Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo
Since the California High-Speed Rail Authority has no way to verify whether its consultants have real or perceived conflicts of interest, according to the Bureau of State Audits, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will amend a proposed bill to require all subcontractors to file statements of economic interests.
The statements will help bring greater transparency to the rail project, he said.
Hill intends to amend Assembly Bill 41, which closes a loophole that has allowed members of the rail authority to receive thousands of dollars from special interest groups while voting on issues that impact the same groups.
The amendment would require consultants to list business relationships and sources of income. AB 41 is currently being considered on the state Senate floor.
Hill decided to amend the bill after the Los Angeles Times reported last month that a transportation expert hired by the rail authority to ensure the accuracy of ridership forecasts worked for the company that prepared the estimates and has a close relationship with a top executive at the firm.
The Times reported that $400-an-hour consultant Frank Koppelman, the chair of the authority's five-member ridership review panel, was tasked with assessing the ridership projections of Cambridge Systemactics, a company for which he formerly worked.
Cambridge's lofty ridership projections for the $68 billion project have been called into question by myriad groups, including the state's Legislative Analyst's Office.
Hill's amendment would require consultants such as Koppelman to disclose their past and current business relationships and all sources of income.
Koppelman may not have been hired by the rail authority if the disclosures about his relationship with Cambridge and its owner were known, Hill told the Daily Journal Monday after he held a press conference in San Francisco to announce the amendment.
The opinions of the ridership review panel need to have greater scrutiny, Hill said.
AB 41 was initially crafted in response to a story published in the Los Angeles Times Oct. 31, 2010, which revealed that members of the rail authority were not required to abide by the same conflict of interest requirement as other governmental bodies, including the California Public Utilities Commission and the Coastal Commission.
The story disclosed that two members of the authority received more than $10,000 — under state law, the threshold for disclosing sources of outside income — in consulting fees from firms with financial interests in the project.
"We have seen conflicts in the past with the board," Hill said. "The public has the right to know what business relationships consultants have with all players involved."
Hill has renewed confidence in the rail authority considering Gov. Jerry Brown's recent appointments to the board.
"Integrity and credibility need to be restored to the project," Hill said. "I have lots of confidence in the new makeup of the authority."
The rail authority has not taken a position on Hill's legislation and amendment.
"The authority does support disclosure," said Lisa Marie Burcar, the rail authority's new press secretary.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.