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County to contractors: thanks but no thanks 

Instead of listening to more protests from contractors, San Luis Obispo County officials chose to just do $1 million worth of retrofit work themselves. Of course, they could have done so months ago, and have now made the bidding process for five contractors moot.

In October 2009, the county was awarded $1.03 million in federal stimulus funds to retrofit 18 county facilities and make them more energy efficient. The county began accepting bids from five companies in late January to retrofit lighting, heating, and air conditioning systems, finally awarding the contract to Electricraft at the end of March.

PacificWest Energy Solutions filed a protest two days after learning it had lost the bid. The company claimed the county hadn’t followed bidding procedures, violated state law, and that Electricraft wasn’t qualified to do all the work. PacificWest proposed splitting the work between the two companies.

“We think the process was unfair,” PacificWest attorney Philip Wang argued.

After reviewing the protest, which has dragged on for about three months, county officials decided to scrap it all and do the work in house. On July 20, county supervisors unanimously rejected (with the exception of Supervisor Jim Patterson, who was absent) all contract bids and instructed county staff to review alternative ways to spend the stimulus funds.

Reading through a slide presentation with about as much enthusiasm as a teacher giving instructions for the SATs, General Services Agency Director Janette Pell said the county had followed proper bidding procedures. However, she later noted that county officials would probably handle similar processes differently in the future.

“Why wasn’t that looked at, at the beginning, or I guess earlier on in terms of the recommendation you’re proposing?” Supervisor Adam Hill asked.

The answer to Hill’s question: The county must spend the money by Oct. 18, 2012, or lose it. Pell said protest procedures could delay the project past the expiration date, which is why she recommended negating the bid process entirely.

Supervisors apologized to the contract companies.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve come to this point,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “But I do think we’ve followed everything the way that we’re supposed to. It’s just that we’ve been caught in an unusual situation here.”

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