A controversial and drawn-out process to choose which private firms will provide ambulance services in more than half of Orange County’s cities is slated to return to county supervisors on Tuesday.

In a special meeting devoted solely to the ambulance contracting, supervisors will be publicly discussing the issue for the first time since seeking a third deadline extension from state authorities earlier this month.

The county’s first bidding process fell apart in late October amid questions of favoritism and a lack of transparency.

The state then gave county officials a June 1 deadline to award the contracts. If that deadline is missed, county officials say they would lose their “exclusivity” rights and be required to allow multiple firms to operate in individual zones, as long as the firms meet certain criteria.

In March, the county’s contract evaluation panels recommended a single firm,  Care Ambulance, for four of the five available ambulance zones, which cover 17 cities.

That prompted protests by two ambulance companies over the bidding process, and criticism by officials from several South County cities.

Supervisors echoed many of the city officials’ concerns, including whether a lion’s share of the business should go to Care at the exclusion of Doctor’s Ambulance, which has strong local ties in South County.

At Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors could proceed with awarding the zones to Care and Emergency Ambulance Service, based on the evaluation panels’ recommendation, or seek to grant some zones to other firms.

During their most recent discussion, supervisors Shawn Nelson and Todd Spitzer mentioned the possibility of state Sen. Pat Bates, herself a former supervisor, trying to get state authorities to allow a cap on the number of ambulance zones that a single company can cover.

The ambulance firms vying for Orange County’s business have been generous donors to county supervisors’ political campaigns, giving a total of more than $26,000.

Care Ambulance has contributed at least $7,150 between all five supervisors, while the rest of the bidders have given a combined $17,300, at minimum, according to campaign finance records.

About 800,000 people live in the 19 cities that would be covered under the ambulance areas up for approval.

Those cities are Irvine, Tustin, Villa Park, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods, Dana Point, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Juan Capistrano, Cypress, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Stanton, Placentia and Yorba Linda.

The contracts would also cover many unincorporated areas, like North Tustin and canyon communities.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. at the county Hall of Administration.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect figure for campaign contributions by Care.  The correct amount is $7,150.  We regret the error.

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