OCTA’s Big Lie – How Kempton destroyed Alternative Two (temporarily!)


OCTA CEO Will Kempton has sunk to new lows of deceptiveness, in his stubborn pursuit of toll revenue.

I put this up near the end of my last story, with some questions.  I couldn’t believe I was seeing what I was seeing, and that nobody else had noticed it.  But I was right.  On page 6 of the Sept 22 OCTA staff report, a report personally signed off on by CEO Will Kempton, the report on which the OCTA Board relied to tell them the cost of each of the alternatives for improving the 405, the staff correctly noted a $70 million savings to all alternatives resulting from a change in the onramps in Fountain Valley (removing “braided” onramps there so that four businesses would not have to be displaced and bought out.)

And then, instead of subtracting that $70 million from the cost of the two alternatives they DIDN’T WANT (Alt 1 & 2) they ADDED $30 million.  (Or, perhaps, they subtracted the $70 million and then “accidentally,” inexplicably, added $100 million to the cost.)  I’ve now highlighted the relevant numbers to make it less confusing to people who haven’t been following this closely.  The original cost of Alternative 2, which is the one MOST of us want, with two new FREE lanes, was $1.4 BILLION.  The savings in Fountain Valley is $70 million.  And the highlighted figure in the chart below SHOULD be $1.4 billion minus $70 million which is $1.33 billion – but instead they put $1.43 billion.  A little, convenient, hundred-million dollar lie or error that went unnoticed and totally impacted the debate.

Here, I’ll put up the image now, and then I’ll say a lot more about this for sure.  DO NOT BE CONFUSED by the numbers on the left and right sides of the chart.  Nobody is talking seriously about Design-Build option at this point.  Both the original figure and the new figure which I’ve highlighted are “Design-Bid-Build.”  These figures are apples and apples.  Kempton’s staff told the Board that 1400 apples minus 70 apples equals 1430 apples, and the Board swallowed it.  Mira no más:

Page 6 of Oct. 22’s staff report; Page 44 of the online agenda. Click to see it a little bigger and clearer.

This IS a big deal. It influenced the debate and the Board’s decision profoundly, and helped to kill Alternative 2 (for now.)  Several swing voters who might have gone for the preferred alternative at the correct price tag of $1.33 billion – only $30 million over what OCTA says we already have available – balked at the inflated price of $1.43 billion.

And it enabled the staff’s crucial “fearmongering,” as Crandall called it – the listing of all the wonderful projects in other parts of the county that would have to be foregone or “re-evaluated” if this spendthrift option were chosen.  That tactic worked like a charm.

What’s amazing is that NOBODY – not on the Board, not us activists out in the audience – noticed this $100 million lie.  It was Cavecche who pointed out the figures,  double-cheking with Kempton, “These figures on page 6 – those do take into account the $70 million savings, don’t they?”  And Kempton, with a straight face, replied, “YES.”  I imagine the very shrewd toll trolls Pulido and Amante knew exactly what deception was going down and didn’t mind;  I would hate to include Cavecche in that crowd.

Meanwhile it’s mortifying to admit that not me and not anyone else in the Pro-Alt 2 crowd caught this either, not until I got home that afternoon, and looked up Cavecche’s “page 6” out of curiosity (which is actually page 44 of a nearly 700-page online agenda, for us civilians.)   I suppose Moorlach and Crandall were too busy dealing with Janet Nguyen’s unexpected friendly fire – real piece of work, that woman, with her sudden qualms over the streamlining between the 22 and the 605.

And remember, this $100 million whopper was only ONE outrage out of a document that was already outrageously slanted, including an opinion from OCTA legal counsel claiming that Alt 2 is somehow suddenly ILLEGAL while the controversial Alt 3 is NOT – a breathtakingly audacious opinion of which  Greg Diamond says:  “You could tune it down an octave and it would still be tendentious.”  Greg went on memorably, but unheeded:

In other words, the OCTA Board should approach the staff report, legal memorandum included, with great caution and suspicion.  IT SHOULD PRESUME  THAT THE OCTA STAFF PULLED OUT ALL OF THE STOPS, WEIGHTED THE DICE, AND PUT THEIR THUMBS ON THE SCALE, IN FAVOR OF ALT. 3…  The Board cannot trust any projection sought out by the OCTA staff, especially those regarding cost, capacity, and throughput.  The OCTA Staff has all but written out plainly that it was going to find any way it could to advocate for Alternative 3 — and that means that before Alt. 3 can be selected, those estimates and projections should be evaluated by someone NOT chosen by Will Kempton and his office.



