Gordon, one of three Democratic candidates running for Ira Ruskin's seat in the state Assembly, said the current board has neither the transparency nor the expertise to guide the enormous undertaking to a successful conclusion. And while he has other ideas for improving the controversial project, in his opinion the board is a good place to start.
"I think the current membership of the rail authority needs to be tossed out and that the Legislature needs to take action to reformulate the authority and its governance," Gordon told the Weekly in a recent interview.
The winner of the Democratic primary is highly favored to replace Ruskin, who will be termed out, in the heavily Democratic district.
Though all three candidates have told the Weekly they have major concerns about the high-speed-rail project, each has different ideas for improving the process. Yoriko Kishimoto, a founder of the Peninsula Cities Consortium, said she would push for more credible ridership numbers and a better peer-review process of the rail authority documents. Josh Becker, a clean-tech venture capitalist, said he would demand a more robust business plan for the colossal project.
In Gordon's view, the rail authority's board of directors should include members who represent local communities and who have technical expertise about major transportation projects. In his view, the current board, which was appointed by the state Legislature and by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, doesn't meet these criteria.
"The board needs to function as a true government body, and it needs to have the transparency in a way that it currently does not," Gordon said.
Gordon said he would be in favor of giving local jurisdictions more power over the construction of the high-speed rail, a position he shares with Kishimoto. Last year, Kishimoto founded the Peninsula Cities Consortium, a coalition of elected officials who meet twice a month to discuss the controversial project. The consortium is comprised of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame and Belmont.
As a council member, Kishimoto helped pass a resolution in October 2008 urging voters to support Proposition 1A, which approved $9.95 billion in state funding for the high-speed-rail project. Though she said she still supports the project, she now regrets her earlier endorsement of Proposition 1A.
"I'm a fan of rail, but this was a flawed structure and it gave power to the wrong board," Kishimoto told the Weekly. "It wasn't set up correctly."
One of the problems with the current system is that the peer-review committee established by Proposition 1A never materialized. More than a year after the legislation passed, only five of the committee's eight members have been appointed. Kishimoto said the state Legislature needs to clarify the committee's role and make sure there is adequate oversight over the rail authority.
Kishimoto said she favors the approach taken by state Sen. Joe Simitian, who has been using his budget-oversight powers to demand more information, accountability and transparency from the rail authority.
She has been a staunch advocate of local involvement in the controversial state project. She takes some of the credit for the rail authority's recent decision to drop the hotly contested "berm" alternative from their design options in Palo Alto — a decision the agency said was based largely on community opposition.
Kishimoto was also an early proponent of applying the Context Sensitive Solutions approach to high-speed-rail design — a mechanism that relies heavily on local participation in planning for the project. The rail authority recently agreed to adopt the approach for the Bay Area-to-Central Valley segment of the line.
Becker also said he favors giving local residents a greater say on the rail project. A legislator, he said, should be responsive to the citizens, and Becker is still in the process of gathering feedback from the constituents in the 21st Assembly District. When it comes to the rail project, Becker so far has more questions than answers.
His biggest questions surround the rail authority's business plan — a document that has drawn a barrage of criticism from state legislators, rail watchdogs, the Legislative Analyst's Office and, most recently, State Auditor Elaine Howle's office. Critics have persistently challenged the business plan's projections for how many riders will use the rail, its reliance on federal grants and its discussion of risk management.
Becker criticized the rail authority for not being as responsive to community concerns as they should be. He also said the rail authority has been reluctant to release the types of information residents and state officials need, including a plan to pay for the system.
"I think they've been lax in coming up with details and that's critical in my mind," Becker said. "My focus is the business plan. Let's find a business plan that works."