On the heels of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s decision to have the rails run through the Antelope Valley and a negative peer review, the agency has lost its CEO and board chief.
At Thursday’s Board of Directors meeting CEO Roelof van Ark announced his resignation effective two months from now. Board of Directors Chairman Thomas J. Umberg also announced that he’d be stepping down as Chairman, but will remain on the Board.
Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, an author of the High Speed Rail Bond Proposition 1A, declared her deep respect to both men for “navigating the political turbulence associated with building the nation’s first High-Speed Rail system.”
Although no specific reasons were given, the retirement of van Ark and the stepping down of Umberg closely follow a negative report to the State Legislature from the California High-Speed Rail Peer Group (Group).
The six-member Group is charged with the independent analysis of the planning, engineering and financing, of the project. In their January 3 report on the draft 2012 Business Plan issued by the CHSRA the Group called the project “not financial feasible.”
“The fact the Funding Plan fails to identify any long term funding commitments is a fundamental flaw in the program,” the Group report states.
Van Ark shot back.
“It is unfortunate that the Peer Review Committee has delivered a report to the Legislature that is deeply flawed in its understanding of the Authority’s program and the experience around the world in successfully developing high speed rail,” said van Ark.
Nine days later van Ark had resigned.
Galgiani noted the challenging circumstances van Ark and Umberg faced when attempting to be sensitive and responsive to diverse communities, with varying needs along the 800 miles stretch of the project.
“Mr. Van Ark and Mr. Umberg have worked with stakeholders to address everything from whether “wind speed” from the train will affect bee pollination in agricultural areas, the importance of respecting sacred sites and Native American burial grounds near the Grapevine, the value we place on involving small emerging business enterprises during the engineering and construction contracting process, building the first public private partnership of this scope in California,” Galgiani said.
However, Galgiani is now focused on the future of High-Speed Rail with Governor Jerry Brown. She described Brown as a “vocal supporter” of the project who last year placed two of his top advisors, Dan Richard and Mike Rossi, to the rail board.
“Today represents a turning point for the Governor to put his stamp on the project. I am pleased that his long-trusted Advisor, Dan Richard, has been chosen to succeed Chair Umberg, and I am confident that Gov. Brown will put his full resources behind the success of High-Speed Rail,” said Galgiani.