In the last several days, pressure has been building in anticipation of tomorrow’s meeting in Fresno where Representative John Mica will be discussing the topic of transportation. Mica, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is seen as a lynchpin in the California high speed rail project and top leaders in the Obama Administration are trying to get his support.
In an email that has gone viral, High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) CEO Roelof Van Ark has been quietly working with his outreach team, lobbyists and consultants to ensure that the Fresno meeting is well attended and that labor and industry show up to “drown out any negative contributors.” The email, which surfaced Friday, begins with CEO Van Ark updating the HSR board on his recent meetings with Vice President Biden and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Mr. Van Ark tells the board that they have requested that there be a good turn out at Rep. Mica’s meeting.
Bryn Forhan, the Outreach Manager for the Central Valley, then emails Mr. Van Ark and assures him that they are organizing between “300-400 supporters” at the event and plan to “have signs supporting HSR and Congressman Denham and demonstrate to Mica that there is a tremendous amount of support.” She then goes on to tell Mr. Van Ark that if he sees Karen Rae (Deputy Director of the Federal Railroad Administration) he should let her know of the efforts underway since “she asked to turn people out for this hearing.”
Mr. Van Ark then forwards the email detailing Forhan’s astroroots efforts (as opposed to grassroots), to Jo Linda Thompson, a lobbyist representing a group called the Association of California High Speed Trains. Van Ark goes on to write one of the most jaw dropping lines: “Trust that you are also helping to ensure that the industry and labor are out in full force to flood any negative contributors.”
Just days ago, high speed rail supporter Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D) (Budget Subcommittee on Resources) gave Mr. Van Ark clear direction to stop all PR work and focus on the financial plan, the business plan, and answering the Legislature’s longstanding questions. Huffman said, “Your first call after this hearing should be to whoever has the PR contract and you should not spend another cent on public relations.” Clearly, Van Ark isn’t listening.
Thompson then forwards this email to her clients, which includes a who’s who list of the consultants currently working on the HSR project including T.Y.Lin. You may recall that T.Y.Lin is the engineering firm that has been hired to provide oversight over the main project management contract held by Parsons Brinkerhoff.
The full text of the emails in their entirety are at the end of this article. Politics as usual or crossing the line? You decide.
Even local legislators are helping get the word out. Fiona Ma recently sent out an invitation to the Fresno event calling it a “Pro-HSR rally.” All of this means one thing: the project is in clear need of support and they are pulling it out all the stops.
These emails provide a glimpse into how California’s high speed rail project has become a huge pawn in the national political arena. The Vice President and Secretary LaHood are encouraging Mr. Van Ark to ensure Rep. Mica sees there is support for the project; however the emails show Mr. Van Ark is more interested in drowning out “negative contributors” and “neighsayers” (sic) than in actually dealing with the public’s concerns and garnering true support. For Peninsula residents, this is merely the continuation of a pattern, very much reminiscent of when Board member Rod Diridon referred to concerned citizens as “rotten apples.” The Authority seems to continue to ignore all concerns, whether from the legislators, the LAO or the public, and instead continues on with their plan to get a stake in the ground.
These emails lead to a number of questions: Are the consultants being paid to show up on at the event? Is it appropriate to use public money to drown out the public’s concerns? Why is the company hired to provide independent oversight (T.Y. Lin) participating in lobbying efforts? Isn’t the leader of a public agency supposed to be even handed, especially when the project is in a period of Environmental Review? And where is Governor Brown in all of this? Van Ark’s email refers to Biden and La Hood asking for confirmation of the “corrective support of the Governor’s Office” – what does that mean? Since taking office, Governor Brown’s only comment on the subject of HSR was to request that the Florida money be diverted to California.
Coincidentally, Senator Alan Lowenthal introduced Senate Bill 517 last week which would fire the Authority’s governing board by January 2012. The new appointees would have specific expertise including a financial expert, an environmental specialist, an attorney familiar with construction law and engineer with expertise in megaprojects, a business person and a representative from local government and labor. In addition, the bill would require no member of the board or agency employee can be appointed if they received substantial income from a firm under contract with the Authority for the past two years. Also members cannot take a job with one of the firms within two years of severing their relationship with the Authority. Currently the HSR Authority is an independent agency and it only is controlled by purse strings through the legislature. The bill would also put the Authority under the State Business, Transportation and Housing Agency directly accountable to the Governor.
Whether one is for the project or against it, everyone should favor the proper management of the largest infrastructure project in California. This board has clearly not demonstrated responsible actions.
One thing is clear, Governor Brown can play a major role in whether HSR lives or dies in California. Three other Republican governors, (FL, Wisconsin and Ohio) have all turned down HSR stimulus money from the federal government. What will Brown do?
For more information about the Fresno meeting see:http://denham.house.gov/press-release/representative-denham-host-transportation-infrastructure-listening-session-fresno-ca
Actual Text of the emails below. Start bottom up.
