Indecision on Contract Award for North Torrance Well Results in Project Delay
In a divided 5 to 2 vote, with Councilmembers Ashcraft and Griffiths dissenting, Torrance agreed to reconsider an award for the North Torrance Well Field Project. The $2 Million contract was initially awarded to the lowest bidder, GRFCO Inc, at the 09 June 2015 council meeting by a unanimous vote of the Council. At the next meeting held 16 June 2015, Mayor Furey asked for the item to be reconsidered due to a voluminous communication received from the Center for Contract Compliance (CCC).
The CCC’s website indicates that it was founded by the Southern California District Council of Laborers and its affiliated local unions and that it advocates compliance with prevailing wage laws to establish a level playing field for contractors competing for public works contracts, guarantee workers are properly compensated, and facilitate quality construction for public agencies.
This not the first time the CCC has gone after GRFCO. Their website touts two previous bid protests against GRFCO in 2013 in the cities of Placentia and Pomona. No other successful bid protests by the CCC are listed on the website.
GRFCO representative Jim Jackson argued at one Council meeting that every city they do business with receives the same packet with false claims from their “adversary” the “labor union which is disguised at the CCC.” He stated GRFCO had provided the City with documentation refuting the CCC’s assertions as well as provided 3 pages of references and 58 letters of recommendation.
The information provided by GRFCO was initially sufficient to placate the concerns from City staff as they informed the Council in previous meetings that they were aware of all the complaints provided by the CCC, but that they had done their due diligence, contacted GRFCO’s references, and still recommended GRFCO for the award.
That position is consistent with several other cities that have confronted the same issue. Pasadena, for example, recently recommended GRFCO for an award in May after reviewing the same documentation. City staff in that instance noted that they had contacted other entities where GRFCO had recently completed work such as Newport Beach, Santa Fe Springs, the Central Basin Water District, and LA County Sanitation District and had received positive reviews. They also noted that GRFCO is in good standing with the California Contractors State Licensing Board.
Upon reviewing the matter further, however, Torrance staff has done an about face and reversed their initial conclusions. They now claim they are persuaded by information provided by the CCC and that GRFCO should have been deemed non-responsive to the original bid instead of being awarded the contract. Their current recommendation is to start the process anew and have the project re-bid.
Should that occur, the City may get sued by GRFCO. Mayor Furey acknowledged that amidst the documentation from GRFCO was a letter from their attorney threatening legal action. Furey also revealed that GRFCO had made numerous requests to meet with City officials, but noted that he was not enamored by the threat of legal action and that the recommendation from the City Attorney is that “whenever anybody brings up a lawsuit that we’re not going to communicate with those people at all.”
If the project is re-bid, it will also mean it will not be completed until next summer instead of this summer as originally planned. This is because the project cannot be completed while school is in session due to its proximity to Yukon Elementary and North High School. The project would provide drainage systems for upcoming wells and is part of a series of planned projects by the City that would help alleviate the impacts of the drought.