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O.C. Grand Jury criticizes Santa Ana council over transportation contract

The Orange County Grand Jury harshly criticized Santa Ana’s City Council for awarding a transportation contract in a process that was “fraught with political and administrative inconsistencies,” according to a report released Monday.

The contract with Cordoba Corp. was to help launch a streetcar project that would be the largest transportation endeavor in the city’s history. According to the report, the bulk of a $4.85-million consulting agreement was awarded to a firm that experts had rated the least qualified of all the bidders.

According to the report, “elected officials set aside their own procedures, overruled the findings of an expert panel and ignored Santa Ana city staff recommendations regarding the best-qualified applicant.”

In a statement, city officials strongly disputed the findings and said the grand jury report was “filled with inaccuracies.”

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“The reality is that this transit project is on schedule, under budget and successfully moving forward,” City Manager David N. Ream said.

The project stems from a grant program created by the Orange County Transportation Authority to fund local transportation projects.

In 2008, Santa Ana called for proposals to study a streetcar project. Three consulting firms submitted proposals and a panel established by the city found that all three firms met the qualifications but rated Cordoba Corp. as the least qualified.

According to the report, before the city made its selection, two unnamed City Council members met with the chosen firm’s president at a local restaurant to discuss the project.

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Later, three council members, including Mayor Miguel Pulido, Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez and Councilman Vincent Sarmiento, held a meeting to evaluate the firms, but no minutes of the meeting were taken and no record of public discussion or input was made.

Pulido said the meeting was publicly noticed and that media were present. Minutes were not taken because no decisions were made, he said.

Ultimately, the council approved a $4.85-million contract for the project, with 75% of the contract going to Cordoba Corp. and its design partner URS Corp.

The grand jury recommended the city revise its guidelines and tighten procedures for awarding such contracts in the future and that the transportation authority provide stronger oversight for similar local transportation projects.

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In the response issued by the city, City Atty. Joe Fletcher also criticized the report. “Despite innuendo to the contrary, the report contains no evidence of illegal or unethical conduct and often relies upon misstatements of legal standards and misinterpretation of applicable statutes,” he said.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com


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