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By Shawn Raymundo

The city will look to redraft its solicitation process for a new tree maintenance contract, as councilmembers last week voted unanimously to again turn down bids that had been received for a multi-year service deal.

Councilors on Tuesday, June 2, rejected bids from San Clemente-based Rod’s Tree Service and from West Coast Arborists, which had submitted the lowest bid, putting the Anaheim-based company as the top contender for the five-year contract.

According to the city’s report, West Coast’s base bid came in at an annual price of $274,560. With a 20% contingency tacked on for the first year of the proposed contract, the city was looking at a maximum price of $330,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

During the public hearing portion of the council’s discussion on the contract, WCA touted its position as an industry leader in tree care, noting that the family-operated business is currently contracted with the neighboring cities of Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano, as well as the Capistrano Unified School District.

“WCA is committed to providing professional and superior tree care to San Clemente,” company President Patrick Mahoney wrote in a prepared statement to the council. He later added, “WCA values our reputation; at the same time, we understand as contractors we are an extension of the city and agency, which requires us to protect your name as well.”

Rod’s, which has served San Clemente for more than 40 years, is currently in a one-year agreement with the city that expires at the end of the current fiscal year—June 30. The local company submitted a base bid price of $343,860 for the five-year contract.

“Working with and in the city of San Clemente is one of the greatest honors over the years,” Rod’s Tree Service wrote in submitted remarks to the council. “The trees on our streets are more than another tree or another job. These trees have been planted by our grandfather and family members. We grew up with these trees; the safety of our community and the health and beauty of our trees are personal to us.”

At the council’s direction last year, the city went out to bid under a public works project competitive bid solicitation, which requires that the city award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder “unless the City Council rejects all bids,” the city noted in its report.

Bids from both companies for a three-year contract had initially been submitted to the city earlier this year, but during the council’s late April meeting, it voted to reject both bids, directing staff to go back out to bid for a five-year contract instead.

Both times, West Coast Arborists’ bid came in under Rod’s Tree Service. For the three-year deal, Rod’s submitted a bid for $424,700, while West Coast filed a $304,000 bid.

Councilmember Gene James last week asked Public Works Director Tom Bonigut why the city went with a maintenance service contract and not with a personal-services contract that relies on a qualitative analysis and process.

“Why would we have not gone with a personal-services contract where we could take other things into consideration other than just the bid—just the low bid?” James asked.

Bonigut replied that it was done at the council’s behest, but that it could change course.

City Attorney Scott Smith further explained that it’s within the council’s purview to reject all bids and redraft the solicitation process. But, he warned, a personal services bid process doesn’t necessarily mean it would work out in the incumbent contractor’s favor.

“The council reserves the ability to always reject all bids and then you can regroup and, as some cities do, consider a qualitative process for doing this as opposed to a bid process,” he said. “Regardless of the track record and the history, there’s no way to reward the incumbent for simply being the incumbent. So we want you to understand that.”

Smith went on to state that a personal service solicitation “would be qualitative and also very objective.” City staff, he said, will need to redo and revamp the solicitation, later bringing back criteria to the council for approval.

Staff is expected to present the qualitative criteria for the personal services process to the council during its Aug. 16 meeting.

To address the pending expiration of Rod’s current one-year agreement, the council also voted to direct staff to enter into a month-to-month deal with the local company.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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