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Inquiry may slow Bay Bridge work. Hearing to be held on construction firm

February 7, 2004 Reposted from the San Francisco Chfronicle
   By Patrick Hoge, Chronicle Staff Writer

A construction firm San Francisco is suing for fraud must prove it is trustworthy enough to win a hefty contract to work on the Bay Bridge, a state agency has ruled.

The extra step could slightly delay the start of a project to strengthen the bridge's western span against earthquakes.

"Any delay will be minimal," said Caltrans spokesman Dennis Trujillo. "We're looking at a few weeks more of process, nothing more than that."

The state Department of Transportation decided that it should hold a hearing into whether the Tutor-Saliba Corp. should be considered "responsible" and given a $177.8 million earthquake retrofit job. The contract was to be awarded Thursday, with work starting very soon after, but a final decision has now been postponed.

Caltrans came to its conclusion after Sacramento Administrative Law Judge Jaime Rene Ramon said in a Jan. 28 recommendation that giving Tutor-Saliba the contract without a hearing "would endanger the public health, safety or welfare." No hearing date has been set.

"A sufficient showing has been made that TSC (Tutor-Saliba Corp.) has engaged in conduct of moral turpitude bearing a clear nexus on its trustworthiness or fitness," Roman wrote.

The case against Tutor-Saliba began when one of its competitors, C.C. Meyers/Balfour Beatty, a Rancho Cordova joint-venture based in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County, which bid $183.8 million, filed a protest with Caltrans. The company argued that even though Tutor-Saliba was the low bidder, it should be denied the project because the company lacks "fitness and integrity."

That allegation centers on a Los Angeles County judge's August 2001 ruling that Tutor-Saliba filed false claims and used bogus minority subcontractors in building Los Angeles' subway. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority was awarded $63 million, but Tutor-Saliba has appealed.

Company owner Ron Tutor seemed unfazed in a telephone interview Thursday concerning C.C. Meyers/Balfour Beatty's challenge.

"We expect we will prevail," he said.

Tutor quickly changed the subject to the growing division between City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the San Francisco Airport Commission over whether to pursue Herrera's fraud lawsuit against Tutor-Saliba.

The Airport Commission has refused to pay for the lawsuit, filed in November, which could cost $10 million in legal bills. Mayor Willie Brown, who appoints the commission, also said this week that the expense did not appear to be warranted.

"If he (Herrera) had any basis for filing it that was factual and true, he shouldn't have any problem getting money for it," Tutor said.

Herrera alleges that Tutor-Saliba violated city minority contracting rules and over-billed the airport for millions of dollars while building the new international terminal and related projects.

Airport commissioners have told Herrera that they are not convinced his case is strong enough. Acting commission President Larry Mazzola last month also wrote a letter asking Herrera to authorize the commission to hire an outside attorney to review the evidence.

Herrera, who has made repeated presentations about the evidence in the case to the commission and the Board of Supervisors, wrote a letter back this week refusing to allow the commission to hire an attorney for such a purpose.


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