Public Works Projects – Competitive Bidding Requirements

By: Randy Parent
California Special District Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 1, March 01, 2013

One of the legislature's stated objectives for public contracting is "to the maximum extent possible, for similar work performed by similar agencies, California's public contract law should be uniform."  (Public Contract Code, § 102.)  This statement of public policy is somewhat ironic when it comes to special districts.  CSDA's Guide to Special District Laws and Related Codes provides that "each special district type or even, at times, a specific special district has its own contracting and bidding regulations.  See the list that follows Public Contract Code Section 20100."  (The Guide leaves it up to the reader to look up the applicable section.)  As you will see, the legislature has provided small but important differences in the specific statutes governing bidding for various types of special districts.  For example, the threshold amount for required bidding ranges from requiring bids on all projects to requiring bidding only for projects costing more than $35,000.  In order to make this easier for you, the following information specifies the bidding requirements for the specified types of agencies.

Community Services Districts

  • A district may purchase materials and supplies for construction projects or contract for construction work up to $25,000 without going out to bid, but must bid such contracts exceeding $25,000 and award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid or reject all bids.  (Public Contract Code, §§ 20682, 20682.5.)

Fire Protection Districts

  • A district must put construction work costing more than $10,000 out for bids and award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid or reject all bids.  (Public Contract Code, § 20813.)

Irrigation Districts

  • The board shall award all contracts for construction work to the lowest responsible bidder that submits a responsive bid or reject all bids. With approval of the commission, a board may elect to construct works under its own superintendence.  (Public Contract Code, §§ 20562, 20564.5.)

Municipal Water Districts

  • A district must award all contracts for the construction or extension of any waterworks, water system or water distribution system to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid.  However, the Public Contract Code specifies that the code does not prohibit a municipality itself from constructing or extending such systems and employing the necessary labor without a contractor.  (Public Contract Code, § 21051.)  

Reclamation Districts

  • A district must put construction work costing more than $25,000 out for bids and award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid or reject all bids.  If two or more bids are the same and are the lowest, the district board may accept the one it chooses. If the board receives no bids, it may proceed to complete the project by force account or contract without further compliance with this article.   A district may exceed the $25,000 limitation to $50,000 if the project receives no assistance from government agencies by securing approval from landowners of the district representing at least two-thirds of the assessment value of the district, or if no assessment has been collected from landowners holding such interest within the prior year, by the landowners representing at least two-thirds of the acreage within the district.  (Public Contract Code, §§ 20921, 20925, 20927.)

Recreation and Parks Districts

  • A district must put both construction work and maintenance or repair work costing more than $25,000 out for bids and award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid or reject all bids.  A district may perform work estimated to cost less than $25,000 with its own forces or by contract without going out to bid.  (Public Contract Code, §§ 20815.1, 20815.3.)

Sanitary Districts

  • A district must put construction work costing more than $15,000 out for bids and award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid or reject all bids.  (Public Contract Code, § 20803.)

Sanitation Districts

  • A district may perform construction work with its own forces up to $5,000.  A district must put construction work costing more than $35,000 out for bids and award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid or reject all bids.  These requirements do not apply to sewerage maintenance or repair work. (Public Contract Code, § 20783.)

Water Storage Districts

  • A district must put construction work costing $25,000 or more out for bids.  The district may award the contract to the responsible bidder submitting the lowest responsive bid, reject all bids, or proceed to construct the work under its own superintendence.  (Public Contract Code, §§ 20581, 20584, 20585.)

The legislature has, however, provided public agencies, including special districts, an alternative that provides greater flexibility in contracting procedures in exchange for agreement to follow specified accounting procedures.  (Public Contract Code, § 22002.) The Uniform Public Construction Cost Accounting Act (the "Act," Public Contract Code, §§ 22000 et seq.) is an optional program that a governing body may elect to participate in by filing a resolution with the State Controller.  The Act permits local agencies to perform public project work up to $45,000 with the agency's own forces or by negotiated contract.  (Public Contract Code, § 22032.)  Section 22032 also permits utilizing an informal bid procedure when performing work by contract when the work costs $175,000 or less.    Under this procedure, the agency maintains a list of qualified contractors by categories of work and mails notice to all contractors on the list inviting informal bids.  In addition, the governing board may delegate the authority to staff to award informal contracts.

Of course, this information is general in nature and not intended to serve as legal advice.  We advise districts to obtain the advice of legal counsel when embarking on public works projects.  We wish for you in 2013 projects without bid protests (when bids are required), without change orders or claims, and coming in under budget and on time.  Happy building!

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