Inquiry into state rail board sought
Watchdog group sees conflict of interest in bullet train planners holding public office.
Critics of California’s high-speed rail project Tuesday urged the state attorney general to investigate whether two prominent officials in Los Angeles County and Anaheim have conflicts of interest because they sit on the bullet train’s board while holding other public offices.
Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design asserts that Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and Richard Katz, a board member for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, might be violating a state law that forbids public officials from simultaneously sitting on a board, commission or other government body whose interests are likely to clash with their public duties.
The group cited an opinion from the Legislature’s legal office, which concluded in April that a court would probably rule that Katz and Pringle hold incompatible offices — a finding that could force them to resign one or more of their positions.
Anaheim City Council members and the MTA board make decisions related to segments of the high-speed rail project planned for Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Pringle also is a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority board. Katz also sits on the board Metrolink, the commuter rail line that serves six counties. Those agencies are involved in the high-speed rail project as well.
“Local office and service on the high-speed rail board just don’t mix,” said Elizabeth Alexis, a co-founder of the watchdog group. “The biggest problem is maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the process. The project … needs to be squeaky clean.”
Alexis pointed to recent concerns expressed by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (DLong Beach), who chairs the Senate’s transportation committee, which is oversee-ing the $42-billion project that would run from Anaheim to Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Last spring, Lowenthal’s committee looked into a proposed deal — backed by Pringle — to use $200 million in high-speed rail money to complete a huge, canopied transportation center next to Angel Stadium at the southern terminus of the bullet train’s first phase.
Lowenthal said it looked like parochial interests were getting priority over statewide interests. After the committee hearing, the rail authority dropped the idea.
Pringle, who will be termed out as Anaheim mayor by the end of the year, said the incompatible office question “is a gray area.”
Katz, a former state legislator and experienced transportation official, said he was seeking a review of the Legislative Counsel’s findings by other attorneys.
Before he and Pringle joined the panel, Katz said, the bullet train authority “operated in this vacuum without a lot of concern for local issues and community concerns.” He said it “could doom the project” if local officials who could help integrate the line with other projects had to resign.
The watchdog group says the attorney general’s office has an obligation to investigate the matter but has failed to do so.
In a July letter, the attorney general’s office notified the rail authority that some members of its board held other public offices. The letter said it was unclear whether any of the positions were incompatible.
“We believe that the board members are taking our letter into serious consideration, and we are making ourselves available to answer their questions,” said a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.