We could not help but notice that the usual set of local hangers-on, wannabes and coat holders showed up at the OCTA’s Pre-Proposal Conference today for the $4.7 million “Public Outreach for Interstate 405 Improvement Project”. These vendor conferences are usually scheduled by the Authority when there’s a large bid is rendered as we covered last week: I-405 Needs a $4.7M Spokeshole. 17 potential vendor representatives attended, and we particularly recognized these four:
Forde & Mollrich, of course, is soon-to-be-ex Mayor of Irvine Larry Agran’s favored public relations firm. Arnold and Stu have scored millions in fees for no-bid work at the Irvine Great Park.
Pringle & Associates is run by ex-Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, himself a long-time but now ex-OCTA Board Director and ex-Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Pringle is still heavily involved in very high-value transportation issues , and especially the ARTIC train station and recently approved Streetcar project (both totaling $530 million) which will transport no Disney patrons from the station which won’t be receiving any high-speed rail trains it’s supposedly being built for. Pringle has quite a fan base in Fullerton.
Roger Faubel runs “one of the county’s most high-profile public relations firms” per the Voice of OC, and recently maneuvered his way into a “multimillion-dollar clean water education contract, even though county staff last fall ranked the firm second among qualified bidders.” Faubel once handled public relations for Southern California Edison, a firm very cognizant of its public image and perception of its rate structures.
Matt “Jerbal” Cunningham formerly ran the OC Blog (subsequently sold to be part of the dead Red County network) and ran a few years of PR for the Meathead’s First Five operation, a “taxpayer funded commission” where he read blogs and ate lunch. Cunningham is currently performing other consulting work for OCTA, and also has quite a fan base in Fullerton. His wife, Laura, is Supervisor Bill Campbell’s Chief of Staff.
We singled out these individuals and firms because of their local familiarity, but also for their somewhat dubious reputations and tarnished histories with Orange County government — visit the links, or simply Google these folks for some of their previous work and news coverage.
There’s nothing inherently wicked or wrong with public relations in the private sector, but for an expected-to-be transparent government the question here is why a freeway needs a PR firm? The controversial 405 widening is already off to a bad start as the OCTA Board voted for the least politically impactful single-lane alternative instead of the only slightly more expensive (in relative terms, this is a $1.3 billion project) two-lane choice that could have been made to DOUBLE the pavement width for only a 7.7% increase in cost. The other alternative for toll lanes was a disaster. We’ll presume part of the Flaks’ job is to spin all this in favor of the Board’s decision, and of course there will be the mundane work of dealing with residents in the construction area who’ll need mollification for all that noise and dust. If the widening goes over budget as happened for $50 million with the 22 Freeway, there’ll be excuses to be made to the “stake holders” by the Flaks taking any arrows for OCTA management and the contractors and keeping the complainers out of the Board meetings public comments period.
It figures that a government bureaucracy must at some point toot its own horn (or in this case, cover its ass). The Orange County Toll Roads couldn’t resist putting together their own Flak staff as their kingdom grew. Considering what they
gouge charge, it’s not surprising that someone has to take the heat and also ensure that no one looked too closely at their operation, and especially their debt, and the impact they have on the highly congested free side of the 91. The OCTA has polishes its own image with a large internal staff and repeated expensive updates of their website (3rd iteration recently launched for costs unknown). Many will remember they spent $67 million promoting the CenterLine light rail that was never (thankfully) built. And the County itself has Huntington Beach Councilman Matt Harper whose “day job” is Public Affairs Manager for the OC Waste & Recycling — so it seems almost automatic that our bureaucrats, however obscure, find a need to promote themselves and their unapparent value.
We’d hope that the ten new OCTA Board members might start asking some of these questions — let’s start with re-visiting why the 405 widening was only a single lane, and why the Authority needs to drop an enormous amount of money on the promotion of the project and having a designee to field complaints, comments and questions when that’s an OCTA responsibility. The new (or re-appointed) Board members are Garden Grove Councilman Steve Jones, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido of Santa Ana, Seal Beach Mayor Pro tem Gary Miller, Huntington Beach Councilman Matt Harper, Tustin Mayor Pro tem Al Murray, Irvine Councilman Jeff Lalloway, La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw, Anaheim Councilwoman Gail Eastman, San Clemente Councilwoman Lori Donchak and Mission Viejo Mayor Frank Ury.
Here a link to the full vendor list and PowerPoint from the Pre-Proposal Conference: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B_4ATiK4xYoASFhJbjdMaFB6Z00.