In­quiry into state rail board sought

Watchdog group sees con­flict of in­ter­est in bul­let train plan­ners hold­ing pub­lic of­fice.

Los Angeles Times - - California - Dan Weikel and Rich Con­nell rich.con­

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.

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