High-speed rail receives Senate OK

Construction can begin on controversial $68 billion project after a dramatic legislative showdown

Construction of California's controversial high-speed-rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles is ready to launch, following a dramatic vote by the state Senate Friday afternoon.

The Senate's 21-16 vote on Senate Bill 1029 is a major victory for the much-embattled project that voters approved in 2008 but that has attracted major opposition since then, particularly on the Peninsula. Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, was among a handful of Democrats who turned against the party majority and voted against the bill. But despite his urgings, the project mustered just enough support to squeak through the Senate.

The Senate vote came one day after the state Assembly approved the bill 51-27. The bill allocates $2.7 billion from the 2008 bond to launch construction on the system's opening segment in the Central Valley. Much like in the Assembly, members of the Senate lined up largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing the bill.

The dramatic outcome followed extensive debate between those who called the project a much-needed boost to the state's struggling economy and those who characterized high-speed rail as a badly botched project that the state can ill afford at a time of massive cutbacks to education and social services.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg opened the conversation by calling the Senate's decision "a big vote."

"In this era of term limits, how many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?" Steinberg asked. "How many chances do we have to vote for something that will inject a colossal stimulus into today's economy while looking at the future far beyond our days in this house?"

Simitian rejected this logic: "We're not being asked to vote on a vision today. We're being asked to vote on a particular plan."

Simitian then laid out a list of reasons for his decision to oppose SB 1029. He cited the fact that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has a leadership structure riddled with vacancies and that the bulk of the funding in the bill would go toward a 130-mile track in the Central Valley. He also noted that the bill fails to answer the critical question of how the rest of the $68 billion system would be funded and cited criticism from a variety of nonpartisan agencies, including the Legislative Analyst's Office and the Office of the State Auditor.

The bill approved by the Legislature allocates $2.7 billion for Central Valley construction and another $1.9 billion in bond funds for either end of the line. But even with a $3.3 billion commitment from the federal government, the project is still far short of the estimated $68 billion that would be needed to fund the system, Simitian noted.

Simitian also alluded to the Field Poll conducted last week, which showed that the controversial project could derail the tax measure that Gov. Jerry Brown plans to bring to the voters in November. Though 54 percent of the survey respondents said they support Brown's proposal, a third of those surveyed said they would be less likely to vote in favor of the measure if the legislature funds high-speed rail.

Simitian cited the souring public opinion for the project in explaining his vote. By chasing the $3.3 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail, Simitian said, the legislature is risking a $40 billion hole in the budget that lawmakers would have to fill if Brown's measure fails.

"How are we going to feel if we wake up on Wednesday after Election Day and look at the trigger cuts -- the $40 billion that will have to be pulled painfully from the budget -- from schools, colleges, universities, health, welfare and public safety?" Simitian said. "We may not think that's the way it ought to be but the hard practical reality is that that's the way the folks back home are thinking about these tradeoffs."

Simitian went on to reject the arguments from fellow Democrats Steinberg and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that legislators need to support high-speed rail as a way to generate jobs.

"This isn't a jobs versus no jobs debate," Simitian said. "This is a question of whether or not we generate good jobs with the right plan or the wrong plan."

Other Democrats who have been heavily involved in the rail project took similar stances. Sen. Allen Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, also said he still shares the vision for high-speed rail, but not the way this vision is being pursued. Lowenthal, a member of an Senate subcommittee that has been overseeing the rail project, called the rail authority's roadmap for building the road system a "high-risk strategy to put all our resources and funding in place that does not have independent utility right away." Like Simitian, he too voted against the bill. He acknowledged the rail authority's current plan is much better than its previous proposals but said he still cannot support it.

"I have nothing against Central Valley, but the concept was to link the Central Valley to the urban areas, to all parts of the state, not to create a stranded asset in Central Valley alone," Lowenthal said.

