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State Senate acts to overhaul high-speed rail agency

June 1, 2011 |  4:14 pm

Amid concerns over the management of California’s high-speed rail project, state lawmakers took steps Wednesday to overhaul and exert control over the agency overseeing the multibillion-dollar work.

The state Senate approved a measure that restructures the High-Speed Rail Authority, requiring five members of its board who are appointed by the governor to be subject to confirmation of the Senate and to have relevant skills, including legal, financial and engineering experience.

The legislation also places the semi-autonomous authority within the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said that without his legislation, the authority "is not directly accountable to the governor nor to his employees."

The expertise is important, Lowenthal said, because the $43-billion high-speed rail system "is complicated to construct. It’s complicated to finance."

Lawmakers have raised questions about the uncertain financing and possible ridership projections for the voter-approved project to provide trains speeding at 220 mph between the Bay Area and Southern California.

Last month, the Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report warning that the project suffered from management flaws. "It’s a disaster," said Sen. Doug La Malfa (R-Richvale) on Wednesday.

Those voting to send SB 517 to the Assembly included Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). "It will bring back some integrity to the process," Yee said.

-- Patrick McGreevy