In same spirit as ‘courtesy flush,’ ‘courtesy vote’

March 18, 2013

By Chris Reed

train_wreck_num_2The fact that on March 6 a member of the bullet train’s board of directors — former San Diego congresswoman Lynn Schenk — had blocked approval of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan to integrate bullet trains with regular trains in the Bay Area barely gained any attention in the state media.

Part of the reason is because, as Schenk acknowledged, it was only because of board absences that her opposing vote carried the clout of a veto. But part of it is also the California media’s mindset on the bullet train.

Every now and then, it will carry pieces that show just how cockamamie the project is, but they never connect all the different ways it is cockamamie.

‘Mother of high-speed rail’ bails on CHSRA plan

Even when the cockamamieness is exposed by the most significant figure in the history of the bullet train in California. This is what Dan Richard, the chair of the CHSRA board, said in December in announcing her reappointment to the bullet-train’s governing panel:

“Lynn is much more than a stalwart member of this Board. It was Lynn Schenk who originally proposed the high-speed rail network in the 1980’s when she was the Secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency during Governor Brown’s earlier tenure. As a member of Congress she authored legislation signed by President Clinton establishing high-speed rail corridors across the nation. Lynn Schenk is known as the ‘Mother of high-speed rail’ for very good reason. I am so pleased that she will continue to provide her guidance and leadership as we move forward.”

But Schenk, who says she will be a good soldier and support whatever the CHSRA board approves, now says she thinks it’s crazy to spend so much of the approximately $12 billion in remaining bullet train funds to upgrade regular rail lines. She says that is not high-speed rail as outlined to Californians for decades.

This is not a minor detail. The upgrading of Bay Area/Silicon Valley and the Los Angeles region’s rail systems to create a “blended” CHSRA system in which true high-speed rail only exists from San Jose to the northern reaches of Los Angeles County is what allowed Gov. Jerry Brown and Dan Richard to cut the estimated cost of the project from $98 billion to $68 billion. And now Lynn Schenk has disassociated herself from this scheme.

CHSRA board chair seeks to ‘reduce the aroma’

All of this is a long detour before getting to the incident that prompted the headline on this blog item. The Fresno Bee has details on what happened at the March 6 meeting:

“Schenk’s announcement took the board’s chairman, Dan Richard of Piedmont, by surprise, even though she had previously expressed skepticism over the blended Caltrain/high-speed rail plan in the Bay Area.

“‘I probably should have anticipated this conversation,’ he told Schenk, before asking her for a ‘courtesy vote’ to approve the agreement while recognizing her reservations. ‘If we could move this forward, I would appreciate it because otherwise we’ll just have to come back next month and do it,’ he said.

“After a short break, during which Richard conferred with Schenk and the agency’s chief counsel, Tom Fellenz, Richard withdrew his request and announced that the vote would be postponed until all of the members could attend. …

“The maneuvering over the Bay Area stretch of the line dismayed high-speed rail opponents here in the San Joaquin Valley. Aaron Fukuda of Hanford said Richard’s request for a courtesy vote from Schenk reflected ‘the heavy handed and truly tainted process that is unfolding.'”

But, boy, is it fitting. According to, a “courtesy flush” is “a flush in the middle of the toilet-sitting process in order to reduce the aroma.”

In this case, a “courtesy vote” would have allowed Dan Richard and the rest of the bullet-train board to reduce the aroma that’s produced whenever California’s high-speed rail system is discussed by serious people.




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