Senator seeks to revamp rail authority leadership

Proposed bill would replace rail authority's board of directors, create new conflict-of-interest rules

The agency charged with building California's high-speed rail system would lose its semi-independent status and see its entire leadership team replaced under a bill proposed this week by a south California state senator.

Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, introduced a bill Thursday that would place the California High-Speed Rail Authority under the umbrella of the state's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency -- the agency that currently includes the Department of Transportation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of the California Highway Patrol.

Lowenthal's bill would also set new qualification requirements for board members. Currently, the board includes several veteran politicians, including former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle and former Assemblyman Tom Umberg. Pringle and Umberg currently serve as the authority's chair and vice chair, respectively.

Lowenthal's legislation would require the board members to have experience directly relating to transportation infrastructure. One, for example, would have to be an engineer with experience designing large infrastructure projects; another one would be an economist with a transportation background, and another one would be an attorney with expertise in procurement strategies and "construction issues associated with large, one-of-a-kind infrastructure projects." The board would also include one member with a background in environmental protection and another member who sits on a city council or a county board of supervisors.

Lowenthal has emerged over the past two years as one of the legislature's leading skeptics about the voter-approved, multi-billion-dollar rail project. Though he supports the project in concept, he has consistently criticized the rail authority's ridership projections, business documents and cost estimates, particularly in the wake of several critical audits of the rail authority.

In November, he and Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, both expressed frustration with the rail authority's progress on implementing the recommendations of State Auditor Elaine Howle. At that meeting, he pointed to the rail authority's changing numbers (including a raised cost estimate and higher ticker-fare projections) and said the numbers left him and Simitian "with a sinking feeling that we don't know what to trust and whom to trust."

The bill, SB 517, would also enact a series of conflict-of-interest rules that the rail authority would have to follow, including one that prohibits people from serving on the board if they had received any income from a firm under contract with the authority within two years of the appointment and prohibit members from working for a rail-authority contractor within two years after they leave the board.

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Like this comment
Posted by Go-For-It
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

It's about time.

Go For It!

Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

We cannot afford this. Kill it now and help restores this state's bond rating and fiscal responsibility.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm

The news a few days ago was that the State of Florida chose to not go forward with HSR there.

The follow on part of the report was that our California US Senators Boxer and Feinstein pitched for the funds that had been allocated for Florida be re-directed to HSR in this State.

What a sham.

Give Florida credit for deciding that HSR was not a good approach for its state. I have spent enogh time in Florida over the years to believe that it actually could benefit from HSR, given the density of population and the proximity of its metro areas to each other--they lend themselves to surface transportation, not air. I digress here a bit about Florida and HSR.

Just because Florida decided to not pursue Federal funding for HSR does not mean that those funds should be diverted to the ill conceived and mis-represented HSR project in California.

The current day "Robber Barons" driving this train right now should be replaced. With nobody. The entire project should be cancelled.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 19, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I'm not sure I'd replace the current board. Because they are bumbling fools they may be the best tools to assure this fiacso in the making never happens. If the board gets replaced by competant civil engineers and economists the system may get built.

The current board is the HSR's own worst enemy. They haven't made a reliable report, estimation or prediction yet. The public is becoming aware.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Where is Governor Brown in all of this?

Like this comment
Posted by Bradley
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2011 at 7:50 am

HSR was positioned by two savvy pols, Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon. They fooled a lot of people. But upon further review, they delivered a dinosaur capable of laying a deficit egg big enough to bury California.

Legislators are finally waking up to the fact that we have been sold a bill of goods.

Florida, Ohio and Michigan all recently dropped HSR plans for the same reason, HSR is a loser. Once fed money runs out, our state will have tracks to nowhere, trains and technology from foreign vendors, and an ongoing labor bill that eats us alive.

The High Speed Rail Authority is the head of this monster. Cut it off.

Like this comment
Posted by Go-For-It
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2011 at 8:56 am

Central Valley Republicans are thinking about more productive ways to use that money than this boondoggle--
Valley Republicans Seek Options for High Speed Rail Money:
Web Link

Washington DC – Today, Representatives Devin Nunes (CA-21), Kevin McCarthy (CA-22), and Jeff Denham (CA-19) introduced legislation that would empower California state leaders to make sweeping investments to State Route 99. (more information on the Nunes blog)

The legislation, titled the San Joaquin Valley Transportation Enhancement Act, would allow the State of California to redirect federal high speed rail funding to finance long overdue and urgently needed roadway improvement.

This legislation deserves a look. If solid .. then it deserves our support!

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm

And now, a word from the irascible, cantankerous curmudgeon:

While there is a lot of enthusiasm and support for this effort by Senator Lowenthal -- SB517 -- I regret to say that I don't share it. His intention is to replace the existing Board of the CHSRA, and re-locate that Board within the Department of Business, Transportation and Housing.

Here's why I object to it.

1. I don't want this project managed by anyone else. I don't want this project to exist.

2. I do not believe that this project can be "done right," as Lowenthal and many others of us believe. Therefore, it doesn't matter who manages it.

3. There are mistaken assumptions in the idea that a new, professional management team will do what we HSR critics want, and not do what we don't want. That is naive on our part. It's not the way the world works.

4. What we have now is a chaotic, fumbling, pretentious group of amateur public relations misfits who can only mis-manage this HSR project. They stick their foot in it, daily. That, in fact, is to our advantage in seeking to terminate this project entirely.

5. A management team acceptable to us could very well create a rail route and alignment that we don't want. Then their credibility will remove our basis for further complaining.

6. It is foolish for us to believe that a more professional group of managers will take us more seriously. There is no basis for them to do that. We are the amateurs; they are the professionals. Their job will be to create the most cost/effective HSR project on budget and on time. Our local needs could well be an interference with these goals of the new management group. Only now, we have no one to turn to for support of our continued dissatisfactions.

7. If we seek to terminate this project, as I do, then leaving this presently existing team of incompetents in place serves our purposes. They manage to shoot themselves in the foot in a new way every week. Our intentions benefit from their disastrous performance.

8. The sponsor of this legislation, Alan Lowenthal, wants this high-speed rail project in California, as does Joe Simitian. Some of us don't agree with that. We don't want the project at all; anywhere. That's the whole point of the blog: Web Link

Therefore it is not in our interest to upgrade the management team in order to mitigate the mistakes, lies, and bad judgements of the current rail authority.

9. We want the project terminated, not the management team upgraded. I believe the opportunity for termination is now greater than ever in Washington. Persistent local fumbling will only support our case.

10. Lowenthal doesn't see this project as a boondoggle. I do, as do many others. Boondoggles remain so regardless of how they are managed.

Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

If I can't afford to buy a regular plane ticket, am I likely to sign up to buy a ticket for a ride out in Space? Of course not.

So why is this state--that can't afford to subsidize a proven public service such as Caltrain--prepared to sink billions in HSR, which is unproven and whose need isn't clear.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Im glad to know that none of the above posters will be complaining if gas hits 5 dollars a gallon.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Jardins, I really don't understand what you mean by the "need isn't clear". How do you propose we expand our airports when the state population hits 50 million? Are you one of those people who buried their heads in the 70s, and left my generation with the infrastructure for a state half our size?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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