Rachel Wall, press secretary for the embattled California High-Speed Rail Authority, is leaving the agency to do public relations for a company that has its own image issues from time to time: Wal-Mart.
Wall's departure, announced in an email late Monday night, comes as the rail authority considers overhauling its multimillion dollar outreach and communications effort statewide. The authority's nearly $100 billion bid to build a rail system connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco has come under increasing criticism from the Legislature and public, and its prospects for funding are uncertain.
Rail officials last month put on hold their effort to replace its $9 million outreach contract with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, instead considering handling public relations in-house. Lance Simmens, the authority's deputy director for communications and public policy, is scheduled to brief rail officials on the matter at a meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday.
That will also be Wall's last day at the authority before starting work in Los Angeles for Wal-Mart, the Arkansas-based retailer.
"I believe deeply that California's high-speed rail system is crucial to the future of this state," Wall said in her email. "As we all know, the project is at a critical stage in its development. I have full confidence in the work done thus far, as well as in the benefits of continued public involvement. I look forward to watching developments from afar -- and to sharing a high-speed train ride with you in the future!"
In his budget proposal last week, Gov. Jerry Brown, a supporter of high-speed rail, proposed folding the rail authority into a new transportation agency, which would also include the state departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein praised the proposal in a letter on Monday, and she urged Brown to use Caltrans resources for the project.
"Deploying the expertise and resources of Caltrans towards this effort over the next six months -- in direct cooperation with the California High-Speed Rail Authority -- could permit a rapid reassessment of the route, decisions regarding the stages of construction, and substantial progress on acquiring right of way, in order to expedite the beginning of construction by the federal government's fall 2012 deadline," she wrote.