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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.

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State Auditor to probe MTC’s proposed move to SF

The Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee today approved state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s request for an audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s proposal to move its headquarters from downtown Oakland to San Francisco at toll-payers’ expense.

“Bay Area motorists travel some of the busiest bridges in the nation. They pay tolls with the expectation that those moneys are used for transportation and congestion related purposes,” DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said in a news release. “I have serious concerns about using these revenues for real estate deals. When the Legislature created MTC, I do not believe it ever intended MTC to use toll moneys for these kinds of real property investments. This audit will provide some clarity on what the law allows toll moneys to be used for.”

The audit was approved by a unanimous bipartisan vote. The Bureau of State Audits, under the direction of State Auditor Elaine Howle, will conduct the audit.

The MTC unanimously voted last week to rescind its earlier vote approving the move, and decided to have a six-member committee comprised of former commission chairmen, the current chair and vice chair look into the questions and concerns raised by public officials and others opposed to the move. The committee will report back within 60 days.

T-minus one year to the gubernatorial primary…

…and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman today announced the opening of her campaign headquarters on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino.

“One year from today California voters will cast ballots in a critical primary election. During the past several months, I have assembled a campaign staff that combines the talent of experienced leaders of state and national campaigns as well the energy and commitment of enterprising newcomers,” she said in her statement. “It’s no accident that my campaign headquarters are in the Silicon Valley. My campaign is based in a vital center of innovation and in a place that embodies the ‘can-do’ spirit that California desperately needs right now.”