Bay Bridge

Jerry Brown administration to take closer look at PR contracts

The Brown administration said Friday it has ordered heightened review of future state public relations contracts, after the revelation of a nearly $10 million deal officials said they knew nothing about.

The state Business, Transportation & Housing Agency said it told the California Department of Transportation and other departments under its purview that any public relations contracts worth more than $100,000 must be approved by the agency's acting secretary, Brian Kelly.

The order follows a report by The Bee on Wednesday that Caltrans agreed to pay a public relations company nearly $10 million for work on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct tours and produce a video and commemorative book.

Kelly ordered the contract's cancellation after The Bee requested documents related to it.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Business, Transportation & Housing, said in an email Friday that the agency is still reviewing the process by which the contract was approved. It is unclear if anyone will be disciplined or if the new policy will be applied to other executive branch agencies.

The contract, with San Francisco-based Words Pictures Ideas LLC, was signed by Caltrans in August and approved by the state Department of General Services in September.

Evans said earlier this week that the contract was excessive, approved by a district director and not "properly vetted at Caltrans headquarters."

Eric Lamoureux, a General Services spokesman, said in an email earlier this week that its legal office had reviewed the contract. The department's role, he said, was to "ensure it was consistent with state law and policies."

The $6.4 billion Bay Bridge project is scheduled to open next year. An ongoing Bee investigation has raised questions about its structural integrity.

Words Pictures Ideas was expected to provide community outreach, media and other services through February 2016, including the production of a video and book. Kelly ordered the contract canceled under a provision allowing the state to terminate the agreement without cause upon 30 days written notice.