State Auditor finds MTC headquarters move likely legal

Courtesy PhotoSen. Mark DeSaulnier

Courtesy PhotoSen. Mark DeSaulnier

A state audit report found that the region’s lead transportation agency likely acted within the law when it used toll funds to relocate its headquarters, although the study noted that local toll payers could be exposed to financial risk as a result of the move.

Last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted to relocate its headquarters from Oakland to a former post office building at 390 Main St. in San Francisco. The agency proposed using $179 million to purchase the building, an investment that would be repaid by renting out office space at the site.

However, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, opposed the move and asked the California state auditor to conduct a report on the agency’s use of toll funds.

On Tuesday, state Auditor Elaine Howle released the report, finding that using toll funds to purchase the headquarters was “likely legal.” The report also found that the MTC and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which also plans to move to the new site, had valid 
reasons to relocate.

However, the audit questioned the financial risk that toll payers could face with the investment, noting that the purchase would cost the region $30 million under current market conditions.

MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler said the $30 million shortfall would only occur under the most pessimistic projections involving commercial office space in San Francisco. The agency is confident the investment will be fully repaid in time, he said.

“We are pleased that the state auditor confirmed that this action was within our legal authority,” MTC Chairwoman Adrienne Tissier said. “We retained outside legal counsel and followed their advice scrupulously throughout the entire process.”

DeSaulnier viewed the audit in a different light.

“The state auditor has clearly pointed out that the MTC did not undertake a complete analysis of the long-term financial risk to toll payers,” DeSaulnier said. “Even with conservative estimates, toll payers could be left holding the bag for 
$30 million.”

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