Frustrated council changes developer selection process for Robinson Park renovation
By André Coleman 12/05/2013
Although the proposal was ultimately approved, an effort to change the process used to select a developer to finish the multimillion-dollar Robinson Park Renovation Project was almost scuttled.
The move to change the process, first proposed by Councilman John Kennedy, whose district includes the park and its adjacent recreation center, was aimed at making the selection process more inclusive. And the idea received a majority of five votes at the council's Nov. 25 meeting.
However, there was a major procedural foul-up that left the vote up in the air, posing the possibility of delaying completion of the second phase of the $13.3 million project, which includes extending the park's recreation center from 19,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet.
With Kennedy attending a Nov. 25 reception in Los Angeles last week for President Obama, but casting his ballot by phone, the council voted 5-3 that night to accept his recommendation and revise the developer selection process, making requests for proposals, or RFPs, subject to review by a newly appointed three-member panel.
Councilman Steve Madison was strongly opposed to Kennedy's motion, primarily because the city had already selected a developer prior to Monday's action, locally based architectural firm Gonzalez Goodale, to finish the renovation, but now must start all over again.
"Here we had a fair competition with a level playing field and now, because they don't like the final score some folks want to change the rules," said Madison after voting against the proposal. "That's not right, especially when the successful bidder is a Pasadena minority-owned firm with jobs here in town."
The confusion came prior to the council taking action, when Councilwoman Jacque Robinson, who eventually voted with Kennedy to change the process, attempted to bring an alternative motion to the floor. That motion inadvertently was not heard before the vote, resulting in questions about the validity of the vote.
After realizing about 15 minutes later an error in council rules had occurred by Robinson not being heard on her alternative prior to the vote - well after Kennedy was off the phone - Madison conferred with City Attorney Michelle Beal Bagneris to see what could be done to stop the action from going forward.
"Unfortunately, the process was flawed, because [Robinson] should have been able to make a substitute motion and she wasn't able to make that happen," Madison said.
However, Bagneris decided that the vote was valid, regardless of the breach in protocol. Had there been another vote and one of the four members who voted along with Kennedy changed their mind, the hiring of one of the 17 companies to submit an RFP, including Gonzalez Goodale, would have started again from scratch. The earliest the issue could come back before full council is Jan. 13.
Robinson and Madison told the Weekly they had no plans to bring the issue back before the council.
Robinson told the Weekly she has also reconsidered plans of introducing an alternative motion. She declined to say what her alternative plan entailed. She, like Madison and other council members, said she simply wanted to see the process move forward.
"I don't plan on introducing any alternative motion," Robinson said. "The process was done and it is important we move forward now."
Under the new process, the recently formed three-member Robinson Park Steering Committee will work with city staff to select a developer, and the council will vote on that recommendation at a future meeting. Steering committee members are: Danny Parker, a local developer; real estate broker Craig Washington; and former District 1 City Council candidate Michelle Bailey.
"Robinson Park is our park," community activist Martin Gordon said. "The community needs to be heard. We want to take back our park for the community and to make sure it expands for community and family gatherings, and that expansion plans are in the best interest of our community and not outside interests."
In the first of the project's two phases, the city demolished an industrial center and expanded the park by 2.5 acres at North Fair Oaks Avenue and Mountain Street, to a total of 9.5 acres. A new recreation field, artificial turf, new lighting, concession stands and restrooms were also installed.
"We all agree we want to see the project move forward. It's time to let the project move forward so let the votes stand. The votes have been cast, we can't keep doing things over and over again," said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin. "We need to just move on."
Moving on has been difficult in regard to the project. The process to choose a developer was delayed in September after Kennedy requested a change that he believed would be more transparent and accessible to people living and working in the community. According to him, local residents and business owners did not have enough input in the original selection process.
After Kennedy voiced his objections, members of the council voted against a staff recommendation to award Gonzalez Goodale a $750,000 contract to do the job.
The issue came back before the council on Nov. 11. At that time, Madison, McAustin and Council member Victor Gordo voiced their disapproval of changing the selection rules, which have been applied to hundreds of projects through the years.
Under the proposed process, points awarded for prior experience at building community centers will fall from 20 to 15. However, the area of "community engagement" will increase from 20 to 35 points.
McAustin and Gordo also expressed uneasiness about changing the process.
"It's just a shame we find ourselves here when we went through a process that is tried and true. I supported and continue to support this project as a citywide and community effort," McAustin said after the vote. "But I'm very uncomfortable about changing the process."
A staff report on the project's second phase recommending Gonzalez Goodale makes only one mention of local hiring. The report reads: "Possible areas of local hire include an intern or an additional community-based professional consultant to be involved in the project. This opportunity could provide valuable exposure and professional development experience."
"I think we have to move on at this point," Kennedy said. "This is going to be a great project for the community. I just want to make sure that three persons selected from the oversight committee have the insight to make the decision."