Bob Hertzberg Has the Mindset We Need to Rescue Sacramento from Itself … But Can He Set Priorities?

PERSPECTIVE-Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, and now candidate for State Senate (18th District), has the mindset we need to rescue Sacramento from itself.

Perhaps not a moment too soon, since it appears we are on track to see a quorum in the State Prison system rather than in the Senate chambers at the capitol. 

The Serial Hugger has no competition to speak of, yet he has mounted a campaign. That speaks well of him – it shows he respects his opponents and does not view the race as a coronation, precisely the opposite approach taken by Antonio Villaraigosa when he ran for his second term as mayor. It is worth noting that the former mayor posted a mediocre margin of victory for an incumbent facing a poorly funded field. 

Hertzberg has been making the rounds of the neighborhood councils in the 18th. He appeared at Neighborhood Council Valley Village last week. The Green Party candidate appeared the month before; the Republican candidate will probably appear at a later meeting – everyone gets a chance to face the board, make a case for their candidacies and field questions from the board and stakeholders. 

After emphasizing his experience as a member of the Assembly, where he developed a reputation as someone capable of promoting bipartisanship, and his involvement in California Forward, a public policy think tank dedicated to “smart government,” the questions commenced.  

NCVV does not toss softball questions. 

Hertzberg was first quizzed on SB 1818, the law allowing a density bonus to developers. It trumps Valley Village’s Specific Plan. 

The law was passed after Hertzberg left the legislature, so he was unfamiliar with the adverse ramifications it had on the availability of affordable housing, parking, traffic congestion, and the scale of development. Still, I sensed there was a little disappointment by members of the board over his lack of knowledge on the subject. To me it was an indication that Hertzberg had not remained involved in local issues since leaving office, preferring to focus on statewide matters instead. 

While the SB 1818 feedback he received from the board was intended to educate him, the response he received about the Bullet Train was an outright argument against his position to support the controversial and costly project. 

I started the questioning (as a stakeholder – I am no longer on the board). 

Did he still support the project in view of costs that had doubled since the High-Speed Rail initiative passed, that the travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco would take longer than promised, ** the lack of reliable financing and the need to fund more important capital needs (i.e., water systems, seismic safety)? 

Did it make any difference that Governor Brown was going to rob cap-and-trade revenue to keep the project alive even though the estimated, but questionable, environmental benefits of the train would not accrue until after 2020, the enacting legislation’s deadline for generating carbon reductions?  

I also called his attention to a resolution NCVV passed in 2012 calling for a re-examination of the assumptions used to justify continued funding of the Bullet Train and insisting that alternative capital projects need to be considered first. 

He admitted the final cost would exceed the $68 billion price tag. 

He followed with, “All major projects face opposition at first.” 

That was the extent of his justification beyond some anecdotal personal experiences with high-speed rail in other countries. 

Do you think that answer would fly in any board room in either the profit or nonprofit sector with billions of dollars on the line? 

It did not fly at NCVV. 

At least three members challenged his rosy outlook. No one offered him a lifeline. 

I heard one stakeholder say to another, “I think Bob just ran into a stone wall.” 

It was apparent that Hertzberg was surprised. He could not muster a logical argument; probably because there is none. 

As with most of his colleagues, Hertzberg does not seem to understand the process of capital budgeting. 

Management of any organization typically consider an array of important capital funding requests. While all may have merits, only the ones that provide the best value for the investment make the cut. Debt service can last a lifetime on big-ticket items. If a major error in judgment is made and a sketchy project is allowed to proceed, monies needed for other vital projects in the future will be limited. 

By contrast Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian (46th Assembly District), although a supporter of the high-speed concept, recognizes the need to apply the brakes to the Bullet Train and consider alternatives, including the development of local and intra-regional commuter rail – a subject I addressed in a widely-viewed article back in 2010.   

Bob Hertzberg is the best qualified candidate for this office, but he needs more pushback from his constituents before he heads down the wrong track at full throttle. 

To his credit, he listens and is capable of making adjustments to his outlook, but it appears he will need some arm-twisting to lay off Jerry Brown’s vision-inducing elixir. 

Speaker Bob has the best potential to influence lawmakers in Sacramento. 

But does he want to be remembered for engineering a fiscal trainwreck the equivalent of the ill-fated Cannonball Express? 

** See recent LA Times article on speed. 


(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and former NC Valley Village board member and treasurer.  He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. He can be reached at:






Vol 12 Issue 27

Pub: Apr 1, 2014