Sen. Mark Desaulnier, D-Concord, focused on the project's costs, including the interest on the bonds, in explaining his vote against the rail bill. Desaunier said the lawmakers still have "a lot of work to do" for this project. Desaulnier, like Simitian and Lowenthal, said he shares Obama's vision for high-speed rail but concluded that the proposal on the table "is a wrong way and the wrong place to begin to implement this vision."

"As we go forward, I know there is a risk to those of us who vote no," Desaulnier said. "If at the end of the day there are 21 votes and this goes ahead, I will go out that door and will start working as hard as I can to make sure that my fears that this is a wrong decision will not be realized. If, on the other hand, there aren't 21 votes, I'd argue that there is a better way to implement it."

Republicans were more vehement in their opposition, with Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, calling it a "colossal fiscal train wreck for California." The state, he said, is spending money it doesn't have.

"You simply cannot find the money to fund education, but you can find money for this fiscal train wreck?" Strickland asked.

But the majority of the Democrats followed Steinberg in supporting the project, stressing its job-generating potential and the expected influx it would bring to the state economy. Sen. Mark Leno called the bill on the table a "rare opportunity for California." It's rare, he said, to have "the stars align" as they have in this case, with the U.S. President, the state governors and top party leaders in Congress all supporting "moving forward with voter-approved bond money matched by federal dollars to create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the course of the project."

"This doesn't happen all that often," Leno said.

The budget-trailer bill, which has been a subject of intense speculation in Sacramento before lawmakers unveiled it late Tuesday, makes several overtures to Peninsula communities, where opposition to high-speed rail has been most vehement in recent years. It commits to a "blended" system in which high-speed rail shares tracks with Caltrain and allocates $705 million for the long-awaited electrification of the Caltrain system.

It also omits a controversial proposal that would have fast-tracked the project through the state's environmental process -- a proposal that was widely panned by environmental groups and by Palo Alto officials, who continue to oppose the project.

Palo Alto Councilman Pat Burt, who sits on the city's Rail Committee and who represents it on the Peninsula Cities Consortium, said he believes the lawmakers' decision to approve funding for high-speed rail "will most likely come back to haunt those who supported it and voted for it."

"It's probably not a decision based upon the most sound use of transportation and transit dollars nor the best use of taxpayer dollars," Burt said. "And there is a really great fear that it will discourage voter support for the governor's tax measure."

After the Senate vote, rail authority board Chair Dan Richard released a statement praising Brown and the leaders of the two legislative chambers for enabling the construction of high-speed rail to commence.

"Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level," Richard said. "This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness."


Posted by R..Gordon, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2012 at 8:31 am

I told you the rail would be built.......BUT OHH NO!
Even the other store bought model who uses my initials/name, is bending to his opposing view, now that he has copped his position without the need of those who could not defeat the HSR and he prepares for his second honeymoon.
News of eminent domain will be released at the end of the year.

Posted by Michael G Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2012 at 8:54 am

R. Gordon was right.

You have always said the High Speed Rail would be built.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

Mr. Gordon:

It will not be built. There simply isn't enough money to do so and no chance we will get it. What they just authorized is the waste of about $8 billion. It will be pissed away on studies, designs, consultants, etc. And when it's gone there will be no more money and no money to actually build anything.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 7, 2012 at 9:29 am

California voters deserves their government.

Surely there's a very high cliff on this route for their train to run off.

Posted by Menlo Park resident, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2012 at 11:31 am

As soon as Jerry Brown approves this craziness, I will be voting against any tax initiative he places on the ballot. It is absolutely mind-boggling that at a time when our infrastructure is falling apart, we are putting billions into a new transportation system. In the midst of closing schools, fire stations, reducing the number of police officers on the streets, reducing the number of services for the very poor, we are about to fund a 130 mile stretch of railroad in the Central Valley. I have been a Democrat my entire life but this kind of insanity has made me rethink who I vote for in the future.

Posted by Michael G Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Menlo Park resident.

I am also a Democrat all my life but I say enough is enough Kill HSR and Kill it now.