From : Jo Linda Thompson
Date : Tuesday February 15 2011
To : Albrecht P. Engel (AECOM), Alistair W. Baillie (IBI Group) HEYM Andreas; Anthony A. Hernandez (CH2M); Antonio Perez (Talgo Inc.) Armando Ramirez (AECOM), Armin Kick (Siemens), Beth Power (Caltrop), Brian Gardner (Kiewit), Brian Hausknecht (CH2M) Cara Strom (HatchMott) Charles Wochele (Alstom), Clare Singleton (Skanska), Dale Muellerleile (HDR Inc.) Daniels, Anthony (Parsons Brinkerhoff); David L. Borger (STV Inc.) Diego Diaz (SystraUsa) Donald Phillips (Arup), Eduardo Romo (Pro Intec), Frank Guzzo (Siemens) George L. Pla (Cordoba Corp), George N. Dorshimer (LTK), Harley L. Moore (LEA Elliot), Jack Ybarra (Transmetrics), James Hammer (Caltrop), Jim Fea (Caltrop), Joe Quigley (Alstom), John A. Belvedere (CH2M), John Bollier (StacyWitBeck), John F. Barna (AECOM), Jose Martinez (Cordoba Corp), Juan Ortega (Pro Intec), Larry E. Miller (GFNet), Mark Ashley (TYLin), Mike Aparicio (Skanska), Nora Friend (Talgo), Peter Cipolla (HatchMott), Peter Gertler (HNTB); Rick Peltz (GFNet), Robert J Dietz (GFNet), Robert M. Sergeant (Parsons), Robert Schaevitz (URS Corp), s. mayman; Sabro Takeda (LTK), Shinji Kobayashi (Sumitomo Corp), Stephen Polechronis (Aecom), Steve Schibuola (ibi group), Steven Pearson (URS Corp), Amy Brown; andrew antwih; Beau Biller; Dominic F. DiMare; Donna L. Lucas; Emily Rusch; kathleen Van Osten; Mark Smith; Mark Watts; Michael Quigley; Roxanne Miller; Tim Cremins; Tim Flanigan; Tony Gonzalez; Bena Chang; Bill Frandsen; Bill Knapp; Dave Snyder; Deanne Baker; Gabriel Metcalf; Gail Brydges; Greg Garcia; Grizelda (Cordoba Corp); Jeff Morales; Jen Labrado; Jim Earp; Jim Lazarus; Jim Wunderman; John Eddy ; Joseph Cruz; Kathy Ortiz; Keith Dunn; Kiana Buss; Luis Iglesias; Marty DeSollar; Michael Cunningham; Michael Lasko; Nick Brand; Noelle Mattock; Obe J. Schrader; Pedro Morillas; Peter Skinner; Pierre Mattot; Richard Napier; Robert M. Snoddy; Rod Diridon; Ron Hartje; Russel Rudden; Steven B. Falk; Stuart Sunshine; Tad Widby; Todd Schultz
Cc : Roelof Van Ark; Daniel Krause (CA4HSR); Danny Curtin; Tim Cremins; Grajek, Victoria; Everhart, Reichel
Subject: FW: Meeting in Philly
Can everyone let me know if you are sending a team next Tuesday? See the email trail below, we need some positive energy here!
Thompson Public Affairs
1215 K Street Suite 1120
Sacramento, California 95814
(916) 492-2871 office
From: Roelof Van Ark
Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 9:43 PM
To: Jo Linda Thompson
Subject: FW: Meeting in Philly
Trust that you are also helping to ensure that the industry and labor are out in full force to flood any negative contributors.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone
From: Bryn Forhan
Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 8:58 PM
To: Roelof Van Ark
Subject: RE: Meeting in Philly
Just so you know, I met with the Fresno Works coalition this afternoon about the upcoming hearing. I gave them direction to turn out as many people as possible for the Fresno hearing. We are mobilizing business people, Chambers of Commerce, community leaders, laborers, students and general supporters of the project. Our goal is to turnout 300-400 people. Right now, we understand that the hearing will be held at the University of California Building in central Fresno. The group decided to have everyone convene at the location at 8 am next Tuesday – an hour before the hearing. The point is to have signs supporting HSR and Congressman Denham and demonstrate to Mica that there is a tremendous amount of support. In addition, we have our outreach teams reaching out to stakeholders throughout the Valley to get their participation as well.
If you happen to meet with Karen Rae of FRA while you are there, perhaps you can let her know of the effort. When she met with Tom Richards and the Fresno contingent last week in DC, she asked them to turnout people for this hearing in Fresno. Steve Geil wanted to make sure that we let her know.
From: Roelof Van Ark
Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 6:35 PM
To: Curt Pringle; Kopp, Quintin; Tom Umberg; David Crane; Russ Burns; Lynn Schenk; Matt Toledo; Tom Richards; Fran Florez
Cc: Jeffrey M. Barker; Carrie Pourvahidi; Dan Leavitt; Hans Van Winkle; Strehl, Katherine; Mark Kadesh > Subject: Meeting in Philly
Just a feedback from Philly. Both Secr LaHood and VP Biden did very motivating presentations for HSR. The message was “if we as Americans do not move now, our competitors in the world are going to beat us…as HSR is the efficiency and environmental infrastructure that all our worldwide competitors have..and we are behind and need to catch up fast”
I must say, I was impressed by the message / vision, but possibly I am biased. The VP presented it with total conviction, and very well. The audience was nothing special, Joe Boardman (Amtrak), Joe Szabo (FRA), some state DOT’s, some suppliers, APTA , and myself…so nothing special. But the message was good. The VP did not mention the $54M over 6 years in his speech, only the 6 year plan. Obviously if we need to share $9B will many “non-REAL high speed” systems, this would be a problem. But Mica’s message was not against us. He just wants money spent on “real HS Rail”…we clearly need to get closer to John Mica to work this issue.
Both Secr. LaHood as well as VP Biden wanted to talk with me after the presentation. I was able to give them a short update, particularly regarding a few neigh-sayers we have here in CA who need some motivation. They are both very supportive of the CA HSR project, saying we are well ahead of others (?). They also both wanted confirmation of the corrective support of the Governor’s Office, which I confirmed for now.
Special request from them both…ensure that the John Mica hearings in CA are well attended, and that we get John Mica to continue to support CA.
Let us see what the President presents next week.
Many other smaller discussion, but I will not bore you with those now.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone