The tangled web of High-speed spending

June 11, 2012

By Katy Grimes

SACRAMENTO — With the looming state budget deadline of June 15, most lawmakers are at least pretending to have budget issues in their sights at the moment. But there are still thousands of bills churning through the Capitol bill mill, many of which would cause even greater economic damage to the state.

Anything to do with the already bankrupt California High-Speed Rail Authority should be tossed in the circular file. However, many lawmakers and the governor are blindly moving ahead with plans to build the rail system, despite the severe flaws in the plan, and the $68-$100 billion price tag. It appears that, while the Legislature has been on the fence, it is now leaning toward funding the project.

Currently being considered by the Legislature is SB 1117 by Sen. Mark Desaulnier, D-Concord. It will direct the California Transportation Commission, in cooperation with regional and state agencies, to create a statewide passenger rail plan. DeSaulnier is an ex-officio member of the commission.

His bill sounds innocuous but is not.

Caltrans, the state’s humongous transportation agency, is already tasked with developing and maintaining a rail transportation plan. Only for many, many years, Caltrans has not done this, apparently considering rail a dinosaur.

The plan, the bill, and High-Speed Rail

The bill would require the Transportation Commission to create a statewide rail plan encompassing all forms of rail, including high-speed rail. But a plan is just a plan. The CTC can and probably will just paste together several existing transportation plans and call it done.

Prior legislative requests for plans and information have been met with mockery by the High-Speed Rail Authority. It is hard to believe that a new plan will have any different impact.

High-speed rail is already deeply problematic and riddled with corruption and incompetence; and it lacks accountability and oversight.

The system is really being developed to compete with private-sector airlines, which should be a warning flag. California residents must be on guard whenever state government spends great amounts of money to compete against private-sector businesses.

The far-reaching fingers of global warming

After the Legislature passed AB 32, the California’s Global Warming Solution Act of 2006, and the companion bill SB 375, the California’s Sustainable Communities Planning Act of 2008, each region in the state had to figure out ways to start building housing without impacting existing road traffic.

SB 375 specifically “requires California’s Air Resources Board to develop regional reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and prompts the creation of regional plans to reduce emissions from vehicle use throughout the state.” California’s 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations are required to create “Sustainable Community Strategies.” The planning organizations are required “to develop the sustainable community strategies through integrated land use and transportation planning to meet the proposed reduction targets by 2020 and 2035.”

That’s a lot of bureaucratic jargon to explain that the answer was the perfect liberal utopian world where city residents live in tiny boxy apartments, like this one in Sweden, ride some form of public transportation to work, shopping and school, and not own a car.

The Legislature has been telling residents of the state for many years that they cannot live how they want to live. Only in the post-AB 32-SB 375 world is the liberal Legislature succeeding.

This isn’t New York or Stockholm

In California, living, working and shopping near your home is a silly notion, other than in San Francisco. Remember that San Francisco is only 46 square miles and has 805,000 residents. The entire San Francisco Bay area encompasses nine counties and has more than seven million residents.

Greater Los Angeles, five large counties, covers 33,000 square miles and has more than 17 million residents. Los Angeles proper covers 552 square miles and has more than three million residents.

The city of Sacramento covers 100 square miles and has more than 400,000 residents. But the county of Sacramento covers nearly 1,000 miles, and has 1.4 million residents.

The more rural areas of the state are spread out, and don’t have the concentrated population bases that San Francisco or even Los Angeles have. The Northern-most California county, Del Norte, has only 28,000 residents and is 1,229 square miles. Inyo County has only 18,000 residents, but covers more than 10,200 square miles.

These statistics are important to note because few in the Legislature seems to care much about the state’s residents outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and Orange County. No one in Del Norte or Inyo Counties could live without a car.

The transportation bill

“This bill will provide for a comprehensive long-term statewide passenger rail plan,” said DeSaulnier. “As the state grows, this plan is important to give Californians commuter choices, to protect the environment, and to work toward energy independence.”

This is where I thoroughly disagree with DeSaulnier. Despite the inevitable anticipated growth, radical lawmakers plan to limit the choices the state’s residents have in modes of transportation, as well as the type of housing being built.

DeSaulnier’s bill does not offer more choices. It’s instead just requires another state agency to put together a rail transportation plan, with no requirement that high-speed rail officials must act on it.

All of California’s rail transportation is in need of some help. In Sacramento, the Regional Transit system is embarrassingly bad. The bus system worked beautifully in the spread-out county for decades. But when liberal city leaders got a wild hair about Light Rail, bus routes were altered to instead feed light rail trains. These nearly empty trains now intersect some of the heaviest traffic areas in the city, causing even bigger backups, and more carbon emissions to be spewed by idling autos.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has suggested taking the $9 billion voters approved in 2008 under Proposition 1A, and using it to beef up existing rail systems all over the state.

Harkey also authored AB 1455, which would have pulled back unspent dollars for the high-speed rail project. But fellow legislators killed it for the second year in a row, as well as a similar bill by Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale.

Harkey and LaMalfa have argued that the High-Speed Rail Authority be brought under Caltrans in order to provide some transportation consistency in the planning, but that has been met with a stony silence from Democrats.

Proof that no one in the state seems to know where Waldo is, are the conflicting bills and plan requirements. 

The highly speculative High-Speed Rail system will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in state funding we do not have and will compete with the airlines but will have little or no coordination with the existing rail or transit networks.

Then there DeSaulnier’s bill, which seeks force the development of a statewide plan for rail that balances all of the competing needs including commuter, intercity, freight and long-distance passenger rail.

Although that sounds like a good idea, it involves a level of complexity far beyond what Caltrans has ever been able to achieve, and will produce just another unread, stale statewide rail plan.

The state is a mess and currently operates as if there are 120 little governors instead of 140 Assembly members and 80 Senators who should work together running the state as two governing bodies. California is operating without any leadership.

And too many of the state’s big agencies are operating with very little legislative oversight. The tail is wagging the dog in California and voters know it.

Taxpayers want a re-vote on the High-Speed Rail bond, and would vote to kill it. If lawmakers really cared about getting reelected, they would listen to the voters, and act accordingly.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

— Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

Related Articles

CA teachers sue union over political use of dues

  Monday marks the start of a new school year for Rebecca Friedrichs, a kindergarten teacher at Holder School in

Kings Wars Could Slam CA Taxpayers

MAY 4, 2011 By JOHN SEILER For now it looks like the Kings professional basketball team will keep dribbling in

Alternative fuel companies cheer, oil industry questions CA carbon regulations

The California Air Resources Board’s plan to renew the Low Carbon Fuel Standard elicited cheers at a recent Board meeting from its