Bill to fund high-speed rail hangs in the balance

Legislature remains split on controversial project

With residents preparing for holiday celebrations Tuesday night, lawmakers in Sacramento released in the closing hours of July 3 a much-anticipated bill for funding the largest transportation project in California's history.

The bill, which the Legislature plans to hold a public hearing on this afternoon and could vote on as early as Friday, July 6, is now the subject of intense back-door negotiations in Sacramento, with Gov. Jerry Brown's administration scrambling to get the votes he needs to get funding for the $68 billion project.

The project has become intensely unpopular in Palo Alto, with the City Council voting in December to adopt as the city's official stance a call for the project's termination. John Garamendi, the city's high-speed-rail lobbyist in Sacramento, said Thursday morning that Brown did not appear to have the votes he needed in the Legislature on Tuesday to get the bill passed. By Thursday, it still seemed like he may not get the votes he needs, Garamendi said.

The behind-the-scenes dialogues in Sacramento have become particularly tense given a newly released Field Poll showing that the project could jeopardize Brown's proposal to bring a tax initiative to the voters in November. The poll showed 54 percent of the voters supporting Brown's initiative. But it notes that the tax initiative would be "adversely affected" if the legislature proceeds with funding the state's controversial high-speed-rail project. One in three voters, the poll found, said they'd be less likely to vote "Yes" on Brown's plan if high-speed rail is funded.

"The unpopularity of the multi-billion dollar project appears to be negatively affecting chances of voters endorsing the Governor's tax increase proposal should the legislature authorize funds for the project," the Field Poll states.

Though Palo Alto officials, like their counterparts elsewhere in the state, are still poring through the budget-trailer bill, on Thursday they cried foul over the process that led to the budget bill's release. Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the city's Rail Committee, said such a process for pushing through major legislation would never fly at the local level.

"This is a ridiculous, undemocratic process that we're going through," Klein said. "It's interesting to note that cities cannot do this. We'd be prohibited by the Brown Act from releasing something at midnight on July 3, and having a hearing on July 5 and voting on it on July 6."

The committee voted to submit a letter to legislators reasserting the city's opposition to the project and criticizing the process for getting the bill to legislators.

The proposed bill would authorize $3.9 billion for rail construction out of the $9 billion bond voters authorized for high-speed rail in 2008. Of these funds, $2.6 billion would be appropriated for the "Initial Operating Segment" of the line in Central Valley, between Merced and the San Fernando Valley.

It also includes $124 million for property acquisition, mostly in the center and southern portions of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line. It also, however, includes $5.1 million for property acquisition between San Francisco and San Jose.

In an overture to Peninsula critics, the bill specifies that the project would be "consistent with the blended strategy" that the rail authority identified in its April business plan. The strategy, which calls for high-speed rail and Caltrain to share two tracks between San Jose and San Francisco, is widely seen as a more palatable alternative to the four-track vision the rail authority had initially proposed.

The project's critics have been particularly concerned about the California High-Speed Rail Authority's ridership projections, which many have maintained are far too optimistic. The Palo Alto-based group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) and the Institute for Transportation Studies at U.C. Berkeley have both questioned the methodology the rail authority had used to come up with its projections.

The proposed bill, Senate Bill 1029, requires the authority to submit a new business plan by January 2014 that includes a proposed approach for improving demand projections, cost models and "benefit-cost analysis as applied to future project decisions."

The rail authority will also have to prepare and submit by June 30, 2013 a report analyzing the impact of the rail project on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The bill also specifies that the bond funds would only become available if the project also receives the $3.2 billion it expects in federal funding and $1.1 billion in contributions from local sources, including Caltrain, as part of the blended approach.

The bill does not include any language that would fast-track the project through California's environmental-review process -- a point of particular concern for environmental groups.

