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A New Overseer Hired for OnTrac

Engineering company replaces ex-Placentia official who was once paid $450,000 a year as rail project's consultant.

November 03, 2005|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

The director of a Placentia rail corridor project who parlayed his city public works position into a $450,000-a-year consulting job has been replaced by an engineering company.

The City Council voted 5 to 0 late Tuesday to hire Korve Engineering Inc., a Los Angeles-based firm, to manage OnTrac, a controversial project to rebuild the busy rail line through the city and spark a restoration of the historic Old Town area.

Korve replaces Christopher Becker, who gave up his job as Placentia public works director to work for the city as a private consultant to head OnTrac in 2000. His $450,000-a-year contract was scaled back significantly amid controversy more than two years ago.

The arrangement prompted City Atty. Tom Nixon to allege that Becker violated state conflict-of-interest laws prohibiting public officials from influencing contracts in which they have a financial interest.

The arrangement, among other things, has been under investigation by the Orange County district attorney's office for almost a year. Becker has denied any impropriety.

"Mr. Becker has been tainted to some degree," Mayor Scott P. Brady said. "There was a bad contract in 2000 that probably should not have been signed, a contract that is still under investigation by the D.A. It's a good time to change ponies."

Becker could not be reached for comment.

For the last two years, the city has struggled to keep OnTrac afloat during a budget crunch that compelled officials to cut public services, lay off staff, sell parkland and borrow tens of millions of dollars. The council also reduced the project's almost total reliance on expensive private consultants.

Korve, whose contract is not to exceed $189,000 for the first year, will be responsible for overseeing rail corridor improvements, including overpasses and underpasses at major streets, and the city's innovative quiet zone. The project is designed to silence train whistles through town by improving rail crossing safety.

The City Council also extended Korve the option of using Becker for no more than 160 hours of work to acquaint the company with OnTrac.

Brady said he hoped the new management would help get more state and federal funding for OnTrac and encourage neighboring cities to participate in the project.

"This is a phenomenal development for the city," said Craig Green, a civic activist who has questioned OnTrac's expenses. "Now we have a true professional engineering firm running the project."

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