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Mark DeSaulnier named ‘Regionalist of the Year’

The Bay Area Council, a public policy group consisting of the region’s 275 largest employers, has named state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier as its inaugural “Regionalist of the Year.”

Mark DeSaulnierThe council called DeSaulnier, D-Concord, a champion of regional cooperation and solutions on issues of transportation, healthcare, economic, housing, land-use planning and environmental protection, among others.

“Sen. DeSaulnier throughout his career of service at the city, county and state levels has exhibited his commitment to the Bay Area as a region and his commitment to serve the needs of the Bay Area and all the people of this region not just those who voted for him,” council president and CEO Jim Wunderman said in a news release. “Mark understands that cities and counties and districts cannot succeed unless the region as a whole is working together to accomplish common and mutually beneficial goals. Sometimes regionalism does not play well at home, but Mark has always exhibited the political courage to do what is right for our region.”

As a Contra Costa County supervisor, DeSaulnier served on the boards of all three of the Bay Area’s regional agencies: the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He also served on the California Air Resources Board, and the council says he was “an early and ardent proponent of taking an integrated, regional approach to housing, land use and transportation planning – long before the approach was officially codified through the current Sustainable Communities Strategy.”

DeSaulnier played a key role in creating the Joint Policy Committee, a leadership group of the Bay Area’s main regional agencies aimed at improving their efficiency and integration. And he has championed several critical regional transportation projects, including the expansion of Highway 4, BART to eastern Contra Costa County, and the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore.

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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.

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Two great transporation forums coming up

We’ve got two great opportunities coming up for all you public-transportation buffs.

For a local view, the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club will host a community forum luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, June 17, on public transportation featuring AC Transit Directors at Large Chris Peeples and Joel Young as well as Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District 4 Director Robert Raburn.

They’ll be sharing information and insight on how Alameda County public agencies are addressing the growing need for infrastructure development in local and regional transportation, the growing importance of public transportation in urban planning, fiscal austerity in state and local budgets, and environmental justice.

The event is at Everett & Jones Barbecue, 126 Broadway between Second Street and the Embarcadero near Oakland’s Jack London Square. It includes a buffet lunch and tickets cost $25; space is limited, so attendees are encouraged to sign up online, or RSVP to club treasurer Guy Bryant at 510-836-7563 or treasurer@demlaywers.org.

For a broader view, the Commonwealth Club of California will host a free public forum from 9 to 10:30 a.m. next Friday, June 24, in its offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco on “From Point A to Point B: Fixing America’s Transportation Problems.” Taking part in a panel discussion will be Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger; American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director John Horsley; American Public Transportation Association President Bill Millar; and Mineta Transportation Institute National Transportation Finance Center Director Asha Weinstein Agrawal. Mortimer Downey, chair of the MTI board of trustees and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, will moderate.

Immediately following the panel discussion at 10:30 a.m. will be a keynote address from Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation; this is free and open to the public as well.

“If you have ever been stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge, late to meetings, or have had a ruined weekend because you couldn’t comfortably and efficiently make it to a destination in time, you know that California suffers from a major transportation infrastructure problem,” the Commonwealth Club’s news release says. “From pot holes jarring people’s necks and backs, to bridges collapsing nationwide, thousands of commuters are being affected every day by America’s inadequate and faltering transportation infrastructure system. At the upcoming FREE Commonwealth Club transportation infrastructure summit, experts will examine what can and must be done to ameliorate this dire situation.”

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Business, agency leaders press the flesh in DC

A Bay Area Council delegation is in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with lawmakers and Obama Administration officials on transportation, infrastructure and jobs in the wake of last week’s State of the Union address and last month’s U.S. Senate shakeup. That is, they’re talking money.

Melanie de La Grange Sury, the council’s vice president of communications, says meetings are set with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Garamendi is the only Bay Area House member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as was his predecessor in the 10th Congressional District seat, Ellen Tauscher; DeFazio chairs the Highways and Transit Subcommittee.

The delegation also will meet with Adolfo Carrion, director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, which is quarterbacking a new three-agency alliance between the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and Department of Housing and Urban Development. And the delegation will meet with Transportation Department officials including Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy.

Leading the delegation is Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman, Hanson Bridgett LLP Managing Partner Andrew Giacomini, Webcor Builders President and CEO Andy Ball, and TMG Partners Chairman and CEO Michael Covarrubias. Others in the group include Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger, Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin and Association of Bay Area Governments Deputy Executive Director Ezra Rapport.

The Bay Area Council is a public-policy advocacy group consisting of the CEOs of more than 275 of the region’s biggest employers, representing more than 500,000 workers (about one of every six private-sector employees in the area).

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MTC’s Heminger eyed for cabinet post

MCT Executive Director Steve Heminger

MCT Executive Director Steve Heminger

The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission chief Steve Heminger is widely being discussed as a contender for transportation secretary in the Barack Obama administration.

Heminger’s profile is limited largely to the transportation world but he has made friends in high places. He  helped lead a commission created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and runs what is considered one of the most progressive metropolitan transportation organizations in the nation.

Heminger is said to be interested in the post, and his advocates are working to put him face-to-face with the Obama transition team.

Traffic World reports that rumors center around “Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell as well as members of Congress such as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar and two Oregon Democratic congressmen, Pete DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer.”

Other names on the potential secretary list include former FAA directorJane Garvey under the Clinton administration.

But Traffic World also wrote:

Transportation industry executives close to the Obama campaign, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it is more likely, however, that the incoming administration will seek to put a new stamp on the department through new appointments less familiar to Washington’s political establishment.

There is a wide array of transportation officials at the state and local level who could have a role at the top of DOT or in agency posts, including Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay area, and New York City Transportation Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan.

Other reports of Heminger’s consideration appeared in Streetsblog.org and CQ Politics:

During his eight years at the commission, he has developed a friendship with San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi , the Speaker of the House, who named him to a congressional commission that recently unveiled a raft of proposals for altering transportation policy in the next decade — the most controversial being an increase of as much as 40 cents during the next five years in the federal gasoline tax, which is now 18.4 cents a gallon. His commission work and congressional connections could give him a leg up as an Obama administration ponders big changes to surface transportation policy.

U.S. News and World Report wrote:

Transportation The Hill reports, “For Transportation secretary, Obama may tap Steve Heminger, who is the executive director on the San Francisco Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.”