Valet Parking, Car Washes Could Get Pricier at JWA

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Prices for valet parking and car washes could soon be going up at John Wayne Airport, with county supervisors expected to finalize discussions on a new parking contract next month.

Under the proposed new contract with the county government, which runs the airport, LAZ Parking plans to boost car wash prices $5 to $27 more than current rates.

Regarding valet parking, Supervisor Pat Bates said the proposal “spells to me another increase” in prices.

In particular, Bates wondered aloud whether LAZ’s proposal to take less of a cut of the parking revenue than the current vendor – from 36 percent down to 32 percent – would be accompanied by an increase in overall rates to keep profit margins healthy.

Meanwhile LAZ’s president tried to reassure supervisors Tuesday during their public meeting that the parking prices won’t go up.

There are currently no plans to increase parking rates, which would have to be approved by airport staff, said Michael Harth, president of LAZ Parking.

But, supervisors later noted, that commitment has not yet been made in writing.

The issue will come back to supervisors next month, on Sept. 9, for another round of debate and public input.

Tuesday’s debate also highlighted the longtime dominance of LAZ’s competitor, Parking Concepts, Inc., in receiving the county government’s parking contracts.

Other potential parking contractors have been discouraged from bidding, County Supervisor John Moorlach suspected, because of concerns that “we don’t look to hire anyone other than the incumbent.”

An Orange County Register investigation last year found that PCI was repeatedly awarded millions in county parking contracts “at county beaches, parks, the Civic Center, and John Wayne Airport – in at least three cases after county staff recommended another vendor.”

Those contracts brought in more than $10 million in revenue to PCI, the Register found.

The firm’s vice president is Lyle Overby, a longtime county lobbyist who has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to county supervisors’ campaigns through his Committee for Improved Public Policy.

Overby and his other clients often contributed to supervisors on the same day, the Register found.

PCI has won every major contract at the county for more than a decade, Harth told supervisors.

The company has run the airport valet service since 2001.

Questions were also raised Tuesday about how the county’s contract evaluation panel, which rated LAZ much higher than PCI, ended up giving the exact same scores on various ratings of LAZ.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the probably of that being a coincidence was extremely low.

“It’s one in 10 billion if you look at that many scores” for them to come out the same, said Spitzer.

The panelists are prohibited from coordinating with one another about their scores.

JWA Airport Director Alan Murphy, meanwhile, said the similarity of scores was much more likely a coincidence, given that scores are ranked 0 to 5.

But Spitzer wasn’t convinced.

“On its face, I’m just going to tell you, I don’t believe” they didn’t talk to each other before giving their scores, said Spitzer.

Much of supervisors’ discussion was spent questioning Murphy about LAZ’s proposal to give customers an option to pre-pay through mobile phone apps and the internet.

For all county parking contracts, the county requires that revenues be given first to the county, which then pays a percentage to the parking vendor as agreed in the contract.

But the proposed contract documents would allow LAZ to use a separate payment system and then pay the county, supervisors said. And that wasn’t made clear in Murphy’s report to supervisors, they added, making them visibly upset with the airport director.

“You can’t have a separate thing going here,” Nelson said of the payment collection.

“That’s not how we do business. We get the money direct…this is very frustrating.”

Supervisors directed Murphy to clarify the issue with the vendors, including obtaining a letter from the vendor laying out how the accounting would work

“You need to go back with both proposers and you need to get clarification on this issue,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer told Murphy.

Tuesday’s debate echoed a similar discussion a year ago by supervisors.

At issue was a proposed multi-million dollar contract with PCI to collect parking fees at county beaches and parks.

Spitzer pointed out that the only other bidder, LAZ Parking, had been rated lower on price even though it proposed giving the county a bigger cut of the revenue than PCI did.

“That’s not intuitive. Why would you get a lower score on the factor of cost when you came in lower?” Spitzer asked at the time.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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