rothenberg's potential conflict, decisions related to future concession contracts and whether to extend existing agreements at LAX might have to be sent to the Board of Referred Powers.

"Since that process is likely to cause delay, we simply cannot take that risk as it might adversely impact LAWA's ability to complete the concession upgrade by December 2012," Rothenberg told the mayor.

Airport commissioners, Villaraigosa, Councilwoman Janice Hahn and airport Director Gina Marie Lindsey said that they were saddened by Rothenberg's resignation and that his leadership, quick mind and sense of humor would be missed.

"Alan has been a wonderful president of the commission," said his colleague Walter Zifkin. "He's contributed to the overall improvement of LAX and Los Angeles World Airports. He took the mayor's goal of moving the airport into the 21st century and was making it happen."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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