What: The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) will hold their monthly board meeting.
Where: Sacramento City Council Chambers
This week the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) holds its monthly board meeting, along with newly instituted committee meetings.
The Board meeting (pdf link) is scheduled for 9am on Thursday March 4, 2010 at the Sacramento City Council Chambers. It should be streamed lived via the internet. A weblink should be posted soon at the CHSRA’s website.
The top priority this month is hiring a permanent replacement, as well as perhaps a temporary replacement, for Mehdi Morshed, the current executive director who has announced his retirement at the end of the month. Last month, the discussion centered on what to pay such a person, the expectations for whom cannot be overstated. The lucky candidate will enjoy a salary that could go up to $375,000, which would probably make him or her the second highest paid public official in the country after the President.
The Board will also discuss (pdf link) how to get the Program Environmental Impact Review (EIR) document for the Bay Area to the Central Valley recertified as quickly as possible after decertifying it in December to fulfill a court ruling that found the initial attempt was inadequate. [Full disclosure: we are already raising a fuss about proposed shortcuts in the process such as only noticing a very limited number of people.]
The Board has “imminent litigation” to discuss in closed session. This may either deal with new legal challenges to the beleaguered Program EIR based on withheld ridership data or may be a rumored lawsuit from the Gateway cities upset with plans for the Los Angeles- Anaheim segment. Or maybe both.
In the addition, there are a number of other interesting items that will be discussed in the committees. The committee meetings will be held on Wednesday March 3, 2010. Taped recordings of these should be available at some point.
* The operations committee (pdf link) will look at a report from Parsons Brinkerhoff (pdf link), the primary consultant for this project, that is full of information about who did what and got paid how much. The big picture: they got off to a bit of a slow start but they think they can catch up.
For those counting the pennies, the Authority spent $9,660,000 in December 2009 on its various consultants who billed 66,300 hours of work, which works out to $140/hour.
The operations committee will also look at a report on how the Authority communicates with the public and other stakeholders (pdf link). Ogilvy International, the consultant who recently won an $8 million PR contract, did an “audit” on current practices. The verdict: communication needs to be improved. The first priority is to centralize and standardize communications. We will note that even small changes can make a difference, like now linking to supporting documents straight from agendas, and we are hopeful that we will see some improvements soon, particularly with respect to receiving and responding to public comment.
One notable quote from the report: “The 2009 Business Plan has provided unending fodder for skeptics and critics. Public questions about the assumptions and forecasts in the Plan must be addressed in a strategic and thoughtful manner.”
* The Administrative/Executive Committee will be trying to do just that by considering an addendum to the Business Plan. One item that would be addressed is a proposed revenue guarantee for private investors. We recently published a brief memo (pdf link) on this particular topic.