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Legislative Counsel: MTA’s new HQ isn’t kosher

The California Legislative Counsel has determined that Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s purchase of a proposed office building in San Francisco, “was not authorized by law,” state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said today.

“This legal opinion by the respected Legislative Counsel is clear and unequivocal that MTC has overstepped its authority,” DeSaulnier, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said in a news release. “I call on MTC to comply with the law and to stop any and all expenditures and actions related to this property. MTC’s illegal actions have placed hundreds of millions of public dollars at risk.”

Randy Rentschler, MTC’s director of legislation and public affairs, declined to respond this afternoon other than to say the agency is “reviewing this opinion. We need to understand it before we can comment.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Counsel’s office concluded in an opinion issued Friday that because the Bay Area Toll Authority and MTC would occupy less than half the new building’s space, with other public agencies eventually moving into other parts of it, the “purchase and operation of a regional governance co-location facility is not among the purposes that BATA or MTC, is authorized to engage in or promote,” and that such a purchase “would exceed the statutory authority of BATA and MTC, and would be an impermissible use of bridge toll revenues.”

The “purchase is substantially related to a purpose other than the administrative needs of the two agencies for office space,” the opinion said, finding it “could be argued that the contract between BAHA (the Bay Area Headquarters Authority, a joint-powers entity created by BATA and MTC for this purpose) and the seller of the building is void, if, … it is determined that acquisition of the building with toll bridge funds was not an authorized use of those funds…”

DeSaulnier has been an outspoken opponent of the purchase, and has authored a bill – SB 1545 – that would halt the move until the State Auditor has reviewed the project. His committee approved the bill in March, but that was the last action on it.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee in August unanimously approved DeSaunlier’s request for the State Auditor to probe the proposed move of MTC’s headquarters; that audit is scheduled to be done by June. Yet BATA voted in October to spend $93 million to buy the new building, and BAHA voted in December to spend $1 million for architectural and engineering services plus $140,000 per year for property management services.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • JohnW

    This could get interesting!