Sen. Joe Simitian got it right, Hill and Gordon didn't

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said public support had waned for the project, and there were too many questions about financing to complete it.
"Is there additional commitment of federal funds? There is not. Is there additional commitment of private funding? There is not. Is there a dedicated funding source that we can look to in the coming years? There is not," Simitian said.

Posted by Palo Alto business owner, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Schools closing their doors, college students with considerable debt after graduation, cities unable to fill potholes in the streets, average citizens barely covering everyday expenses and small downtowns experiencing vacancy signs on storefront windows and yet, we need this massive project that will eventually be subsidized by the taxpayers? Is it any wonder why citizens are saying no to tax increases? It's truly outrageous. Fix all the things that are broken instead of pouring billions into HSR. Other governors turned down the money because they knew it was a bad idea for their state.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2012 at 9:19 pm

You can thank the labor unions and their bought and paid for political lackies. The unions couldn't care less about the state all they care about is jobs. Too bad if those jobs bankrupt the state, those are jobs they 'NEED.' To hell with the rest of us or our children, grand children or great grand children that will be paying for this boondoggle.

Posted by gordyvon, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm

California politicians have once again demonstrated the collective insanity of this State. Despite a monetary crisis devouring both our state and nation, the politicians are concerned only with buying their re-election from every special interest group foolish enough to support them. When will the general citizenry cry "Enough"?

Posted by Write the Governor, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jul 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Flood the Governor with notes to veto this obscenity.

It certainly never got 2/3 of the vote. How can the tax us for this, and we have to hold bake sales for school money??

Write the man who can stop this! Web Link

Writing here does nothing.

Posted by gina, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm

ok for the people who live along the railroad track I have only 3
words for them. can we WE ARE SCREWED. how long before the county starts buying up property in order to accommodate for tracks. I for one
voted no I am sorry this project is up and running. well time to play chicken on RAVENSWOOD AVE near the railroad tracks on the way to library as I try to out run a bullet train doing 200 miles an hour. LET THE GAMES BEGIN.

Posted by disappointed Dem, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I just sent an email to Governor Brown expressing my disappointment and a thank you to Joe Simitian for his stand on HSR. There are higher priorities than HSR (regional transit and education as examples)and limited funds. And I'm a staunch Democrat. This just isn't right.
I still will vote for the tax changes. We can't cut our way to prosperity.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Well, there's no way Governor Brown will veto this. He WANTED this.

Incredible that at a time when our state cannot fund its schools, roads, public safety or MediCal, that our legislature would vote to spend such an outrageous amount money on this boondoggle. So now we will have some very expensive train tracks between two completely desolate places.

Joe Simitian had it right. Yes, we will get a few billion from the feds, but then we will have to come up with at least $65 billion more on our own and that assumes the latest budget is accurate and I don't know a single person who believes that. Joe sponsored the original HSR bill and has supported it every step of the way... until now.

There was a recent report that 20% of people in favor of Governor Brown's tax increase - which polls show is already very close - would change their mind and vote against it if the legislature approved this HSR expenditure. I am one of them and I will definitely be voting AGAINST Governor Brown's tax increase. I'm not an endless faucet of money for their insanity.

Shame on our elected officials.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 10, 2012 at 12:37 am

I too sent an email to the Governor expressing my opposition to HSR -- that it's a financially bad decision to spend money we don't have and to let him know I would be voting against any tax increases in November. You cannot write budgets assuming tax increases will pass.

Here is the link to contact the Governor: Web Link

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 10, 2012 at 7:10 am

I too wrote the Governor for all the good it will do. I absolutely will not vote for a tax increase given the vote for this nonsense. If they can fund HSR, they can fund everything else they need to without more taxes. If they can't, then they need not spend the money on HSR.

Posted by Steve Ly, a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm

When pro-transit commentators point out problems with the proposed California high speed rail system, you know it's flawed. How bad is it? Read this:
Web Link

Posted by why not, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 10, 2012 at 3:11 pm

What can it hurt to write the governor to point out that WE DON'T WANT THIS!

