Judge voids Los Alamitos’s illegal trash contract

I had the privilege of briefing and appearing on the writ petition granted on October 7 invalidating an exclusive 10-year trash hauling contract awarded by the City of Los Alamitos last year.  The City enacted a competitive bidding ordinance in 2008 requiring all such contracts be awarded to the “lowest responsible bidder.”  Thereafter, one trash hauler—the one who eventually won the exclusive contract—contributed approximately $36,000 in campaign support to one incumbent and two challenger candidates to the City Council. The 2008 election resulted in three of five City Council members how had received significant contributions from one trash hauler.  

By the City’s own estimates, the “winning” bidder’s fees would total approximately $21.9 million over the ten years of the contract.  The lowest responsible bidder offered to do the same job for a projected cost of approximately $15.4 million over ten years—a savings of about $6.5 million, or 30%.  Far from awarding the contract to this “lowest responsible bidder” as required by the City’s own municipal code, it awarded it to the second highest bidder. 

It was a great privilege working on and prevailing in this case headed by Ben Pugh, with whom I also worked in scoring a major victory against the City of Irvine’s subsidiary, the Orange County Great Park Corporation.  That earlier case resulted in a published Court of Appeal decision in Choi et al. v. Orange County Great Park Corporation, 175 Cal. App. 4th 524 (2009). 

These experiences continue to confirm that government’s tendency toward mischief varies inversely with it size.

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at gmail.com.


  1. Yaar. people wonder why the liberals around here vote republican.

  2. Congratulations! It always feels good to win a big one, especially when you can feel confident you’re on the side of the angels.

  3. Does the invalidation mean that the other company gets the contract, or does it just go back for a new round of bidding?

    I’ve watched the fallout from the USAF tanker deal, and it did not go well, and it still hasn’t ended, and it’s been almost 20 years since the initial award and there still isn’t a new tanker flying.

    • The contract will stay in place until the city has a reasonable amount of time to either rebid the contract according to existing law, or else amend the law and rebid according to the law as amended.

    • Just in case you aren’t in the defense industry and have no idea what I’m talking about:

      Mid-1990s, the USAF needs a new airborne-refueling aircraft because the KC-135 is about 35 years old. Deal is brokered whereby Boeing will build a bunch of new tankers, and the USAF will pay for them on a “lease-to-own” arrangement instead of buying them outright. Everyone seems happy.

      A few months later the USAF’s chief acquisitions officer retires. A few months after that she, her daughter, and her son-in-law both get high-level do-nothing positions at Boeing. Someone says “uh, wtf” and the ex-officer goes to prison. The tanker deal falls apart.

      Fast foward ten years, and a “new tanker” competition has been held. One of the contenders is Boeing, offering to build a new version of its 767 and convert it to a tanker. The other is Northrop-Grumman, who plan to buy airplanes from Airbus and convert them to tankers.

      NG wins. And eeeeeverybody craps themselves, because Boeing always builds large aircraft for the USAF. That’s just How It Is. A “review” is performed, and “irregularities” are “discovered” in the USAF’s selection process, and the whole thing falls apart. Again.

      • Los Al residents pushed hard for a competitive bidding ordinance in 2008, since their trash contracts (the single largest contract awarded by the city) always went to the same hauler—for the past 30 years (since the city’s incorporation). The very first time that new ordinance was to be applied, it was ignored, and the contract awarded to the successor-in-interest to the very hauler who had gotten the no-bid contracts three decades running.

        • Wow, just wow. You have to somewhat admire the brazen-ness of just flat-out ignoring a law.

  4. This is pretty awesome Tim. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, but I am starting to see the fight that needs to be fought isn’t Right vs. Left, or Fed vs. State, but instead corruption vs. non-corruption. More of this by both sides would be a good thing.

    Again, awesome.

  5. Incredibly educational thank you, I reckon your current followers may want even more well written articles or blog posts of this nature continue the excellent work.

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