News

Brown to sign $8-billion high-speed rail bill today in San Francisco

Measure provides funding to start construction of 130-mile stretch of track in Central Valley

Gov. Jerry Brown will be in San Francisco later today to sign the High-Speed Rail funding bill at one of the bullet train system's future stations. But the project has many hurdles to cross before high-speed rail in California becomes a reality.

Brown will visit the Transbay Transit Center construction site in the city's Financial District, where he will sign SB 1029, a bill that

provides nearly $8 billion in funding to start construction on the high-speed rail system's spine, a 130-mile stretch of track in the Central Valley.

The ceremony comes just two days after critics of the high-speed rail project went to Sacramento in new effort to block the plan.

The project, which will cost an estimated $68 billion or more, still has to pass through a gauntlet of legal, financial and political obstacles before it becomes reality.

The funding measure Brown is signing was approved by a slim margin in the state Senate on July 6. It also includes money for early investments in local

transit systems in metropolitan areas at high-speed rail's "bookends," in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Caltrain will receive nearly $600 million in high-speed rail funds to modernize the system, the transit agency's spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

The Caltrain Modernization Project aims to replace its current diesel-powered engines with electric trains, which will run faster, more frequent and more environmentally friendly trains while preparing the transit corridor to accommodate a blended system with high-speed rail.

Brown will attend a signing ceremony at Union Station in Los Angeles before heading to San Francisco by air, where he is expected to sign SB 1029 at 550 Howard Street at 2 p.m.

The most immediate threat to the high-speed rail project comes from litigation, of which there has been no shortage. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton remain involved in a lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the system. The lawsuit, which claims that the authority's environmental analysis relies on erroneous ridership projections, will be the subject of a settlement conference in Sacramento Monday morning, July 16, said Palo Alto City Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the city's Rail Committee.

Even if the rail authority settles the Peninsula lawsuit, it will still face fierce opposition from Central Valley, where construction is set to begin. A coalition of agencies, including the Madera County and Merced County farm bureaus and the Chowchilla Water District, filed a lawsuit last month, arguing that the rail authority "due to a myriad of analytical deficiencies, failed to disclose and analyze the full scope and severity of impacts."

The litigation could continue as the rail authority unveils its "project-level" Environmental Impact Reports, which pertain to specific segments of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line and have a higher level of engineering and design specificity. Klein said the city will consider in the coming months whether it should file or join any other lawsuits against the rail authority.

Then there are the political hurdles, including bids to have California voters weigh in a second time on the high-speed-rail project.

Although a bill by State Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, met a quick death on the Senate floor last week, a group of opponents led by former U.S. Rep. George Radanovich is pursuing a similar citizen initiative. In its petition, the group argues that the state "cannot afford to pay for a high-speed train system that will cost more than $100 billion at a time when teachers and police are being laid off, prisoners are being released from prisons, and taxpayers are being asked to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for basic services."

The Palo Alto City Council, which last December adopted as its official stance a call for the project's termination, is scheduled to consider endorsing the citizen initiative on July 23. The council's Rail Committee has recommended that the full council do exactly that, even though state law bars the city from spending money on the campaign.

"Our action might be helpful to the cause symbolically," Klein said.

Meanwhile, city officials and rail watchdogs are still analyzing the text of Senate Bill 1029, which lawmakers released in the waning hours of July 3 and which the 40-member state Senate approved by a single vote on July 6. Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of the Palo Alto-based group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, said the group remains concerned about where the rest of the funds for the system will come from.

"When you look at full costs and benefits in Central Valley -- it's very little positive transportation value unless you spend another $30 billion dollars," Alexis said. "The concern is that this will act as a sponge for all available money that can go to other worthy projects."

The specific language of the budget-trailer bill only adds to the anxiety. For example, the bill allocates $1.1 billion for a "blended system" on the Peninsula -- a design under which high-speed rail and Caltrain can share two tracks between San Jose and San Francisco. But the bill also states that the $1.1 billion can be transferred to other items, including construction in the Central Valley (known in the bill as Item 2665-306-6043), with approval from the state Department of Finance.

