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: