From our L.A. Bureau Chief Krissy Clark:
More from the Sacramento Bee:
Roelof van Ark, chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, announced this afternoon that he is quitting, the latest setback for the state's beleaguered campaign to build a nearly $100 billion rail network in California.
His resignation, announced at a board meeting in Los Angeles and effective in two months, comes at a critical point for the project, with rail officials bidding for Legislative approval to start construction in the Central Valley this fall. Public opinion about the project has fallen sharply, according to a recent Field Poll, and the Legislature is highly skeptical.
Thomas Umberg, chairman of the agency's board of directors, also announced that he is leaving his position in February, but will remain a member of the board.
The California High-Speed Rail Agency has been recently buffeted by a raft of criticism. Just two days ago Sen. Dianne Feinstein called on Gov. Jerry Brown to place the project under the auspices of CalTrans. (Read her public letter here.) That came on the heels of the project's internal watchdog group issuing a highly skeptical report of the agency's plans going forward. As KQED's John Myers reported:
A panel of independent reviewers says that without more certainty on funding and operations, any start to construction of a high speed rail system "represents an immense financial risk to the state of California."
The new report is further proof that 2012 will be the most important year yet in the debate over the ambitious but costly bullet train system.
The report was issued Tuesday by the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group, a panel of experts created by legislative action in 2008 to take an independent look at the ultimate plans crafted by the state's High Speed Rail Authority.
And while the group admits that it still doesn't have the information to render a final judgment, it doesn't seem to like what it's seen.
"Absent a clearer picture of where future funding is going to come from, the Peer Review Group cannot at this time recommend that the Legislature approve the appropriation of bond proceeds for this project," says the eight page report signed by panel chairman Will Kempton.
In July, the same watchdog panel, called the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group, described the rail authority's ridership and revenue projections as unrealistic, adding to an already growing archive of criticism that included negative reports by the Legislative Analyst's Office.