Planning to build a cross-Altamont light rail system is one thing, but raising the millions of dollars of public funds to make it a reality is something else.
That “something else” was the topic of action taken Wednesday by the board of the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority.
At its meeting at a conference center near Livermore, authority directors allocated $500,000 for the first year of an aggressive lobbying and public relations program that will be launched in the coming months.
The program’s goal is freeing up government funds and generating local support for closing the gap between the $688 million already in the regional rail authority’s bank account and the $2.8 billion required to build the 41-mile light rail system that runs through Tracy.
I sat in the audience at Wednesday’s meeting to gauge what the program — officially labeled the Program for Government Relations, Public Affairs and Community Engagement — is about and how Tracy fits into the efforts.
The government relations part is basically an all-out lobbying effort on the local, state and federal levels. Of the first-year half-million dollar allocation, $390,000 will go to Vox Populi, a Bay Area firm specializing in public and government affairs in transportation and housing.
The name of Vox Populi’s “strategist and lobbyist” has a familiar ring in California politics: retired State Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, a major political player in Sacramento who came within a whisker of being elected mayor of Oakland in 2010.
Several subcontractors will be on board, especially in the community involvement part of the effort. Besides the $390,000, another $110,000 is earmarked for “advertising media expenses and additional ad hoc services.”
The first-year contract with Vox Populi could be followed by second- and third-year contracts that must be approved by Valley Link directors.
So where does the half-million dollars to fund the lobbying and PR program come from? Alameda County led the way by allocating $400,000. The regional rail authority’s chairman, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, had a lot to do with making that happen.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Altamont Hills, Tracy Councilwoman Veronica Vargas spearheaded efforts that generated the final $100,000 from the city of Tracy and the rest from Lathrop and “various developers in the Tracy and Lathrop areas.” The developers turned out to be Tracy Hills, The Surland Cos. and Prologis International Park of Commerce, all from the Tracy area.
Supervisor Bob Elliott of Tracy, another member of the rail authority board, said at Wednesday’s meeting that he welcomed the developers’ financial support, but he wanted assurance that no special considerations would be offered by the regional rail authority as a quid pro quo for the contributions. Haggerty replied that none would be given.
After Wednesday’s Valley Link board meeting, Vargas told me that one of the first efforts of the ramped-up lobbying and PR effort would be the journey to Washington in the first week of May by the San Joaquin County “One Voice” contingent that will include Veronica along with Mayor Bob Rickman, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young and Councilmember Rhodesia Ransom.
Tracy’s civic leaders not only have had a key role in creating the governmental-lobbying and public contact program, but will also be on the initial lobbying effort in the nation’s capital. It won’t be easy. The Trump Administration has had little use for the stalled California High Speed Rail project and hasn’t indicated any real interest in other California transportation projects.
That could change as the 2020 election nears and the need for regional rail systems becomes more apparent. It will be up to the local lobbying troops to help turn that need, which commuters on Interstate 580 know all too well, into federal transportation dollars essential for Valley Link trains to begin rolling across the Altamont Hills sometime between 2023 and 2026.