SACRAMENTO — The South Coast Air Quality Management District awarded a $125,000 consulting contract to the wife of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez at the same time the district has been seeking legislation to cut train engine emissions.
Maria Robles, the wife of the Democratic leader from Los Angeles, won an April 7 bid to organize "international conferences on asthma and port emissions control technologies," the Sacramento Bee reported Saturday.
The Southern California smog district is sponsoring legislation that would let it charge railroads fees that would be used to offset locomotive emissions. Railroads oppose the bill, but it cleared the Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly.
Nunez's spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said Robles signed a conflict-of-interest statement saying she can't lobby on the bill and that Nunez will abstain from voting if the bill reaches the Assembly floor.
"She has absolutely nothing to do with any legislation in the Assembly," Maviglio said.
The contract creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies and coauthor of the state's Political Reform Act.
"The problem is they have to be very careful how it looks," Stern said. "She's making a lot of money and he's sharing it. There's nothing illegal, but the perception is that's an awful lot of money for doing what she's doing."
Sam Atwood, spokesman for the air quality board, said Robles has "outstanding credentials" to organize an asthma conference, in part because she did well with a smaller consulting contract last year when she was not married to Nunez.
Robles is a registered nurse and former healthcare provider who also is spokeswoman for the Yes on 86 tobacco tax initiative on the November ballot.
Robles beat a national firm that already has the smog district as a client.
Cliff Gladstein, president of Santa Monica-based Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, said his firm was "highly qualified" to win the contract.
A spokesman for the California railroad industry declined to comment.
The industry opposes the pending emissions fee bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), saying a U.S. Supreme Court decision means the district can't regulate train pollution.