Thousands of pages of public records were removed from the California High Speed Rail Authority website in June. Now, members of the media and anyone seeking information about rail authority spending will only be able to access previously posted documents like detailed information on every project change order, board meeting materials and historical business plans, through a time consuming and unreliable California Public Records Act request according to the Rail Authority website.
“The HSRA has taken down business plans, documents, reports and financials from 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and on,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) in an interview. “How in the world do reporters and watchdogs track its history of making it up as they go along?”
The High Speed Rail Authority has also pulled down important background information as well as board meetings minutes. “The worst one is they’ve pulled down change orders!” Patterson said. “Hundreds of millions in change orders… what’s left?” he asked. And claiming this was all done to make the website ADA compliant is hooey, Patterson said. He contacted former Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, who had previously authored AB 434, the bill requiring all state agencies to make their websites accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Baker agreed with Patterson’s assessment, he said.
California State Auditor Elaine Howle’s audit uncovered rail employees, contractors and consultants with conflicts of interest. Howle allowed the title of the audit to speak for itself: “California High‑Speed Rail Authority: Its Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction.”
Patterson said Roy Hill, the deputy chief operating officer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, who was suspended after Patterson demanded an investigation into the conflicts, is currently under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission for a complaint filed. Patterson also said that something else may be going on in the way of investigations. “The Federal Rail Authority and even the Department of Justice could be investigating. There’s potential for the FBI,” Patterson said. He added that “investigators showed up in Fresno, and HSRA bosses are freaking!”
Additionally, the audit done by the State Auditor is still open, and that could be another avenue for more investigating.
Roy Hill, deputy chief operating officer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and a senior executive at the lead consulting firm WSP, signed a $51-million change order for the construction team led by the Spanish firm Dragados, the Los Angeles Times reported. “It happened in the same year he may have owned more than $100,000 of stock in Jacobs Engineering, which is part of the Dragados team, records show.”
In March California Globe reported:
In March of this year, HSR Deputy Chief Operating Officer Roy Hill filed a Form 700 with the FPPC showing he held between $100,000 and $1 million of stock in Jacobs Engineering, the company which benefitted from the $51 million change order. According to the Times, Jacobs Engineering is the Texas-based firm which provided engineering and design services to the specific project in Kings County. Mr. Hill did not disclose when he purchased the stock.
“It turns out that the State Auditor found that many of the people who put up money for the bond measure (Proposition 1A in 2008), the HSRA allowed thousands and thousands of dollars to go out the door, when they didn’t even have the property yet,” Patterson said. “I’m stunned by this. There is no way to explain this. The individuals involved did not come forward and say ‘I’m conflicted.’”
Patterson said the Political Reform Act and Government Code Section 1090 are intended not only to strike at actual impropriety, but also to strike at the appearance of impropriety. “This recent information troubles me,” Patterson said. “This looks like an insiders group of self-dealers. I am certainly going to keep investigating.”
Roy Hill was suspended Monday as a result of the investigation request.
“What is this… the Don Corleone railroad?” Patterson asked.
Patterson said he sent the HSRA a demand letter to put all of the documents back up on their website. “They don’t want these paper trails to be up there any more,” he said.
— HJTA.org (@HJTA) July 7, 2018
As I wrote in 2013 about High Speed Rail:
“In July 2012, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown passed legislation to approve the first $6 billion segment of high-speed rail tracks. This first segment starts with a $1.5 billion leg from Madera to Fresno in the Central Valley.
During Assembly and Senate floor debates and speeches, Democrats repeatedly said, “This is our moment.” They talked of the significance of voting for the biggest infrastructure project in California history. And they blathered incessantly of their own importance in voting for the project.
Republican Assemblywoman Diane Harkey of Dana Point warned of dire economic circumstances. “Gov. Brown and many Sacramento Democrats seem unable to set priorities even though the state is bankrupt, boasts the lowest credit rating in the nation, must borrow $10 billion for short-term cash flow needs, while cutting public safety dollars and practicing ‘catch and release’ for state prisoners,” Harkey said. “We rank near the bottom of the 50 states in public education achievement and the Sacramento solution is to realign that function and implement trigger cuts IF voters don’t agree to raise taxes in November. But, billions in debt funding for one hundred miles of track with no train, no ridership and no cost analysis is still on the table.”