The many transit hats worn by Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle are raising conflict of interest concerns for one of the state’s most influential transportation policy lawmakers.
The Los Angeles Times reports today that Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, is drafting a bill to redesign the state’s High Speed Rail Commission and prohibit its members from serving on local transit boards or holding local elected office.
Lowenthal targets Pringle and at least one other official. He’s chair of the High Speed Rail Commission, mayor of Orange County’s second largest city and a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority, which handles overall county transportation issues, like bus and Metrolink service.
Lowenthal is particularly concerned that all three of Pringle’s positions converge at the proposed Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC). The cathedral-like train station would be a hub for high speed rail, bus, taxi and Metrolink systems.
Anaheim is host to the ARTIC project. The county Transportation Authority has agreed to put $143.8 million into its construction and the High Speed Rail Authority is being asked for $200 million to make it ready to handle bullet trains between Los Angeles and Anaheim.
Under state law, the Times reported, “office holders who sit on various commissions or boards can violate the doctrine of ‘incompatible offices’ if they make decisions that clash with the interests of the agencies they serve.”
Lowenthal’s bill would redo the membership criteria for the High Speed Rail Commission to make it similar to the California Transportation Commission. That commission distributes state funds for freeway, highway and transit projects but its members don’t include any local office holders or local transportation agency board members who will have business before the commission.
Lowenthal’s concerns, the Times reported, aren’t aimed solely at Pringle, a Republican and former Speaker of the Assembly. The bill also would affect former Los Angeles Democratic Assemblyman Richard Katz, who currently serves on the Metrolink commuter rail board and on the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
From the Times story:
Among other things, Katz has pushed for a potential track-sharing design suggested by the MTA – the lead funding agency of Metrolink – for the high-speed rail segment between Los Angeles and Anaheim . Track sharing could cut bullet train construction costs and help upgrade Metrolink track systems.
“There is a great benefit from the coordination from my roles at the MTA, Metrolink and high-speed rail authority,” Katz said.
Katz and Pringle noted that local office holders often serve simultaneously on boards and commissions throughout the state without any problem. One such office holder is Fran Florez, who served on the high-speed rail board while sitting for years on the Shafter City Council.
Pringle said he did not understand why Lowenthal was concerned about the proposal to secure $200 million in rail bond funds to the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, or ARTIC, which needs to be redesigned to handle bullet trains. The agreement would have involved the high-speed rail authority, the Anaheim City Council and OCTA.
After the proposal came to Lowenthal’s attention, the senator questioned Katz at a transportation committee meeting in May. He was concerned that local interests were unfairly getting a priority and that the ARTIC deal would skirt the appropriations and peer review process required of high-speed rail projects.
Even before the hearing, Katz said the proposal was being analyzed by the state attorney general’s office and high-speed rail officials. Any allocation to ARTIC, he said, would be subject to the peer review process and approval by the Legislature.
Following the committee meeting, Katz withdrew the proposal from further consideration by the high-speed rail authority board, saying it “needed work.”
Lowenthal’s concern about the agreement was valid, Katz said. “But the reason for his actions might be more justified had the high-speed rail authority ignored the warning signs.”
Pringle’s term as Anaheim Mayor ends in December and he is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. He hasn’t announced his future political plans.
— TRACY WOOD