CA: Palo Alto Council Committee to Pick Lobbyist for High-Speed Rail Concerns

The Palo Alto City Council Rail Committee is poised Monday to select a lobbyist to continue relaying its concerns about the state's increasingly expensive bullet train project to Sacramento decision makers.

The four-member committee asked city staff in September to seek proposals from firms that could provide legislative services.

The city received bids from Capitol Advocates, California Strategies & Advocacy LLC, Ferguson Group LLC/Cliff Moriyama Consulting and Professional Evaluation Group/the Ochoa & Moore Law Firm.

The committee's pick will be forwarded to the full council for consideration on Dec. 19. The move follows the California High-Speed Rail Authority's release of a revised business plan that pegs the cost of the project at nearly $100 billion, or triple the initial estimate.

The city previously employed Capitol Advocates, whose managing partner, Ravi Mehta, once represented Oracle and was involved in lobbying activities that were investigated for potential ethics violations, according to a report prepared by city project manager Rob Braulik.

The firm's contract with the city expired on Aug. 31.

Concerns about Mehta's checkered past did not spur the request for proposals, said Council Member Nancy Shepherd, who sits on the Rail Committee. Rather, it was based on political turnover in Sacramento.

"Our lobbyist was very close to Republicans and since we are always in (request for proposals) and (request for qualifications) mode, we feel it is our responsibility that we go out and ask for applications," she said.

Shepherd noted that Mehta fulfilled the terms of his contract without causing the city any embarrassment.

There are sharp cost differences in the bids for the new one-year contract. On the low end, Capital Advocates says it can do the job for $66,000, whereas the Ferguson Group/Cliff Moriyama Consulting says it will cost $126,000. California Strategies and the Professional Evaluation Group/The Ochoa & Moore Law Firm submitted bids of $90,000 and $120,000, respectively.

Capitol Advocates aside, a city review of the firms turned up no negative news reports, Braulik wrote.

The Ferguson Group has represented the city in the past with respect to federal legislative activities and its partner, Cliff Moriyama Consulting, counts the California Building Industry Association and the Dart Container Corp. as clients.

California Strategies represents the city of South Lake Tahoe and has several private sector clients, including Accenture and the National Football League. The firm's Sacramento associate, Kurt Schuparra, would provide legislative services, Braulik noted.

Lastly, the Professional Evaluation Group, headed by John Garamendi Jr., previously promoted Stockton Prison Hospital. Its partner, the Ochoa & Moore Law Firm, represents the Oxnard School District, Deloitte Consulting LLP and the International Code Council.

Shepherd said the council needs a lobbyist in Sacramento to ensure its concerns about high-speed rail are heard and that the rail authority adheres to Proposition 1A, the 2008 voter-approved bond measure that allocated $10 billion in funding for the project.

"Until high-speed rail is officially unfunded or disbanded," she said, "it's going to be a major issue on the Peninsula."

As part of its meeting Monday, the Rail Committee is slated to consider drafting language and rationale for the city to go on record urging the state Legislature to kill the project or place a referendum on the November 2012 ballot. Committee members are also expected to continue their discussion of a comment letter on the new business plan.

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