Jeffrey Morales Picked as New CHSRA CEO
Yesterday the California High Speed Rail Authority selected Jeffrey Morales as their new CEO, replacing Roelof van Ark. Morales served as Caltrans director under Governor Gray Davis, and has been working on the HSR project as a Senior Vice President for Parsons Brinckerhoff. Mike Rosenberg at the San Jose Mercury News has the best reporting on the new hire:
The California High-Speed Rail Authority board unanimously voted to hire Morales, 52, to fill its vacant top spot after a months-long search that spanned the globe. The board members’ pick was right under their noses: Morales has led the formation of the project’s business plan, which includes a vision to secure the remaining 80 percent of the $69 billion needed to build the rail line, as a consultant with the Sacramento construction management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Morales was one of two finalists for the CEO job in 2010 and was the choice of at least some board members at the time. After he was passed over in favor of an engineer with high-speed rail experience, the rail agency took Morales up on his offer to consult — and gave him an office at its headquarters.
Morales has argued in staff meetings for more realistic and publicly appetizing goals, even unsuccessfully proposing a train that would run slightly slower than 220 mph to save money. His hire is the latest in a series of moves by the Brown administration to save the state’s biggest-ever public works project, including a recent $30 billion cost reduction, a faster start time for service and quicker investments to commuter lines in the Bay Area and Southern California.
I’m not exactly sure what “more realistic and publicly appetizing goals” means exactly, but there’s time to determine exactly what Morales has in mind. The key thing to me is that he is someone who is very familiar with the project and with state government, which is something the project needs right now.
The South Bay’s Rod Diridon, who helped recruit Morales as a project board member two years ago, said Morales is a good fit now that the project is more “political than technical.”
“He has a unique ability — without making a lot of noise, he never attracts attention to himself — (of) getting very difficult things done quickly,” Diridon said. “He’s inexhaustible. He works all the time. By that example, people around him are drawn into that kind of enthusiasm.”
And Dan Richard, chair of the CHSRA board, lauded Morales’ abilities:
“The problem here has been that high-speed rail for too long was this insular, separate, stand-alone organization, and I just don’t think you get things built in California that way,” Richard said. “We have to have somebody who cannot only manage internally but also forge and maintain and nourish those types of external relationships.”
That analysis seems right to me. Morales has the experience and relationships that can help guide the project through the Legislature this year and toward construction this fall.
As you would expect, HSR opponents found something to dislike about Morales:
“How can we expect this insider to provide an independent review of the project?” asked state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Rocklin, who is trying to get the project back on the ballot.
Critics also question whether Parsons Brinckerhoff has a conflict of interest because the firm helped bankroll the ballot measure that launched the project — and in return received a contract from the authority worth nearly $200 million.
LaMalfa is being ridiculous – the CEO’s job is to get the project built, not provide independent review. As to Parsons Brinckerhoff, there’s simply not that many companies that have experience with large projects like high speed rail. Had the Authority selected someone without the experience Morales brings, opponents would be complaining that the new CEO was inexperienced and therefore a bad fit.
The Authority made a smart and sensible move in picking Morales to be the new CEO, and I’m looking forward to see what he can get done.