Keep in mind if we wanted this much money for schools, we'd need 2/3 of the people to back it? This sort of money, with a bare majority and the people against it?

Tell him to rethink it!

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Governor Brown ENDORSED this law. He is one of its principal supporters.

Brown veto it? You have a better chance of Obama vetoing ObamaCare.

The best protest is to vote AGAINST Proposition 30 - Governor Brown's new tax increase. It'll be the first item on your November ballot.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I agree with Pogo, vote NO on Proposition 30 this November.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I'll be voting no on prop 30

Posted by 1960Americanoldie, a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Please.."menlovoter" like you ever vote yes ...MY living under prop13 is a gift..can you be less piggy??

Posted by John, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 10, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Bottom line: with such fiscal insanity, why would you ever choose to vote for either an initiative that or a candidate who would give one single penny to Sacramento? Or state is totally screwed and the only way to fix it is to let it implode, vote everyone out of office (goodbye unions) and then start purely from scratch. As sad as it is to say, it won't happen until rock bottom. Until then, buy gold.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 11, 2012 at 7:48 am


we simply cannot afford to keep funding things by raising taxes. I don't consider that "piggy." I consider it fiscally sound. If I spend beyond my means I don't get to just go to my boss for more money. You can imagine how that conversation would go.

Posted by Some Guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm

If this isn't the straw that breaks California's budget, I'll be amazed.
And why, oh why would I EVER take a train from the bay area to los angeles when a plane ticket costs the same amount, and takes 1/4 of the time?
Hell, our existing railway, Amtrak, is HEAVILY subsidized by the government, what makes people think this will be any different?
(Note: Amtrak is not a government agency, it is a private company that receives LARGE subsidies from the government to operate)
We already have an under used rail system, we don't need another.

Posted by R.Gordon, a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Not many people see the big picture....too bad.
Hint: a few airlines are about to go under.
There is no money for roads nor for repair of all things necessary to drive.....gas WAS cheaper for a few weeks and people went out and bought guzzlers (TYPICAL mentality of most people no matter where they fall in the econic ladder or income scales)
The most educated people who use this site are really rather naive as to the facts of the entire mess. Money is made faster by going against the advice of most venture capitalists or those who had a field day/years when they all felt like Mitt and made money like he did.
Even he cannot buy this election. The big picture, or part of it, is that people just aren't buying b.s. no matter if it comes in blue Tiffany boxes.
The past is obsolete and the future is almost ridiculous if anyone feels he or she can live in our Peninsular Village mindset.
Greed has lost except for those who were innocents and made money employing tactics that excluded instant gain or profit. Those are the new billionaires. Too bad most cannot read or be interesting or even a bit diverse.

Posted by Wise Voter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 11, 2012 at 6:25 pm

If ever the advice, "THROW THE BUMS OUT" was correct it is NOW! California is in the condition it is because one party has dominated for way too long and that party is totally corrupt and self-serving. At every election hereafter, we need to vote against the incumbents, whomever they may be, unless they have shown good sense in office and done what is best for tax-paying citizens, state and national!

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Mr. Gordon:

please enlighten us as to which airlines are "about to go under." I'm not aware of any.

as to the rest of your screed - more of your usual non-sequitorial nonsense.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 11, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Some guy -

First, what makes you think the cost of this stupid train (it's NOT high speed anymore...) will be the same or less than an airline? With a modest amount of planning, you can buy a ticket to most Southern California airports for about $60. I've seen estimates for the new train ticket to be over $200!

And few people want to go from downtown San Francisco (or San Jose) to downtown Los Angeles. A lot of people want to go from Oakland to Burbank or San Jose to Ontario. You can't do that on this train, at least not without a considerable amount of time, effort and money.

Furthermore, there are more than 100 flights from our three Northern California airports (many more if you include Monterrey and Sacramento) to any one of several Southern California airports... and no government money is involved. Customers are WELL SERVED by a highly competitive, low cost, convenient, fast private market.

