Finger-Pointing Around Outreach Campaign for Southern California Toll Road

To sway public opinion, the Orange County toll road agency hired a group of consultants. Critics say the cost and service delivered aren’t acceptable.

1 minute read

March 26, 2019, 11:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


California 241 Toll Road

Ken Lund / Flickr

Transportation Corridor Agencies, the agency pushing for an extension of the Highway 241 toll road in Southern California’s Orange County, is under fire for its contracts with consulting firms doing public outreach work.

Officials in San Clemente opposing an extension reviewed consultant billings, and they say the spending is a waste of public funds. "Some digital media experts questioned a $380,000 budget in one year to produce content for two small websites and social media accounts for the tollway authority, as well as marketing to specific audiences, saying such work should cost far less," reports Adam Elmahrek.

Consultants were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for reading news stories and for other tasks that appear to be covered under retainer agreements. "Billing records reviewed by The Times show a consultant at one firm was paid for working 28 hours in a single day," says Elmahrek.

San Clemente hired its own strategic consultants, and the tollway firms say much of their work involved monitoring and responding to misinformation put out by the city. Still, San Clemente officials argue the high fees and political connections of the consulting firms call for a full audit of the agency’s billings.

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