http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/12/19/council-terminates-contract-for-high-speed-rail-lobbyist


Almanac

News - December 19, 2012

Council terminates contract for high-speed rail lobbyist

• City decides to seek other representation.

by Sandy Brundage

With a few members declaring themselves unimpressed with the return on their investment in lobbyist Ravi Mehta's Capitol Advocates firm, the Menlo Park City Council voted 3-1 to terminate his $5,000 a month contract.

The city hired the firm in 2010 to help with high-speed rail. Although Palo Alto and Atherton also used Capitol Advocates, those jurisdictions terminated their contracts earlier this year. Mr. Mehta did not respond to a request for comment.

"I've spoken out against this contract for a couple years now and I'm not in support of it," Councilwoman Kirsten Keith said, declaring that while it was "probably useful at one point in time" she didn't feel the city was getting enough for its money.

Even the sole dissenter, Councilman Rich Cline, agreed that Mr. Mehta's performance left something to be desired. "It's not the best report in the world, but it is the report," he said, noting that the reports were not as thorough or frequent as the city wanted.

But, he argued, the city does need an advocate in Sacramento. The issue of whether the high-speed rail project should be exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) remains hotly contested in the state's capital.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said that while Capitol Advocates was not worth keeping, she supported finding another lobbyist capable of representing Menlo Park's position on a broader range of issues such as housing as well as high-speed rail.

"This person is extremely expensive. You can get a pretty good general lobbyist ... for about $3,000 a month," she said.

Mr. Cline later suggested that Menlo Park explore sharing Palo Alto's new $15,000 a month lobbyist since the two cities maintain similar positions on high-speed rail. "My experience is that you get what you pay for," he said. "It depends on what level you want to play at ... for big issues like CEQA, (the redevelopment agency), it's going to cost more."

City staff told the council that they would find out how quickly another lobbyist could be hired through a request for proposals.

Vice Mayor Ray Mueller, attending the meeting via telephone, did not vote due to a conflict of interest — he owns property in Menlo Park that could be impacted by high-speed rail development.

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