SAN FRANCISCO — A Superior Court judge has granted a restraining order temporarily blocking city and state transportation officials from inking the Presidio Parkway Project deal to upgrade the main roads linking the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco.
Wednesday’s ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill in the case brought by the Professional Engineers in California Government blocks the California Department of Transportation and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority from executing a public-private partnership financing agreement with Golden Link Partners until a Dec. 30 hearing.
Caltrans and the SFCTA have said they hope to close the deal by year’s end. It is California’s flagship public-private partnership at a time when the state is looking to encourage more of the projects.
The public employee union is suing to block the partnership, which would design, build, operate and maintain a six-lane link between San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The lawsuit is part of an ongoing battle over P3s, which put private companies in roles traditionally reserved for state and local authorities.
The engineers’ union filed the lawsuit in November seeking an injunction to have the Presidio Parkway Project returned to competitive bidding. They allege the process violates state statutes.
“PECG feels the state is on the verge of entering into a financing agreement that is in violation of the law, has not followed proper oversight procedures as required by the Legislature, and will waste critical public transportation funds,” union spokesman Ryan Endean said in a statement.
The project will use $150 million of private-activity bonds to cover part of the estimated $358 million cost, according to the financing proposal. Golden Link Partners would also receive $28 million in annual payments over a 30-year contract tied to operating and maintenance targets.
California Building, Transportation and Housing Secretary Dale Bonner, who runs 12 state departments, including Caltrans, said jobs are the top union concern.
The union’s “concerns fundamentally, despite how they have been couched in their legal process, are rooted in their concerns about potential job loss and job security for their members,” Bonner said.
He said only 15% to 20% of Caltrans projects, those higher than $500 million, are potential P3 candidates. Bonner said there is no public strategy in place right now to deal with large projects.
The BTH agency recently unveiled a proposal for an academy to educate public employees about infrastructure financing, in the hope it might also clear up some misconceptions about P3s.
The employee union is not the only party concerned about the Presidio project.
The state Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report this month criticizing the first implementation of a California P3.
“We do not think the Presidio project is a good fit for the P3 procurement approach because the project is already very far along in its schedule and it does not rely on a toll or user fee to fund the work,” the report said. “The state should consider not signing the contract with Golden Link and instead build the project with a more traditional approach.”
Bonner said the legislative analyst report is an example of the misunderstandings that surround P3s. “Some of the concerns they have identified and expressed are really rooted in the fact they are more accustomed to analyzing products that are delivered more traditionally,” he said.
The agreement with Golden Link has completed the approval process and needs only a formal public vetting.
The Presidio Parkway would be the first California project financed under legislation approved by lawmakers in 2009, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strong support, to push for greater use of public-private partnerships. It will replace a 1.5-mile portion of U.S. Highway 101 with a six-lane roadway linking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The existing roadway is 73 years old.