A contract rushed to a vote — in a surprise move by a 3-2 majority of the Irvine City Council back in December — has now come under scrutiny for irregularities in the bidding process and promises by the contractor that have failed to pan out.
Casco Construction was awarded the multi-million dollar contract to install, maintain and operate vehicle charging stations in five large parking lots at the Great Park, despite the fact that two other firms had been recommended by City staff following a formal bid process.
“Out of the blue, a couple of Councilmembers said they were interested in another bidder that was farther down the list,” Councilmember Larry Agran recalled of the December meeting. That bidder was Casco and, said Agran, “on the spot they voted to give the deal — a big deal — to Casco.”
In making the surprise motion to give the contract to Casco, Councilmember Mike Carroll noted that Casco is a woman-owned company based in Irvine and was promising the City more revenue from the charging stations than any other bidder.
The motion’s second, Councilmember Tammy Kim, said that Casco’s proposed equipment supplier, Noodoe, was also based in Irvine and the chargers would be manufactured here, creating Irvine jobs. Kim and Carroll amended Carroll’s original motion to require that Noodoe be the supplier.
After much discussion, Councilmember Anthony Kuo — who seemed irked that City staff had not contacted Casco regarding questions staff may have had concerning the company’s bid — voted with Carroll and Kim to award the contract to Casco.
The move came despite pleas by Councilmember Agran and Mayor Farrah Khan to delay the vote to allow the City staff to prepare a report comparing the Casco bid to the pair that had been recommended. The contract award was not time-sensitive, the staff said in response to Council questions. Agran and Khan voted against the contract award.
“It seemed entirely irregular to me,” Agran explained, adding, “This thing has always had an offensive odor to it.”
Qualms about the deal increased in recent weeks as it became known that Noodoe had moved its U.S. headquarters to Houston within a month of the Council’s vote and has no manufacturing operations in North America. Instead, its equipment is made overseas and assembled in Taiwan, where its corporate headquarters is located.
As for jobs, in January the Houston Business Journal reported Noodoe planned to have 10-15 employees after its relocation to Texas. In April, the Orange County Business Journal reported the company has 15 employees in the United States, suggesting few if any are left in Irvine.
During a review of the project at the Council’s July 12th meeting, City Manager Oliver Chi — who joined the City after the Casco contract was awarded — said that the City’s contract is with Casco, not Noodoe, and that Casco can choose its subcontactors. Questions immediately were raised as to how this could be if the vote to award the contract specified Noodoe as the supplier.
Another red flag appeared later in the meeting, when Chi told Councilmembers that Casco now says its original $2 million-per-year estimate of City revenue from the contract is being revised downward. Casco blamed the change on market swings, Chi said.
“The electricity market always swings,” Agran shot back. “Why wasn’t this nailed down in the contract?”
Agran added: “The more I hear, the more it seems to me this was some kind of deal that was struck out of public view that is now imploding and doing harm to the City. If this was not a square deal, I want to know about it. And, the public deserves to know about it.”
In the end, Chi said he would look into the issues raised and report back to the Council on July 26th.
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