"It looks like accounting minutiae, but if you translate it, it means that with one signature from a governor appointee, the money for Caltrain can be moved to the Central Valley project," Alexis said.

"The first time you read a bill it seems very clear to you," she added. "It's only on the 12th reading of the bill that you really understand all the loopholes."

Palo Alto officials have other concerns about the specific bill, including the fact that the language specifies that "any funds appropriated in this item" shall be used for a blended system and not to "expand the blended system to a dedicated four-track system."

The Palo Alto argument is that this language doesn't offer sufficient protection to ensure that the rail authority would pursue a blended system rather than the deeply unpopular four-track alternative. They called for language specifying that "funding in subsequent years may also not be used for a four-track system on the Peninsula."

Despite major reservations from all Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate, the appropriation bill received 21 votes, the minimum needed for advancement. The bill allocates $2.7 billion from the Proposition 1A bond to launch construction on the system's opening segment in the Central Valley and another $1.1 billion to support the "blended system" on the Peninsula. The state Assembly had voted 51-27 on July 5 to approve the bill.

Much like in the Assembly, members of the Senate lined up largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing the bill. But some Senators, including Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, crossed the party lines and voted against the project. Both of them have been heavily involved in oversight of the project since 2008, when voters approved a $9.95 billion bond for high-speed rail.

Supporters of the appropriation bill, led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, argued that the rail project is badly needed to create jobs and improve California's transportation infrastructure.

"In this era of term limits, how many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?" Steinberg asked his colleagues at the beginning of the debate. "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 and focused on the particulars of the bill. He cited the fact that the 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.

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 were to fund 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."

In the Assembly, both Jerry Hill and Rich Gordon voted to support the appropriation bill. Gordon said at the Assembly hearing that he went through a "period of doubt" on the high-speed-rail project but that his "faith has been restored" by the rail authority's embracing of the blended approach, which he had championed along with Simitian and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo.

"I do think that this is a part and parcel of our future, and I think the projects that are defined in this legislation also stand alone on their own for the moment, as we move in the future toward full implementation of high-speed rail," Gordon said.

Gennady Sheyner of Palo Alto Online contributed to this story.

Comments

Posted by JOAN, a resident of Danbury Park
on Jul 18, 2012 at 8:35 am

Another rip off of the California Taxpayer, Brown listens to the Federal Transportation Secretary over the California Taxpayer. For a State that is going broke asking for 2 propostions on the ballot in November to RAISE TAXES, Brown if you have money for a Railroad you DON'T NEED ANYMORE TAXES from the California Taxpayers.


Posted by Davide, a resident of Amador Estates
on Jul 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

Gov Brown, and you Senate Democrats who voted to approve $9 billion in new HSR spending - all the to the detriment and peril of K-12 funding, children supplies, school year/teacher's aides/PE/art/music, and CSU and UC education - to all of you, you just caused the rejection of all November tax measures.

Go ahead and pull the trigger of the gun you pointed at K-12 children's heads. Go ahead, because that's what you just did by approving $9 billion - the first installment of hundreds of billions of dollars to be siphoned away from K-12/education/parks/senior centers/etc. - you DIRECTLY CAUSED THE NOVEMBER TAX MEASURE DEFEAT!!

By definition, CA doesn't have a "bad budget" if you can take out a loan and start driving a brand new $350,000 Ferrari, but you can't also ask Grandman for money to buy basics, like pencils or paper for K-12 kids. That's just stupid.

You Sacramento Democrats are merely "wh_res" for the Unions you call your Masters, and this mantra about "jobs, jobs, jobs" isn't enough to kill funding for K-12 kids. Thanks for much for defeating the tax measures you stupid idiots!!


Posted by liberalism is a disease, a resident of Birdland
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:16 am

liberalism is a disease is a registered user.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
No new taxes in November and prepare for the threatened increases in college tuition and reductions in services, as we are held hostage for refusing to allow the further extortion of additional money from the working poor.


Posted by Neo, a resident of Willow West
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:26 am

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction". Nope, sorry! Junk science!

