In July the City of South Gate elected officials voted to approve a contract for the city’s Fixed Route Services (GATE) to Global Paratransit, despite staff’s recommendation to change the company that is represented by Marco Soto lobbyist/consultant and full-time employee of LA Yellow Cab. CoOp, which also conducts business as Fiesta Taxi providing taxi and senior and disabled transportation services in the South-East Los Angeles area (SELA).
The city used a scoring system to rank the proposals of the five companies that responded to the city’s Request for Proposal (RFP) for a five-year contract to provide daily transportation services to eligible riders.
The Companies that submitted bids were: Bus.com $1,235,338, Empire Transportation $1,057,449, Global Paratransit $1,009,504, Transportation Concepts $896,227, and Express Transportation Services being the lowest bidder at $745,075. With city staff recommending Transportation Concepts after receiving the highest score of 189 points out of a maximum of 255.
Based on the city’s scoring process, which in this case was not included on the RFP, even though it is standard practice for cities to include it, Marco Soto’s client Global Paratransit as the current provider for over four years was scored and ranked 3rd out of the 5 applicants. It is confusing how Marco Soto’s client scored the maximum points in presentation when they only scored 6 out of 10 on the category of understanding the objective of the contract, although they had an advantage since they have been the contractor for approximately 4 years.
The scoring committee was made-up of the Interim Director of Parks & Recreation, the Acting Recreation Superintendent, and a Customer Service Representative, all who appear to not have the expertise needed to make a sound decision on a high value and complex transportation contract and who also failed to properly verify something so simple as references of all the applicants.
According to the staff recommendation report, the 3-member committee scored all candidates but only conducted reference checks for two out of the five, for Transportation Concepts and Global Paratransit. Although the references for Empire Transportation were not contacted, they still scored the highest amount of 10 points along with Transportation Concepts and Global Paratransit yet Express Transportation Services only received 6 points, even though the City acknowledged that their staff did not contact their references.
“Although the city of Maywood has not been contacted regarding a reference check for Express Transportation Services (ETS), we are pleased to issue this letter of reference on their management and operation of the city’s transit program,” wrote Jennifer Vasquez, Maywood City Manager on a reference letter for ETS.
Vasquez noted ETS has complied, provided services during the pandemic, and highly recommended them for the contract.
On the day the city council was awarding the contract over a Zoom public meeting, Marco Soto presented to the South Gate City Council on behalf of his client and acknowledged the concerns of resident complaints and other deficiencies that City staff documented on their staff report and at the council meeting. Marco also did not deny that his client Global Paratransit needed to work on several deficiencies including communication with the city staff; but that they were committed to providing great services to the City of South Gate.
The council engaged in a robust discussion as to why they didn’t receive enough details on all proposals and questioned why councilmembers didn’t receive an actual copy of each proposal given that it was only 5 applicants, whereas each applicant was required to submit several copies of their proposal along with a USB drive containing their proposal.
We have seen this type of disregard to the RFP process in other cities as well as questionable pay-to-play tactics.
In 2012, the Inglewood City Council put its trash contract out to bid. Former Councilwoman Judy Dunlap filed a complaint with the District Attorney’s office that the mayor, was attempting to personally benefit from the contract by having his brother hired by the winning bidder.
According to Dunlap, the winning bidder eventually employed the brother of Mayor James T. Butts Jr., and the contract would cost the city’s residents millions of dollars in additional fees.
“These additional fees amount to approximately $25 [million] to $30 million dollars extra over the life of the contract,” she wrote. “This is unconscionable!”
The contract came under the scrutiny of the FBI who interviewed the companies who submitted proposals, and who confirmed there were questions asked about hiring the mayor’s brother.
The LA Times obtained a copy of the complaint which alleged Mayor Butts had approached executives at two bidders with an offer of support in exchange for a job for his brother, which two of the companies confirmed.
It is unknown yet if any member of the South Gate city council is personally there relative benefiting from the contract, but it did benefit lobbyist Marco Soto and his client. Financial reports show that Marco Soto has made political contributions to some City of South Gate Councilmembers as well as contributing to non-profits or organizations of the Councilmembers’ preference.
Marco Soto’s client, Global Paratransit’s proposal was approximately $5,047,520 over the course of the five-year proposed city agreement, compared to the lowest more reasonable proposal from ETS which was approximately $3,725,373 over the same amount of time. The city agreement is for approximately 13,000 annual driving operational hours to serve the city’s residents, whose median income is $22,569
Councilman Gil Hurtado was concerned with transparency in the lack of information provided to the city councilmembers in order to make an informed vote.
“When I received this agenda packet and had a chance to look at it, I really wish I had more information because the only packet I received was for the company being recommended,” said Hurtado. “It’s equivalent of asking me to tell you what I think of a movie, I haven’t seen, based on what other people saw.”
Hurtado also had concerns with the rating system used to base their determination of awarding the contract to a company with little understanding of the contract.
“In terms of the rating of the presentation, it might not be the best but the service is higher, however, the understandings of the contract is higher with our current vendor than the one the staff is proposing, which should make their presentation score higher, not lower,” said Hurtado. “Can we bring this back after we see all of the packets for the other proposals because based on what I see I am not ready to make a decision.”
Councilwoman Denise Diaz echoed her colleague’s sentiment about the lack of information on all bids received.
“I would appreciate more information, but I appreciated the phone call to discuss the rating,” said Diaz.
Despite the staff’s recommendation and opposition to renewing Global Paratransit’s contract, and despite the city council putting on a public theatrical show acknowledging that the process was flawed and that they had concerns about the scoring; lobbyist Marco Soto somehow pulled a $1.3 million dollar bonus trick out of his hat, and the city council unanimously approved to keep the Global Paratransit services, which are over $1.3 million dollars higher compared to the lowest bidder. All five councilmembers Mayor Al Rios, Vice-Mayor Maria Avalos and Councilmembers Maria Davila, Gil Hurtado and Denise Diaz where present and voted via Zoom Council meeting.
The real questions are, what did Marco Soto promise the South Gate elected officials behind closed doors that cannot be spoken-of, was this a pay-to-play scheme? Whatever it may be, what we do know is that there is a very happy magician lobbyist, a grateful vendor and then there’s the City of South Gate that should have outraged residents because over $1.3 million dollars was unnecessarily misspent by their elected officials.