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Santa Ana - August 2009

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Santa Ana — Streetcar Planning Contract Controversy

Rail Transit Online, August 2009

The Santa Ana city council on Aug. 3 voted 4-0, with two abstentions, to award a $4.8-million, two-year streetcar planning and design contract to Cordoba Corp., a firm with no experience in the field but which is well-connected at city hall. Another $1.2 million will be spent on project oversight and other costs.

Funding will come from the Orange County Transportation Authority as part of its "Go Local" program, which encourages municipal initiatives to build small transit circulators that will feed passengers to and from Metrolink commuter rail stations.

Santa Ana has selected a streetcar initially linking the railroad station, also served by Amtrak's Los Angeles-San Diego route, to downtown with a later extension to Harbor Boulevard and the State Highway 22 freeway. Officials hope to have the first segment ready in about five years.

The selection of Cordoba was controversial because of the company's past campaign contributions to Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilman Carlos Bustamante, both of whom abstained from voting on the contract. Bustamante and Cordoba president George Pla also serve on the board of a local bank.

There were three bids for the planning work, the others coming from experienced engineering consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff, which did the initial planning and suggested a streetcar, and David Evans and Associates. When ranked by an expert review panel, the Parsons team received an average score of 93.7 while Evans got 77.

Cordoba's total of 72.9 points was barely above the minimum of 70. A city council committee then interviewed all three and selected Cordoba, refusing to release documents — including cost estimates —that would help explain how the decision was reached.

Cordoba has agreed to give rival bidder Evans 20 percent of the contract. Pla said his firm won because he knows the territory. "It's not about political connections," he told The Orange County Register. "It's about trust. Getting this project to be a success is about having trust in the team."

Mayor Pulido said the submission from Parsons Brinckerhoff was too narrowly focused and the firm was slow to answer the council's questions. Relationships matter in the sense that you get to know people in good times and bad," Pulido told The Orange County Register. "But what really matters here is the responsiveness."


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