MTC approves move to San Francisco, triggering Senator DeSaulnier to commit to drastically overhaul the agency

29 Sep

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted yesterday to approve the purchase of 390 Main Street in San Francisco for their new headquarters. I attempted to listen to the audio of the meeting while it was happening yesterday, but once again the MTC’s audio feed was faulty (the same thing happened during their last meeting about the move) so I was unable to.

I was able to follow the meeting yesterday on Twitter, thanks to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Michael Cabanatuan @ctuan. (If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should.)

And thankfully, Joyce Roy attended the meeting and wrote this report:

After the public spoke, the commission voted 10 in favor and 6 against going into closed session for negotiations.

Originally in July only two voted against 390 Main, Scott Haggerty and Mark Green. This time they were joined by Tom Bates, Federal Glover (Contra Costa County), Amy Worth, Vice Chair (Contra Costa Cities), and Dave Cortese (Santa Clara County).

Glover said many of his constituents told him thru email and phone calls that they were against the move.  Worth spoke of a concern I had never considered.  She said, in affect, that the continuing controversy about this would cast a shadow on MTC and make their task for the next few years of completing the Bay Area Plan more difficult.

In my few words, I made the obvious point that it was the wrong building in the wrong location. Both Mark Green and Tom Bates also made that point.  None of the commissioners had a good word for the 390 Main Building. James Spering (Solano County & Cities) who voted for it, put it mildly, “not ideal building.”

The opinion of MTC’s attorneys was that it was legal for them to use toll funds for their facilities but they said nothing about the legality of becoming a landlord and leasing out space.  Steve Heminger threw out a lawsuit challenge. So maybe, in addition to using toll funds for real estate speculation, it can cover legal costs!

When the commissioners returned from the closed session, it was announced that it 11 to 5 to place a bid on the building.

Joyce is right about the MTC attorney’s opinion. Though the letter from their attorneys states that the MTC could lease out space in their headquarters, it does not say that thy could do so to private entities, thereby engaging in real estate speculation. But what’s strangest about the letter from their attorneys is that it isn’t signed by anyone. Instead, it’s signed by the name of the firm – Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

Who knows – maybe this is how the firm always signs their letters, but it’s certainly not common practice. Generally an attorney at a firm signs a letter, that way that person is accountable for what s/he writes. Since this letter isn’t signed by an actual person, nobody is accountable.

Whether or not the MTC can legally spend bridge toll funds on real estate speculation remains to be seen, as the state audit is ongoing. State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, initiated the audit and had this to say yesterday to the Contra Costa Times:

In a statement Wednesday, DeSaulnier said the Senate Housing and Transportation Committee will hold hearings into MTC and its authority. He also plans to introduce a bill to “drastically” overhaul regional governments in the Bay Area.

“MTC is disconnected to those they serve,” he said in the statement. “By refusing to await an independent review by the state auditor, MTC become a prime example of what is wrong with government. MTC needs to be held accountable for their use of toll payer money.”

That is certainly a strong statement from DeSaulnier, and I couldn’t be happier to hear it. There are lots of problems with the MTC and it’s time for the state to focus on this incredibly powerful regional agency. As Transportation Committee Chair, DeSaulnier is the perfect person to take on oversight and reform of the MTC.

So while the MTC is moving to a less accessible, not seismically sound building in San Francisco and is gambling toll funds on real estate speculation, at least something good has come out of this. I’m eager to hear more about the legislation Senator DeSaulnier plans to introduce, and when I hear more I’ll be sure to report that here.

Previous posts on MTC’s relocation:

5 Responses to “MTC approves move to San Francisco, triggering Senator DeSaulnier to commit to drastically overhaul the agency”

  1. karensmulevitzKaren Smulevitz September 29, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    In the spirit of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, since a corporation is a person, a law firm should be able to sign its own letters! Wonder if they have a computer robot that signs in cursive. If not, somebody. some real person, forged their effing name! Which puts the legal status of the letter in question, and undermines MTC’s judgment based on said letter. Gets goofier and goofier.
    In my one minute at yesterday’s meeting, I was rather insulting to the board (Scott Haggerty took offense). Had I another minute, I wanted to say that MTC was created by legislative action, wasn’t carved in stone, and could be eliminated if the political winds blew it away. Taxpayers are tired of these self-important poopahs who play with our money.
    I am excited by Mark Desaulnier’s comments and intend to support him in the effort to change the structure of regional government. MTC is not fulfilling its mandate.
    Can you answer a question I’m wondering about? MTC claims to have been working on this move for two years. Is there a record of this issue being agendized in open meetings two years ago? One year ago? This wasn’t on my radar until this summer, but someone more diligent than I might have a record of the item being discussed.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) September 29, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      I saw several newspaper reports as the moving discussion happened so I’m assuming there were several public meetings on the issue. The process initially seemed to be a very good one that all three regional agencies were involved in. Unfortunately, the ultimate selection decision was left to the MTC and they seem to have rushed into a decision, not caring that ABAG will not move with them (and still claiming in their press releases that ABAG will).

    • Joan Lichterman September 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      I had planned to say, “I hope MTC chokes on this decision” — and then realized that we’re the ones who will ultimately choke, unfortunately in more ways than one. As Joyce probably as said previously, buildings like this cost far more to adapt than anyone ever plans. Mark DeSaulnier has made another principled move, not only on behalf of government accountability but ultimately on behalf of public health.

  2. Jame Ervin September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I am so irritated by this decision. Has everyone on the MTC board bothered to visit the building. Considering the real estate doldrums, can anyone at MTC honestly tell me there isn’t a better building in the Bay Area near transit? By the Civic Center in SF? Nobody’s selling on the cheap over there? Not in the past 2-3 years? Those comparison properties? Didn’t every one of those have better access to transit? There are no buildings that can retrofitted to operational status in an earthquake within a quarter mile of BART? I would love for MTC to stay in Oakland, but I am also open to other logical locations. This 390 Main purchase just looks suspicious from all angles.

    I hope for some serious legislative reform to prevent something similar from happening in the future, and hopefully this purchase can be prevented before coming to fruition. Isn’t there a VC backed tech company that thinks 390 Main is the ideal site for their new headquarters? Condo developers? Don’t you want to build some new lofts in Rincon Hill? Please put in an aggressive offer now, and take this location off the table.

  3. Oakland Space Academy September 30, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Those were strong, wonderful, and long-overdue (from someone) words from Senator Mark DeSaulnier. I intend to support him and would encourage everyone to do so. A good start is to contact both he and Senator Loni Hancock in this endevour. I just did, it felt really good!

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