Metro's Use of Tolls for Building Buy Legal

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
    Tolls paid to cross Bay bridges were used by Metro to buy an office building in San Francisco.

    It was legal for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to use $180 million in bridge toll money to buy an office building in downtown San Francisco but the transaction exposes toll payers to undisclosed financial  risk, an audit concluded Tuesday.

    California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a 51-page report  that legal counsel advised her that a court likely would decide that the costs for acquiring a former U.S. Postal Service building at 390 Main St. in  San Francisco for the MTC and its staff "are direct costs that can be paid  from gross annual revenues" from the seven state-owned bridges in the Bay  Area.

    However, Howle said the MTC, which is the transportation  coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county Bay Area, "could have  done more to clearly articulate to both their board and the public the  financial risks" of the building purchase, which was completed last October  after several years of planning and meetings.

    Howle said the MTC didn't discount the value of future cash flows  to Tuesday's tax dollars and her analysis indicates that cash flows could  fall short of repaying contributed toll revenues by $30 million.

    The MTC has been located at 101 Eighth St. in Oakland, across the  street from the Lake Merritt BART station, for more than 40 years but  announced several years ago that it wanted to move to a new location because  it has grown and needs more space.

    Several other regional government agencies, including the Bay Area  Air Quality Management District, the Association of Bay Area Governments and  the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, joined the MTC in searching  for a building that could accommodate all of their space needs.

    The air district plans to join the MTC when it moves into the  building at 390 Main St. in San Francisco in the fall of 2013 but the other  agencies haven't yet made a final decision.