Are local bigshots hiding things again?
There are a couple of simple quetions omitted from this story that might have made the resident of Merced interested or even concerned about the future of the proposed high speed railroad station that will gut the downtown area a little better informed.
1. Doesn't the reason for the ad hoc committee have less to do with "expertise," which was alleged subject of the discussion at the last Merced City Council meeting,. than with its lack of transparency? So they spend several hundred thousand of some other governmental agency's money on consultants. So what? For years CH2MHill made more than a million dollars recycling essentially the same report of the state of our sewer system, mired in water-quality board cease and desist orders, for years. Did it stop the city from approving construction projects, even if they never got built?
Doesn't it appear that the purpose of the ad hoc committee is to run interference for the city staff and politicians? Why is composed of members we don't know the names of and most importantly, and why is the committee not subject to the Brown Act, which governs public meetings in California?
It could lead one to suspect that the only lesson the political class of Merced learned from the published decision handed down by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno last year against the serial violations of the Brown Act by the Merced County Board of Supervisors is to try to avoid the laws government public meetings in the state whenever possible.
When they appealed their own Superior Court's decision against them, apparently Dominant Dunces didn't know that former Assembly Speaker Ralph Brown, D-Modesto, had been appointed to the 5 DCA when he retired from the Legislature. It is likely the Court remembered this bit of Valley history.
2. Isn't it absurd that the Downtown Association, as its president said, has not been included in the ad hoc committee? Whose businesses will be most adversely affected by a project that will basically reconstruct the downtown? Is that why the council -- as if any local politicians needed any reason at all -- keeps passing retail projects on the outskirts of town? . Isn't there a word for what top officials are doing behind a wall of secrecy? Isn't it called "railroading?"
If it goes according to "plan," public institutional buildings like UC's Mondo Building, City Hall, and a few others may be left standing, We may get a huge station and a permanent obstacle to cross-town and cross-county traffic.
This dispute arises around two questions:
A. What is public or urban or transportation planning, anyway? Who does it and why?
B. Why do they begin by covering the whole process in secrecy and unaccountability?
A third bonus question is: Will developer Richard Blum, husband of US Sen. Diane Feinstein and former chairman of the UC Regents, get the contract for the Merced station, too, along with the on to build the first phase of track from nowhere to Fresno?
Questions arise over Merced HSR committee
The committee interviewed consulting firms
City was questioned over technical expertise
Committee left off Merced Main Street Association
Plans to design a stop for California high-speed rail are expected to ramp up in the coming months, and elected officials and residents are questioning whether the city has done enough to put together a complete steering committee.
The Ad Hoc High-Speed Rail Citizens Advisory Committee has been meeting about once a month since December. The seven members are a combination of city employees and local residents, according to city staff.
The Merced City Council got an update from city staff this week about the plan, and could be asked to approve a consultant for planning at the next council meeting. The committee interviewed the potential consultants.
But questions have arisen about whether the committee had enough technical expertise to make that call. The committee included administrators, insurance agents and city staff, but no one from the Development Services Department.
Mayor Pro Tem Josh Pedrozo said the group that did the interviews was accomplished and intelligent, but none of them had experience in city planning. “I think that the committee was lacking a strong technical (expertise),” he said.
He also noted that no representative from UC Merced was part of the interview process.
The city’s Principal Planner Bill King said he looked over the applications of the potential consultants, but was not part of the interview process.
Development Services Director David Gonzalves said he was not involved either. “I haven’t seen the proposals personally,” he said.
Daniel Kazakos, president of the Merced Main Street Association, called it “absurd” that his group of downtown merchants was not invited to the table. After all, the stop is proposed near 16th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“I was very upset that they did not include us in those conversations,” he said.
Frank Quintero, Merced’s director of economic development, denied that the committee lacked expertise, saying this consultant will be in charge of community outreach, economic development and land use.
Quintero said the High-Speed Rail Authority is looking for a separate firm for designing, building and construction of the rail and related structures.
The council voted last fall to accept a $600,000 grant to create studies and plans regarding transportation, financial and land-use issues that come with Merced’s proposed downtown station. The city’s contribution includes $200,000 in matching funds, and an estimated $50,000 in staff time.
Quintero went on to say the committee has made an effort to include the Main Street Association and Downtown Neighborhood Association, a group of homeowners, in future meetings. Staff also said they expect UC Merced to be more involved in the coming months.
Mayor Stan Thurston said he didn’t think it was unusual for the city’s principal planner or director of development to be left out of the interviews. Their part of the planning will come after the consultant is picked, he said.
“As far as who was on the committee, I think it was an educated, well-rounded committee,” he said.
Thurston said he’s skeptical of the state’s plans, calling high-speed rail a “boondoggle.” But, he said, the city needs to move forward with planning.
“If by some miracle it does happen, Merced has to be ready for it,” he said.