Transportation Committee Terminates LADOT Taxi Study Contract

9_23_09_sign.jpgPhoto:ShelbyWils/Flickr

This afternoon’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee was dominated by the taxi controversy explained in this earlier post.
In brief, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) is
overseeing a taxi assessment to set future taxi policy, and LADOT
awarded a contract for that assessment in a manner that bypassed
agreed-upon processes.

There was a great deal of testimony from taxi drivers and their
allies about the lack of transparency in the process, the miserable
working conditions under the current taxi system, the important opportunity
presented by this assessment, and the need to rescind the contract
LADOT had awarded improperly. Taxi franchise owner representatives also
testified. They refuted many taxi worker claims and urged that the
contracted assessment proceed unimpeded.

LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson testified that LADOT had tried
to follow the process. She stated that LADOT had made a verbal request to the
outgoing Transportation Committee Chair then-Council Member Wendy
Greuel. Council Member Greuel didn’t schedule the item during the last
couple weeks of her tenure, before moving on to become City Controller.
GM Robinson then felt that LADOT was losing time and wanted to get work
underway as quickly as possible, hence proceeded to award the contract
to Nelson/Nygaard.

Council Member Bernard Parks expressed sternly that the city was
about to spend $250,000 for an objective study to make progress in
resolving taxi issues, and that if the process of that study
is marred from the outset, then the results of it will be suspect, and
the city will be back at square one. Council Member Paul Koretz
emphasized the need for a transparent and open process. Council Member
Tom LaBonge and committee chair Council Member Bill Rosendahl also urged
transparency as necessary to build public trust.

By far, LADOT’s harshest critic at the hearing was Council Member
Richard Alarcón. Alarcón repeatedly pressed LADOT’s GM and
representatives as to why they had gone against the explicit
instructions of the city council to report back to the Transportation
Committee before awarding the contract. Alarcón exclaimed that the
"contract
is bogus at this point" and moved that the contract be rescinded.
Koretz immediately seconded the motion.

There was some discussion, including from the City Attorney
representative present, as to whether the Transportation Committee (as
opposed to, more likely, the full council with mayoral concurrence)
actually had the power to direct the LADOT General Manager to revoke a
contract. GM Robinson took the high road in this exchange, though,
stating that if there was a "consensus among committee members" then
LADOT could "march in that direction."

The Alarcón motion wording was then reworded, per City Attorney
advice, to direct LADOT to "exercise the 30-day termination clause" on
the taxi contract. The motion passed unanimously.

Rosendahl then stressed that it was important that this issue not
drag out excessively. He worked out a schedule with LADOT where the
issue will come before the Taxi Commission on October 15th, and then
come back to the Transportation Committee on October 28th.

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