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Attorney general says local transit officials cannot serve on state bullet train board

December 1, 2010 |  4:40 pm

The state attorney general has concluded that the mayor of Anaheim and members of Los Angeles County and Orange County transportation boards may not serve simultaneously on  California’s High-Speed Rail Authority board.

The formal opinion, issued Wednesday, was prompted by a controversy over the multiple public hats worn by Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and Los Angeles County transportation official Richard Katz.

The opinion says serving in leadership positions at local agencies that are coordinating routes and station development for the proposed $43-billion bullet train is legally “incompatible” with an appointment to the rail board under state law. In addition, an official is deemed to have forfeited his or her first public office upon assuming a second, impermissible office, the state lawyers said.

As a practical matter, the new analysis is likely to have more effect on who can serve on the state rail authority board in the future than it will on Pringle or Katz.

Pringle is being termed out of office as mayor next week and also will be leaving the Orange County Transportation Authority board. Because of the potential conflicts between offices, Katz resigned from the bullet train board as of Wednesday, so he could continue to work on local transit issues.

Most immediately, the opinion could affect who will be appointed by the governor to replace Katz on the state board. Though a number of critics said Katz and Pringle should never have been appointed because of clashing interests, some local officials said the pair had been effective in resolving disputes, partly because of their involvement in regional transportation issues along the bullet train route.

Pringle and Katz were appointed to the state board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

Based on a the new opinion, they could theoretically be deemed to have forfeited their earlier positions at that time.

Whether that could become a legal issue in terms of their actions in the interim on local boards wasn’t immediately clear. Forcing an official from an “incompatible” office that they refuse to relinquish requires a legal action, the attorney gerneral’s opinion notes. A spokesman said the office had produced the opinion in response to a request from state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and would not be commenting further.

-- Rich Connell