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Kopp leaves high-speed rail board
April 05, 2011, 03:14 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

The man who introduced legislation that created the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996 left the board he sat on for nearly five years last month to pursue other interests, he told the Daily Journal yesterday.

Quentin Kopp’s term on the board expired in December and he asked Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, not to reappoint him to the nine-member board.

Kopp is one of the staunchest supporters in the state for the $40 billion public works project but took issue with how the authority spent some of its money, particularly in the public relations arena, in recent months.

One of his last official acts on the board was to send Chief Executive Officer Roelof van Ark a letter urging the authority to terminate a $9 million contract with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

Ogilvy, with an office in San Francisco, was awarded the contract to handle the rail authority’s public relations in November, 2009.

"Since Ogilvy’s engagement in February 2010, its inadequate performance can be measured, by among other things, the worsening legislative, media, academic and popular comments in the public domain about our project,” Kopp wrote in the letter to van Ark.

So far, Ogilvy has charged the authority more than $2.4 million for little more than a "plan,” Kopp said.

In the letter to van Ark, Kopp details a long list of invoices from Ogilvy he disapproved of including $1,500 spent for someone to read news clips related to the authority for a little more than three hours in April 2010.

But it doesn’t stop there, the authority was also charged another $5,560 in the same month to have two other groups review media related to the rail authority. Another $5,400 was billed to the authority by Ogilvy for press clipping services in May 2010.

Ogilvy also billed the rail authority more than $10,000 in June to have a law firm review news coverage of high-speed rail and two other groups review news clips.

There is an invoice from Robinson Communications Inc. for professional consulting services for $10,000 which are undefined, according to Kopp’s letter. Robinson, a San Jose company, has a contract with Ogilvy to now provide public relations for the project on the Peninsula. That job formerly went to HNTB, an engineering firm contracted to design the Peninsula segment of the high-speed rail project.

Robinson also billed the authority $1,500 to have staff attend the groundbreaking of the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco in August.

"What taxpayer waste,” Kopp wrote in the letter to van Ark.

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park chairs the Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation and is ready to review the authority’s finances in the coming months.

"There are questions on the contract that exist for public relations,” Gordon said. "It is of concern.”

It is time for the authority to engage the public more in the process, Gordon said.

Gordon wants to see high-speed rail built in the state but also said "every public dollar spent” should be accounted for.

Ogilvy has now assigned one person to work directly with the rail authority in Sacramento to remedy some of the firm’s problems, Katherine Strehl of Menlo Park.

But Strehl has served as a member of the Menlo Park Transportation Commission, a fact that does not sit well with Kopp considering the city previously sued the rail authority.

"I informed you, and I repeat, that Ms. Strehl is not competent to serve in a capacity which places her inside the authority offices, with a conflicting loyalty to a party suing us,” Kopp wrote in the letter to van Ark dated March 23.

Kopp has since been replaced on the rail authority board by Robert Balgenorth, president of the California Building and Construction Trades Council.

Kopp, from San Francisco, will still advocate for the project, however.

"I wrote Steinberg and told him I didn’t want to be reappointed,” Kopp said. "I am pursuing other opportunities to serve the public.”

Although, the former judge believes the 800-mile project linking San Francisco to Los Angeles will one day be fully realized, he told the Daily Journal sitting on the board was no longer a joy.

"It isn’t fun like it used to be,” Kopp, 82, said.

His last board meeting was March 30, when the board voted to pursue more than $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money earmarked for high-speed projects in Florida.

Five members of the board are appointed by the governor, two by the state Senate and two by the Assembly.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has previously lobbied the authority to appoint someone from the Peninsula to serve on the board. Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel hopes the same thing.

"We’ve been asking the authority for years to have someone from the Peninsula on the board,” Nagel said. "There has been an absence of information and it is trouble getting the authority to answer any questions.”

With the high-speed rail project starting in the Central Valley, the authority should now have the time to offer up more details on noise, vibration or trenches on the San Francisco-to-San Jose section of the line, Nagel said.

The nine-member board currently has one vacant seat to be appointed by the state Senate in the coming weeks. In December, Rod Diridon Sr. was not reappointed the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor, represented the region’s perspective on the board.

"It is a good idea to have representative from Silicon Valley on the high-speed rail board because of our population and economic center,” said Steve Wright, spokesman for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. "It is a very long process, though, and the board will be around for a long time.”

Voters approved Proposition 1A, a $9.5 billion bond, on the November 2008 ballot.

Michael Law, Ogilvy’s managing director for the western region, did not want to comment on Kopp’s claims yesterday.

"I can say, we are enthusiastic about high-speed rail and are looking forward to the project being completed,” Law said.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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