Sunday, June 28, 2015

Senator Leno lies to reduce high-speed rail transparency

See Senator Mark Leno (starting at 2:26), representing the city in the State Senate, lie in support of SB-76, a bill that will require the High-Speed Rail Authority to report to the state legislature only once every two years instead of every six months. 

From Kathy Hamilton's account:

...So how did SB-76 (AB-93, Assembly side) get passed so quickly? It began life in the January 2015 as a placeholder for monkey business later, meaning it was nearly blank. It was amended in March and included all kinds of things, such as salmon, forestry, tribal issues, and it was labeled a water bill. No sign of high-speed rail in the bill. 

June 11th someone took a hatchet to the bill and excluded large portions of the March bill and assigned it to the transportation committee under Budget and Fiscal review as a trailer bill to the budget. Speedy action followed. This is called the gut-and-amend process or a spot bill and is specifically designed to push bills through without public debate...

There were some Senators who stood up and objected to this action when it came up for a vote. Toward the end of this five-minute YouTube, Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, asks for their aye vote. He states that the High-Speed Rail Board discusses everything in public on a monthly basis including their finances, their hiring and firing, and updates about the project. Leno states making this change was to increase efficiency, to create less onerous reporting...

Nothing could be further from the truth. They rarely discuss finances at the regular board meetings. Instead these discussions are held separately, usually in an early morning finance committee meeting which makes it harder for people to access. The meetings are not live-streamed or audio or video recorded. 

And if the issues get too touchy, they have pushed the public out the door mid-meeting as they did in their March 10, 2015 committee meeting. They do produce financial reports, but there is no explanation for abbreviations or terms to make them public friendly. It’s not held every month, either. In June there was no finance committee meeting.

This bill, SB 76, should be amended immediately. For a project of this magnitude---the largest infrastructure project the U.S. has ever attempted---the public wants more transparency and accountability, not less.

California’s track record on mega projects has not been good. Senator Mark DeSaulnier conducted a session called “Lessons Learned” after the Bay Bridge debacle went to $1.4 to $6.3 billion and wanted to explore what could be learned to avoid this from happening again. Reducing reporting was not among the action items...

And speaking of Parsons Brinckerhoff, there was lots of maneuvering at the board meeting on June 9th in Los Angeles to get a $700 million dollar contact approved with Parsons even if it meant that they had to call back Vice Chair Thea Selby, who was heading to the airport, to complete a quorum for the vote. Why was it so important to drag a board member back from the airport? Why couldn’t they pass this agenda item in Sacramento at the next meeting?

Is this an example of transparency?

Perhaps nothing illegal was done here, but clearly the board wanted to get on with the award at a busy meeting where the focus would not be on this subject. They wanted to minimize any questions. It was disclosed that the selection criteria were partially subjective and could have made the difference in a very tight race between Bechtel and Parsons Brinckerhoff, but we’ll never know for sure.

By the way, the CEO, Jeff Morales left his position at PB, where he was managing the High-Speed Rail project for them, and went directly to work for the Authority as their CEO. Previously he managed the Bay Bridge project for Caltrans and understated the costs of that project to the Legislature...

Steinberg and Leno screw state taxpayers

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The cartoons that led to the Texas attack

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