Would the omission of this $100 million whopper have changed Monday’s outcome?

It’s hard to say, probably not.  If Directors Nelson, Galloway and Bates had known the cost of Alt 2 was only $30 million over budget, not $130 million, they might have come over to supporting it.  We still would have needed Herzog and Cavecche, who are very hard to read.  And of course we can console ourselves that, even though the people didn’t get what they want, neither did OCTA get their toll lanes with all their conniving, and the game continues on to next year, next Board.

Was this just an innocent accident?

That’s probably what OCTA Staff will claim, if any Director has the balls/ovaries to call them on it at the next meeting.  But consider:

  • Not only does it conveniently make the two non-toll options, which they wanted to defeat, an extra $100 million more than they are (while making no such mistake on either version of Alt 3…)
  • Look at how good they were at being confusing:  first of all, the incorrect figures in the left, “design-build” column just happen to be the correct figures that SHOULD be in the middle, “design-bid-build column.”
  • And adding to the probably purposeful confusion, when you try to discuss the controversial amount of $100 million, you COULD now be referring to FOUR DIFFERENT THINGS:  The fact that Alt 2 used to be $100 million over the $1.3 billion we had;  the fact that even though its cost has gone way down it’s still $100 million more than Alt 1;  the fact that getting permission for the “design-build” option would shave $100 million off either Alt 1 or 2 (which is why you see that figure in the right-hand column) … or the bullshit $100 million OCTA staff just gratuitously added to the cost of both Alternatives in this dishonest report.

All of this just happens to make for very frustrating conversations with the innocent, and for very easy obfuscations from the guilty.  Macbeth cried out that “Confusion hath made its masterpiece” – OCTA’s masterpiece IS confusion!  I can only hope that I’ve helped to dispel it here.

My friends tell me, let this go…

My allies tell me, yeah, everyone knows the OCTA staff are liars, just let this go, it’s making you crazy, take a rest over the holidays, we killed the toll lanes for now, and we’ll be back next year.

Well, yeah, except… NO!  Yeah, sure, this vote probably won’t be revisited this year and we WILL prevail in the end.  But NO, everyone DOES NOT know that OCTA staff under Will Kempton are a pack of liars.   The public doesn’t know that.  Most elected officials, outside of the “corridor cities,” still don’t know that.  And most importantly, most of the Board, the honest majority on the Board, doesn’t know it.  It’s infuriating that a dozen of us honest brokers can file up to the podium and say 2 + 2 = 4, and the Board will nod their heads and smile condescendingly like we’re special-pleading children, and then when Kempton tells them 2 + 2 = 7, they take it as gospel.

Really, if I were on the Board, I’d say heads should roll over the deceptions here.  Kempton should certainly go.  But everything the staff says in the future, when they are so hyper-motivated by need for tolls, needs to be taken with great salt flats of salt.  Somehow objective expertise needs to be brought in.  I don’t know how.  But I’ve already written that it’s time for a crisis of trust here, and that was before THIS whopper turned up.

What next year’s Alt 2 should look like

Now that we ALL know Alternative 2 is $1.33 at the most – that is, at MOST $30 million over the $1.3 billion that we have available – a $30 million that can either be found or shaved off somehow and WON’T have to take away from any other projects (and that’s BEFORE Lou Correa and Tom Daly steer the design-build option expertly through Sacramento, bringing it down to $1.23 billion) Alt 2 should pass easily through an honest and well-informed new Board.

What about that streamlining, that cutting down to ONE extra northbound lane at the 22?  Well, now that we know it creates a bottleneck at the 22 that’s unacceptable to some, does that mean we need to instead sacrifice Seal Beach’s beloved Almond Avenue Wall?  No, I believe that is a false choice, a Skylla and Charybdis of Kempton’s deceptive invention.

How do I know this?  Because OCTA has already said that it has a mysterious, unspecified way of making Alternative 3 work north of the 22 without cutting it down to 1 lane OR impacting the Wall.  Meanwhile they claim that trick CANNOT be done with Alt 2.  Sound familiar, like a pattern with them?  Well, guess what, ALT 2 HAS THE SAME NUMBER OF LANES AS ALT 3!  They’re just frickin lying again!

OCTA Board, clean house on staff, fire Kempton, and order them to make Alt 2 work without moving the Wall.  OK, that’s it for this year.  Happy holidays everybody.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.