A former Alameda County supervisor who championed some of the East Bay’s biggest transportation projects over his 24 years in public service ended a brief retirement by landing an up to $197,000 lobbying contract for a multi-billion dollar rail project that he spearheaded during his time in office .
The contract, which was awarded in February, puts Scott Haggerty on the payroll of Valley Link – a passenger rail project connecting Stockton to the East Bay – which he once led as board chair and played a key role in seeding with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. It also puts Haggerty in the unusual position of being awarded a major lobbying contract by Valley Link’s former executive director, who Haggerty helped hire during his tenure as board chair.
According to Haggerty and his supporters the one-year $96,000 contract, with an optional $100,800 extension, is money well spent for a project that is barely off the ground and faces a $3.1 billion funding gapas transit agencies scramble for a piece of the state’s booming budget surplus.
Haggerty, they say, is uniquely equipped to navigate the close-knit world of Bay Area transportation funding, where billions of dollars in local, state, and federal money are done out each year by a handful of committees, including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which he was the first person ever to chair twice. Haggerty was a fixture in local government for over two decades – known as a brusque booster of Tri-Valley interests. He has also been closely involved in years of wrangling over East Bay sports teams, including negotiating the sale of Alameda County’s stake in the Colesium to the A’s.
But ethics experts say the lobbying arrangement could threaten public trust, even though it appears the transit authority has not violated any laws, and Haggerty abided by a one-year “cooling-off” period between public service and lobbying. One day after Haggerty’s mandatory hiatus ended, the rail authority posted its need for a lobbyist.
“The concern is that it looks like Mr. Haggerty had an inside track based on these relationships,”said JoAnne Speers, who consults with local governments on improving public trust through her firm her S2 Ethics Strategies.
Haggerty’s two-person company Red Oak LLC – comprised of himself and his wife, Patricia – inked the contract on Feb. 28. Since the initial amount is under $100,000, Michael Tree, Valley Link’s former executive director, greenlit the agreement without board approval.
In a phone interview, Haggerty argued that questions surrounding the lobbying contract are driven by misguided critics. He said curbing mind-numbing traffic jams on Interstate 580 is a career passion and he wants to “see this project get done.”
“I needed to sit out one year, and I did that,” Haggerty said. “You telling me I can never go to work again or something?”
Regardless of their stance on Valley Link, critics and supporters, including Haggerty himself, agree he has been the region’s leading advocate for the new 42-mile rail line spanning the Altamont Pass.
As a supervisor, Haggerty oversaw Measure BB in 2014, an Alameda County sales tax that earmarked $400 million to build a BART extension in Livermore. That extension was supposed to fill a five-mile gap between BART and the Altamont Corridor Express – a low-frequency rail service that already runs from Stockton to San Jose. But when BART rejected plans to construct the extension in 2019, Haggerty then played a key role in moving the money into Valley Link, which envisions a rail line with better train speeds, more stations, and more frequent service.
In 2020 as MTC chair Haggerty also approved moving nearly $50 million in revenue from the Bay Area’s toll bridges into Valley Link. That money is now funding the project’s day-to-day operations, including Haggerty’s lobbying efforts.
The rail plan has received strong support from local leaders, but it also faces a massive funding gap and critics deride it as an emerging boondoggle that ignores cheaper transit alternatives to the benefit of developers and San Joaquin Valley residents.
“Haggerty has been what ties all these pieces together,” said David Schonbrunn, a longtime critic of Valley Link and president of the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, a transit advocacy group that is suing to halt the project. “We want to prevent Valley Link from becoming a mini high-speed rail debacle.”
In his new position, Haggerty is tasked with securing funds for the mega-project from MTC and also lobbying the Alameda County Transportation Commission, another body that Haggerty previously chaired and that oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in transit funds.
Tree, Valley Link’s former executive director, left the project to head Santa Cruz Metro shortly after employing Haggerty. He defended the decision to hire his former board chair and longtime friend his, saying the bid went through the standard competitive process, including evaluating two other competing proposals from former Dublin Mayor Guy Houston and the lobbying firm Townsend Public Affairs.