Doyle Drive Privatization Deal Approved by Judge

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Is this Caltrans' next big expenditure?
Caltrans today rushed to sign a contract to fund a section of a new Golden Gate Bridge off-ramp in the Presidio with the help of foreign investors. The move came immediately after a judge lifted a restraining order blocking the transaction, and just as Jerry Brown was being sworn in as governor.

The state Legislative Analyst had called the financing arrangement a taxpayer money-waster. Among other problems, the analyst pointed out that investors expected Doyle Drive returns of 20 percent, when California can borrow money directly at interest rates of less than 2 percent.

It's not against the law to spend taxpayer money unwisely, however.

A restraining order stalling the privatization deal was imposed on Dec. 21 so that the court could consider a lawsuit. That complaint, filed by Professional Engineers in California Government, claimed the Doyle Drive plan violated state rules specifying which types of projects can be subject to so-called "public-private partnerships."

That question will be considered further at a hearing on Jan. 21. But The judge said the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail, and that Presidio Parkway privatization can proceed in the meantime.

"I'm pleased the Superior Court recognized the importance of letting this move forward," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who, as president of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Gov. Brown campaigned for office on a promise to make state budgeting more transparent. But a Brown spokesman told us last week that he was unaware of any position the governor had taken on the Doyle Drive transaction.

A Caltrans spokeswoman said any move Brown would make to pull out of the deal would now result in termination penalties. Caltrans, in other words, literally pulled a fast one.

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