You shouldn't believe everything you were brainwashed with in atheist school,

liberalism. There isn't universal consensus among scientists, but nice try anyway.

Go back to Al Gore and tell him you failed in your mission to sabotage Independant

Patriots on the Internet he "invented"!


Posted by Mr. Mittens, a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

Why for Pete's sake do people care about public transportation. It's all kinds of government spending of tax dollars for something I'll never use (that's why they continue to build Lear jets -- heh-heh-heh). Why not invest the money in something that we know will be used, like more F16s or more nuclear submarines, for golly sakes.

Just remember, every public transportation system means less Hummers coming off the lines in Detroit. Public transportation, ergo, is bad for America. The best way to publicly transport people is to let them earn and save for their own car. (My wife and I have four Cadillacs, which has always been our way of stimulating the economy.)


Posted by liberalism is a disease, a resident of Birdland
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:42 am

liberalism is a disease is a registered user.

Al Gore has a Leer jet. No doubt his payments for carbon credits will offset the costs of the very, very fast choo-choo to the fertile valley.
If Algore takes a friend along with him in his jet (assuming man-bear-pig has any friends), does that then make his jet public transportation? With that many passengers on his jet, it will just about equal the number of regular riders on the choo choo to Hooverville.
Please, continue to defend this boondoggle. It's very entertaining watching you trip over yourselves gushing about how we could not live without this additional escape route to L.A., all without mentioning the driver for this project: union paybacks for supporting gov. moonbeam.


Posted by Mr. Mittens, a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

I seriously doubt that Al Gore has a Lear jet. But he doesn't have 4 of them like I do! Heh-heh-heh. And, of course, you'll never know what exactly I have, because I'm not going to reveal my past tax returns! So there!

But I digress. This has gotten so OFF TRACK. Fellow Americans, we need more cars, not more public transportation. That hum of autos along the 580, the haze of auto emissions that hangs over P-Town, the stink of exhaust -- all these are freedom's children that co-exist with trees that are just the perfect height.

Mitt -- Standing up for REAL Americans (not phoney Americans like my opponent and his worshipful minions.


Posted by Mrs Mittens, a resident of Downtown
on Jul 18, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Don't worry honey ... we soon won't have to worry about connecting our cities ... Vallejo, Stockton, San Bernardino, Mammoth Lakes, Compton filing bankruptcy... soon there won't be any left ... have to go ... have an appt at the Welfare office ... collect them free $ while they last...


Posted by Mr. Mittens, a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Oh Anne, what a joker you are. Both you and I know that we'll never have to apply at the Welfare office. We've got more money than imaginable, in more places than you can imagine, and being put to all kinds of unimaginable use. And places that the American public will never find out about. Because why should they? I'm a successful businessman. How dare they think I should have to divulge my investments and earnings as a businessman.

Don't worry too much about the urban bankruptcies, you gorgeous bottle job blonde, you. My goodness, you so resemble those Stepford Wives, just thinking about it does funny things to my magic happy underpants. But here's the thing hon, the average millionaire has declared bankruptcy 7 times before getting rich. But for a city to do so is, well, ungodly. You and I will have to find some way to make a profit out of this!


Posted by liberalism is a disease, a resident of Birdland
on Jul 19, 2012 at 8:51 am

liberalism is a disease is a registered user.

someone spiked mittens Kool-Aid again. Either that or he/she has been out picking wild mushrooms.
Your unwaivering mantra of 'we need more public transportation' is disingeniune at best and borders on dillusional fanaticism. We already have a myriad of ways to get to the wonderful southland: air, car, even buses ($60 and 7 hours later).
The best part is, that if any of these forms of transportation fail, the public (those of us that pay taxes) are not on the hook for that failure (unless Obama decides on another bailout or buyout).
While we all appreciate the fact that you never drive (license revoked?) because you never leave your basement, the rest of us need a means to travel to work, in most cases to areas where no public funded magic carpets exist.
Trains are not the panacea you claim they are, unless they can figure out a way to ride without rails directly to your place of business. Just dropping you off at a station miles from your destination (for an inflated rate, no less) is not a practical solution...but, then, when has any govt run project been practical.


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