At a closed session today, the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority's board is expected to approve hiring Long Beach City Manager James C. Hankla as the agency's chief executive officer, replacing the agency's longtime general manager as head of the $2-billion public works project.
Hankla will oversee all phases of developing the transportation route designed to speed cargo from the region's two ports to intercontinental freight yards near downtown Los Angeles.
Regarded as one of California's most powerful municipal administrators, Hankla will replace General Manager Gil V. Hicks, who has been involved with the project for more than a decade.
Sources close to the corridor authority said Hicks will remain with the agency as general manager and chief operating officer--the No. 2 spot in the agency's reorganized hierarchy.
Government officials, who requested anonymity, said the agency has wanted to hire a tough, experienced administrator who can deal firmly with elected officials and contractors hired for the project, thus avoiding any replication of the difficulties that have dogged construction of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's subway system.
The Metro Rail project has been plagued by conflicting political interests, long delays, cost overruns and serious construction problems, such as subsidence along the Hollywood section of the line.
"My philosophy is that you need the strongest and best people in government," said the MTA's chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who has been heavily involved in the Alameda Corridor project. "We don't want it to become another Metropolitan Transportation Authority."
Riordan said that for more than six months he has been lobbying for a strong administrator at the authority who could act as an "owner" and be accountable for what has been described as the largest infrastructure project in the nation.
Hankla and the agency's board members could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Hicks declined to discuss the proposed changes except to say that he will continue with the agency as it heads into its most active period.
Over the last several months, the pace of work at the corridor authority has steadily quickened, a trend that is expected to continue as construction proceeds on major parts of the 20-mile route along Alameda Street.
Last week, the authority board authorized negotiations with Tutor-Saliba Corp. to build the costliest and most critical phase of the project--a 10-mile-long, concrete-lined trench that will contain two rail lines and a street.
In the months ahead, the agency will prepare to issue revenue bonds to finance the $500-million to $800-million cost of the trench.
As the project unfolds, the corridor authority also will have to deal with increasing oversight by Congress, the federal Department of Transportation, the state Legislature and state transportation-related agencies.
"I feel the agency is looking for strong management at this time," Hicks said. "When activity is increasing and major contracts are pending, it is wise to strengthen the organization."
Sources said that when Hankla is hired, he is expected to start right away, at least on a part-time basis. On Tuesday night, the Long Beach City Council cleared the way for his appointment by allowing Hankla to divide his time between the authority and the city until his retirement as city manager in December.
Hankla, 58, who served as Los Angeles County's chief administrative officer from 1985 to 1987, is a career civil servant who has held the Long Beach post for 11 years.
During his tenure, Hankla helped oversee the economic revival of the port city, which was devastated by defense industry cutbacks, especially the closure of the Long Beach Naval Base. He announced his retirement in July.
In addition to Hankla's appointment, corridor officials have been considering the creation of another high-ranking position to supervise construction of the project.
The manager would work with the chief executive officer and be independent of the private contractors who are hired. Hicks said Wednesday that the agency has received more than 60 resumes for the position, but that the final selection may not be made for eight weeks.
Riordan said he and Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill have been pushing for the position as a way to hold down costs and provide scrutiny of contractors' work. He said the post is critical because Tutor-Saliba, which has been associated with some of Metro Rail's worst problems, is getting first crack at building the trench section.
"We need a manager to make sure that Tutor tows the line, so we don't get change-ordered to death," Riordan said.