A Joint Committee of legislators is expected to discuss the bill at 1 p.m. this afternoon and possibly vote on it Friday.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve Ly
a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The high speed rail project has devolved into the most horrible example of bait-and-switch I've ever seen. The Legislative Analysts Office, the State Auditor and UC Berkeley's ITS have all raised legitimate concerns that CHSRA has not answered. Shame on Governor Moonbeam for ramming this through on short notice during a holiday week. If it passes, I'll definitely vote "no" on Jerry's tax increase.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Don't forget what originally passed with 52% approval was $33,000,000,000 total cost with $55.00 SF to LA ticket cost and Private Investors.

Not even close to what they are talking about now.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm

I'm not too inclined to vote for a tax increase in teh first place, but I guarantee, if the legislature passes HSR, I will absolutley vote NO. If we can't afford to fund our schools, we sure as hell can't build the HSR boondoggle.

I urge voters to pay attention to which legislators vote for HSR. THOSE are your bought and paid for union lackeys.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I can't believe that our state is in this kind of financial trouble and our legislature and governor want to build a really expensive train.


Like this comment
Posted by Fiscal Responsibility
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Jul 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill should be run out of town. Rich Gordon is running for Assembly. I urge everyone to vote for his opponent even if he is a Republican. This fiscal insanity must cease.

Also Gordon is the one who gave us the bulb out on Alameda de las Pulgas and Avy. This cause many people to divert from Alaeda de las Pulgas to Altshul putting many children in danger. Rich Gordon does not have one iota of common sense.

While Menlo Park residents can't do anything about Jerry Hill we sure can do something about Rich Gordon. This irresponsible Assemblyman needs to be voted out of office.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From the Economist:

This week the Committee of Public Accounts published its report on the completion and sale of high speed one (HS1), Britain’s only super-speedy rail link, which runs between London and Folkestone to the channel tunnel.

The report concluded that the line will cost taxpayers £4.8 billion; it predicted that the final bill could be double that sum by 2070. The members of the committee concluded that forecasting models and assumptions about the number of passengers who would use the line-and the sums they would be willing to pay-were partly responsible.

Web Link|

Like this comment
Posted by kay
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

"In an overture to Peninsula critics, the bill specifies that the project would be "consistent with the blended strategy" that the rail authority identified in its April business plan. The strategy, which calls for high-speed rail and Caltrain to share two tracks between San Jose and San Francisco, is widely seen as a more palatable alternative to the four-track vision the rail authority had initially proposed."

Please tell me what "blended" means. The high speed trains will be using the old CalTrain tracks on the SF peninsula? Is that possible?
The same trains which will run at 200 miles per hour down the valley on new tracks? Furthermore, if these high speed trains run regularly from SF to San Jose, all the street crossings must be changed to keep traffic and trains separate...i.e. grade crossings. So the plan is to build grade crossings for the old tracks, and then eventually, as has always been implied, add the needed set of tracks for the high speed trains. And of course rebuild all the grade crossings?
Or make the grade crossings large enough for 4 tracks to begin with. Imagine this mess at every street crossing the tracks!

How blended? Or do they mean running shuttle trains down the peninsula to San Jose, then changing to board the new High Speed Train? (a reasonable alternative) Then say so!

Otherwise, I don't believe you can run these super fast machines on the old tracks, and alternate high speed trains and commuter trains all day long!

No one has said outright that they mean to run these new "bullet" trains on the old tracks, or what kind of grade crossings are envisioned. They just say it will be blended. How blended?
I wish someone would explain

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:16 am

Will always be a boondoggle. The only way our broke state is going to pay for this project is by raising our taxes AGAIN!

The total amount keeps increasing. If and when it's ever completed it will probably cost at least twice the original cost.

Good use of tax payers money. No wonder our state is broke.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:23 am

Contact Senator Joe Simitian

State Capitol, Room 2080, Sacramento, CA 95814-4900; (916) 651-4011

160 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, CA 94301; (650) 688-6384
701 Ocean Street, Suite 318A, Santa Cruz, CA 95060; (831) 425-0401

Email form: Web Link

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