Cathleen Galgiani Has Some Questions for the LAO
Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani wrote a letter to the Legislative Analyst’s Office last week, and in it she has some tough questions and harsh criticisms for the Office. The LAO, which lost a lot of its credibility with its uninformed attack on the project earlier this month, hasn’t responded yet. But they’ll have to, since Galgiani’s questions are in the form of a public records request:
This letter shall serve as my formal request for a “Public Records Act Request” regarding the May 10, 2011 Legislative Analyst Office report titled “High-Speed Rail is at a Critical Juncture.” As such, I request the following information:
1) The Joint Legislative Audit Committee has the authority to request audits of state agencies. Which legislative entity requested the report conducted by your office?
In other words, the LAO doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to write a report about the California High Speed Rail Authority – someone has to request it. So who did it? Was it Senator Alan Lowenthal? If so, then what would that imply about his motives for the request?
2) Which local transportation agencies were consulted during the course of your study?
I have no knowledge of the background behind Galgiani’s request, but I would not be surprised if one of the agencies consulted was Caltrain. Galgiani has charged in the past that Caltrain is trying to take the HSR money.
3) Caltrans recently submitted applications for federal high speed rail funds. Competing for these funds these applications were in direct competition with requests submitted by the High-speed Rail Authority. Which division or divisions within Caltrans were consulted during the course of this study?
There could be a few reasons for this question: Galgiani might have reason to believe that Caltrans is angling to take over the project (as the LAO suggested) or that Caltrans colluded with the LAO to write this report.
The LAO should provide prompt and complete answers to each of these questions. After all, their job is to provide information and analysis to the legislature, including Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani.
And the LAO clearly fell down in doing so. After making the above request, Galgiani’s letter goes on to slam the LAO for essentially failing to do its duty:
Guidelines for applying for ARRA funds were issued June 17, 2009 – nearly two years ago. Yet at no time during this process did officials from your office, or members of the Legislature, raise concern about the application process or selection criteria. Your office remained silent until a decision to award billions of dollars was reached, and winners and losers were picked, leaving many regions disappointed, including my own.
In other words, the LAO was nowhere to be found when the events they later criticized were unfolding. Only later – months after the ARRA funding had been awarded – did the LAO pipe up with their flawed report. That’s a pretty big failure of the LAO, and raises the question why they suddenly decided to speak up now.
Galgiani then goes on to show that the LAO failed to do its due diligence in its argument that the stimulus funds should not go to the Central Valley, pointing out the shortcomings of the proposed work on LA-Anaheim and the San Francisco-San Jose segments – and pointing out that the Authority was set up to be insulated from political pressure. One of the ways that insulation works is by giving the Authority, and NOT the Legislature, the power to pick corridors to build. In other words, some legislators – Lowenthal? Senator Joe Simitian? – are trying to compromise the independence of the legislature and the integrity of the process, and may have used the LAO as their errand boy in the process.
Galgiani also points out that the FRA has consulted with global HSR experts in their decision about where to award funding. The LAO, on the other hand, appears to not even realize HSR exists around the world.
Her letter closes with a strong series of criticisms of the serious flaws of the LAO report:
At minimum, a responsible report issues from your office should have provided the following background:
• What are the statutory guidelines for the high speed train grant program under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA)?
• What were the guidelines for states and regions to apply for federal funds as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?
• What was entailed during the pre-application process in June 2009?
• What criteria were established to evaluate applications for funding?
• What could have been constructed in each segment with available ARRA and Proposition 1A matching funds?
For the LAO’s office to issue a report of this magnitude with a complete disregard for the process used by the FRA and the [US] DOT was misleading at best, and arrogant at worst.
Damn right. The LAO report echoed the bullshit “train to nowhere” framing of the Central Valley segment, but neglected to explain that the Valley segment was the best fit by far given the guidelines for ARRA funding. Worse, the LAO’s report appears to be a politically-motivated intervention in the project, compromising the Authority’s independence and doing major damage to the reputation of the LAO.
It will be interesting to see what the LAO does here. Anything short of admitting their error, retracting their report, and doing it all over again with actual consultations of HSR experts, offering analysis of global HSR and California’s comparison to those systems, assessing the benefits of HSR and the cost of doing nothing, and providing an informed analysis of the state’s project that takes into account evidence and not fantasy, would be a failure.