Fresno votes against high-speed rail project

Fresno votes against high-speed rail project


rail_0In a surprise this week, the Fresno County Supervisors’ voted, 3-2, to officially oppose California’s high-speed rail project. That reversed seven years of actively supporting the project.

No one expects Fresno’s actions will stop the project. But the vote delivers a strong message and an emotional blow.

The “yes” votes against the project included Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, who brought the resolution forward, Chair Andreas Borgeas and Supervisor Phil Larson.  The resolution said there were major inconsistencies between the promises made to the people in Proposition 1A — the 2008 bond initiative passed by voters to fund the project — and what was being done today.

Borgeas said that, for him, the matter came down to integrity about the public’s vote for bond measures.  He asked if the California High-Speed Rail Authority has honored the wishes of Prop. 1A voters.  He answered, rhetorically, “I don’t know how anyone could agree those representations have been met.”

Voting no were Supervisors Henry Perea and Judy Case McNairy.  Perea has been a strong supporter of high-speed rail for years. He argued the legality of the case was for the courts to decide, not the supervisors.  Case-McNairy brought up strong concerns about spending and the debt the project may carry. But she still voted “No” on the resolution because she was concerned with public transportation for the future.

She supported another resolution, which was not passed, that did not withdraw support for the train, but only asked questions of the CHSRA.

Tom Richards, a well-respected CHSRA board member, spoke before the board about the project’s achievements, emphasizing how it had improved over the years, including the quality of new leadership and increased staff, which grew from 17 people to close to 125 people.

He thought more construction money would be found.

Public comment

The Board of Supervisors opened up the meeting to comments from the public. In general, those who wanted the board to continue support of the program expressed the need for jobs.  They also feared losing the chance at 1,500 jobs Fresno would get if it was selected for the trains’ heavy maintenance facility.

Some residents felt that the project was needed for the future of Fresno. They reminded the board that the cost of improving existing infrastructure would be high and would take incredible amounts of land and time.

Said Jeremy Bronstein, board chair of Fresno’s Chinatown revitalization as well as a social worker, “I am not going to tell you that high-speed rail is a bad idea. It’s a great idea that has been poorly executed.”

Judge James Ardaiz, who heads the Fresno Rescue Mission, explained the plight of his organization.  He was notified his site will be taken by the rail project using eminent domain.  Ardaiz said the mission does not serve the rich and powerful, but the disadvantaged. They help the homeless and those with alcohol and drug problems; act as a woman’s shelter; and even keep sex offenders off the streets at night by offering them a place to sleep.

He explained the struggle he would face to relocate since no one wants his shelter in their backyard. He told the board that if the CHSRA doesn’t go through with the project, they would sell his land instead of giving it back to him.  He said the CHRSA has not kept their promises to the public and shouldn’t be allowed to go forward with the project unless it can show it can be built.

James Hernandez, former CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told the board that opposing the high-speed rail project would send a bad message to investors.  He urged the supervisors to consider being first with high-speed rail.  He said that sometimes it’s a big advantage to being first.

He  pointed to the gambling industry in Las Vegas or the technology world in Silicon Valley.  Then he spoke from the heart. He said he was the son of a railroader who provided a good, middle-class lifestyle for his mother, himself and seven brothers and sisters.  All graduated from high school, some from college.

Amicus brief vote

In a separate action, Borgeas put forth a resolution to file an amicus brief in the lawsuit against the high-speed rail project by Kings County and two residents there. The supervisors voted the same, 3-2 in favor, as the earlier resolution on the high-speed rail project.

(Later, on July 31, an appellate court threw out the case, an action expected to be appealed to the California Supreme Court.)

But the gist of Fresno County’s amicus brief is that the CHSRA has not followed the guidelines set down by Prop. 1A. Borgeas said he’d be happy if the amicus brief had just one question, “Whether the projected cost, fund sources and implementation measure of the HSR project exceeded the authority granted by the voters in Prop. 1A.”

Borgeas said the brief would not make Fresno a party to the lawsuit. There are no costs and there is no legal liability. It amounts to a whisper in the court’s ear asking Judge Michael Kenny to consider another view.

The Fresno Bee, whose editorial board has steadfastly supported the project, wrote an editorial after the vote charging the board with being “stuck in the past.” They blamed the three supervisors for the possibility of the loss of a large storage facility.

However, there are no assurances Fresno will get the facility as many other cities remain in contention for it.

Kathy Hamilton is the Ralph Nader of high-speed rail, continually uncovering hidden aspects of the project and revealing them to the public.  She started writing in order to tell local communities how the project affects them and her reach grew statewide.  She has written more than 225 articles on high-speed rail and attended hundreds of state and local meetings. She is a board member of the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail; has testified at government hearings; has provided public testimony and court declarations on public records act requests; has given public testimony; and has provided transcripts for the validation of court cases. 

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  1. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 2 August, 2014, 19:19

    Prop 1-A (2008): “The Safe, Reliable High Speed Passenger Train Bond Act…” Trains at 220 mph – over three times the maximum on California freeways. 125 mph on Caltrain’s peninsula tracks, up from today’s 79 mph.
    Inches from platforms with passengers awaiting commute trains.

    To be Safe and Reliable, HSR needs a secure (grade-separated and fenced) route. That should have been and should be top priority for CHSRA. Their “Blended Rail” proposals are an invitation to accident, sabotage, the suicide-prone, and train delays. HSR could replace the Golden Gate Bridge for suicides.

    High Speed Passenger Trains should not be allowed on any track that is not grade separated and securely fenced against intrusion. That should be the first consideration in selecting an HSR route, and it has not been.

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