Sacramento - Assemblyman Bill Brough has re-issued a letter to request an audit of TCA by the California State Auditor over continued concerns regarding financial inconsistencies and the use of public dollars.
“I was interviewed by the Grand Jury last September and could not talk about the investigation. Because of my legislation, AB 1273, to stop toll road planning efforts, I was the subject of personal attacks by toll road proponents that cost me my job. Now, the Grand Jury came to a number of findings, but the main one is they should pay down their debt and sunset operations,” said Brough.
The Grand Jury investigation of the OC Toll Road Agency confirms what Brough has been saying the last 3 years and is part of an ongoing audit package by the Assemblyman to hold state and local government agencies responsible for a mismanagement of public dollars, a lack of transparency and to demand accountability.
Entitled “The Transportation Corridor Agencies – Are They Taking Their Toll on Orange County?” the report came about after the Grand Jury received three citizen complaints alleging that the TCA was mismanaging its funds, was conducting unethical political practices and violating the 1986 legislation that established the agencies.
Given the Grand Jury investigation, the July 1st letter by Assemblyman Bill Brough seeks the California Joint Legislative Audit Committee’s approval of an audit of Orange County’s Transportation Corridor Agency and follows prior requests for external audits by Congressman Levin (CD49) and Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris (AD72) that have been left idle.
Between 1986 and Fiscal Year 2019, the TCA collected approximately $703.6 million in development impact fees—payments from Orange County property and business owners. These fees, the report noted, have consistently gone up while TCA has not built a new road in 20 years. In this current fiscal year, TCA fees amount to $4,310 to $6,056 on single family homes.
The 55-page report outlines several key findings of the Grand Jury’s investigation which largely advocates for the agencies to withdraw from outlier projects and focus on repaying their debt so it could dissolve as planned, per state legislation. Findings and recommendations include:
Attacking Elected Officials:
Elected officials who have voiced opposition to the TCA have been subjected to negative information campaigns by TCA proponents. The Grand Jury found that proponents of the TCA have launched personal attack campaigns against politicians who have come out against the agencies. One bill [AB 1273] “has fostered quite a bit of animosity between the bill’s author and other TCA opponents against TCA proponents,” the Grand Jury report stated. It later added “The Grand Jury learned that other TCA critics believe they have been personally targeted suggesting there should be a Fair Political Practices Commission investigation of TCA lobbying, financial dealings, and advocacy activities.”
Board Member acting on a contract then attacking an Elected Official during their re-election:
The Grand Jury knows of one case where a TCA Board Member acted favorably on a TCA contract with a firm where he/she had a personal or political interest. Then too, the Grand Jury finds it curious that over the same time frame, in an almost “Tammany Hall” fashion, any elected official who opposed any action taken (especially those that might limit its scope of activity) by the TCA would at some point immediately thereafter in his or her re-election cycle find…substantial opposition in the form of withdrawal of recommendations or creation of complaints or withdrawal of funding to inhibit their re-election to office. Why is the Media not asking the name of this board member?
Only Purpose is to Pay Off Bonds, Sunset Agency:
With the exception of the repayment of its accumulated debts, there appears to be little if anything in the matter of highway planning, construction, or any county transportation activities the TCA can do that is not already being accomplished by OCTA and/or Caltrans. TCA should consider refraining from further project planning and construction so that it can focus its entire efforts on paying off the bonds and sun-setting its operations.
Lack of Knowledge Among TCA Board Members:
It was observed that some TCA members showed limited knowledge of the agreements and codes that govern the creation and operation of their agency, possibly contributing to the potential for poor management and/or leadership.
Operating Outside their Lane:
The TCA has been and continues to be involved in projects which may be considered beyond its original and currently legislated mandate.
PR to Make Themselves Look Good:
TCA employs political and public relations consultants as a promotional tool to help broaden its scope of activities (to include advertising aimed at improving its public image) that would extend beyond its legislated boundary limits.
TCA should no longer use phrases such as “No taxpayer money has been used to construct the toll roads” since taxpayers have paid and are still paying Development Impact Fees and will continue to do so until the bonds are retired.
“The findings, while already being dismissed by TCA, of the Grand Jury investigation are the same concerns I have spoken about for years. I am concerned about the tax burden the Toll Road Agency is forcing upon business owners and homeowners with no true end-date in sight,” said Brough. Continuing, “Prudent fiscal discipline and transparency should be the core of each public agency. I want taxpayers to know that I will continue to fight for good government and to protect your tax dollars.”
As TCA admits, the Orange County Grand Jury investigation unfortunately had to conclude early due to corona-virus concerns which is noted in the Grand Jury report’s preface. Because of the early conclusion and the troubling findings of the Grand Jury report, a complete audit of the TCA is needed.
The TCA audit is in addition to an audit of California's Employment Development Department (EDD) following months of frustrating delays for hundreds of thousands of people waiting for unemployment checks.
Assemblyman Brough’s requests will be considered by the JLAC at their upcoming hearing on August 11.