But our legislature thought they needed to spend $100 billion. Ridiculous.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm


I agree with you, however, one correction. There is federal money involved in a flight between LA and SF, or any other cities for that matter. The FAA provides air traffic control services for both the air space between the two cities as well as ground control and air traffic control within the terminal air spaces. The airlines do pay landing fees at the various airports which they land at, (which they pass on in air fares) but the cost of ATC while on the airways is covered by the tax payers. All commercial flights are flown under instrument flight rules and as such have air traffic controllers overseeing their movements, altitudes and separation from other aircraft. Money well spent and much cheaper than what will be required to subsidize HSR, but federal funds just the same.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Thank you for the correction, MV. But those same ATC control civilian (non-commercial) and military aviation, too.

I had thought that they added fees to airline tickets to cover the cost of ATC when the TSA was formed and the new security fees were implemented. If not, I certainly stand corrected!

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 12, 2012 at 7:42 am


as of yet there are no user fees for ATC. It is a hotly contested issue however as they have been trying to implement them for a number of years now. Commercial aviation doesn't really care because they will simply add the cost to a ticket. General aviation on the other hand is quite upset about it and has been battling it ever since it has been raised. A little off topic, but there you go.

Posted by Michael G Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2012 at 8:41 am

California's credit score.

Web Link

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2012 at 10:03 am

We have the nation's worst credit rating yet here we go issuing 8 billion in bonds. With our credit rating we will pay through the nose for the interest on these bonds. Thank you legislature and organized labor for helping destroy what was once a great state. I'll be moving somewhere else as soon as I can make it happen.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2012 at 10:39 am

We have the worst credit in the nation and we are somewhere around 47th for Education in the nation.....

Don't forget we have a vision, that's about all we have. I am born and raised here but I know hundreds of people who have moved from this once a Great State.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I heard an interview with the Vice Mayor of Stockton discuss her city's plans for bankruptcy. Her most compelling comment was that there was simply no way for her city to dig out from the mountain of debt they had accumulated over the past two decades. Now, with even higher costs of borrowing, our burdens will increase even more.

I think a lot of people believe that we (California and the United States) are immune from the laws of economics and that no matter how much debt we accumulate, others will always want to lend us money and we will always be able to repay them.

Keep repeating it. Try it in Greek: δεν έχει σημασία πόσο χρέος θα συσσωρεύονται, οι άλλοι θα θέλουν πάντα να δανείζουν σε εμάς και θα είμαστε πάντα σε θέση να τα αποπληρώσουν.

It's true... right up until the time it's not.

Posted by Greco Roman, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jul 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Συγκρίνοντας Ελλάδα στις Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες της Αμερικής είναι μια γελοία επιχειρήματα από ένα αδύναμο μυαλό. Το ένα είναι η ισχυρότερη οικονομία στον κόσμο, το άλλο είναι ένα αποτυχημένο κράτος, τώρα υποφέρουν κάτω από επιβεβλημένη λιτότητα που επιμηκύνει το κακό οικονομίας.

It's true... right up until the time it's not.

Or something.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Yes, of course - it could NEVER happen here! Funny, the Europeans said that exact same thing about Greece as recently as June 20, 2000 when they admitted Greece to the European Union.

Web Link

No, OUR debt will never be downgraded. OUR borrowing costs will never increase. OUR cities and states will never go bankrupt. OUR checks for pensions and police and firefighters and teachers will never bounce.

So let's just keep on spending and borrowing and see how it works out!

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm

At least we'll have a beautiful monument - 130 miles of empty, overgrown train tracks between the thriving Madera and Bakersfield "metroplexes" - as a testament to our thrift.

I'm betting that section of tracks will never be connected to anything else during our lifetimes.

Posted by GOLLY, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Maybe NOT your's.....or the old curmudgeons who sit in front of their computers all day..........

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