Legislative Leaders Reject Request for Urgent Audit of California High-Speed Rail

In 2017, California-based news media has relentlessly reported the failures and setbacks of California High-Speed Rail, as documented by Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA):

California High-Speed Rail Summer Highlights, Part 1: Lack of Leadership

California High-Speed Rail Summer Highlights, Part 2: Failed Promises

California High-Speed Rail Summer Highlights, Part 3: Community Disruption

Some legislators noticed what was happening. On November 14, 2017, Assemblymember Jim Patterson of Fresno asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee for an urgent audit of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The chair of the committee rejected the request on November 27, 2017: Joint Legislative Audit Committee Denies Patterson Request for Urgent California High School Rail Authority Audit.

Joint Legislative Audit Committee Denies Patterson Request for Urgent California High School Rail Authority Audit

NEWS MEDIA COVERAGE

Request for Emergency Audit of Bullet-Train Project Is Denied by Legislature LeadershipLos Angeles Times – November 27, 2017

Leading Dem Supports Patterson’s HSR Audit RequestGVWire.com – November 27, 2017

Fresno Assemblyman Says He Won’t Take No for an Answer on High Speed Rail Audit – KMPH Fox 26 News (Fresno) – November 29, 2017

Put California Bullet Train Audit on the Fast TrackLos Angeles Daily News (editorial) – November 30, 2017

Take Five: Newsom on HSR Audit, Toxic MasculinityGVWire.com – November 30, 2017

California High-Speed Rail Summer Highlights, Part 3: Community Disruption

Contrary to the claims of the taxpayer-funded California High-Speed Rail Authority Communications Department, the summer of 2017 was grim for the future of California High-Speed Rail.

Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) continually tracks developments (or lack of developments) for this costly, misguided high-speed rail plan. We see several trends ongoing with this project. The third is Community Disruption.

If your hobby is horticulture, you have one less place to get your plants and gardening products:

Northwest Fresno Nursery Shuts Down to Make Room for High-Speed Rail – ABC 30 News – September 17, 2017

Even businesses not targeted for demolition are worried:

More High-Speed Rail Closures, Detours Coming. That Worries Downtown Business OwnersFresno Bee – September 11, 2017

HSR Concerns in Fresno’s Chinatown – KSEE Channel 24 News (NBC) – September 13, 2017

California High-Speed Rail is supposed to discourage driving, and Fresno is experiencing a taste of the future:

Road Linking Downtown to Chinatown Will Be Closed for 2 Years for Bullet Train WorkFresno Bee – October 2, 2017

More Road Closures Coming for High-Speed Rail ConstructionFresno Bee – July 25, 2017

Construction on High-Speed Rail Tracks to Close County RoadsMadera Tribune – July 31, 2017

California High-Speed Rail is forcing people to change their driving routines, and that brings danger:

Did a New Bridge Make This Old Intersection Dangerous?Fresno Bee – August 10, 2017

Of course, even taking the bus won’t overcome traffic delays:

Get Ready for Traffic Backups – Rail Work Will Close Lanes Near Roeding ParkFresno Bee – September 15, 2017

This bridge finally opened, but it opened eight months later than originally planned:

Downtown Fresno Bridge Finally Opens Allowing Two-Way TrafficFresno Bee – August 4, 2017

And the disruption is now moving south from Madera and Fresno counties into Kings County:

High-Speed Rail Construction to Start in Kings CountyHanford Sentinel – September 23, 2017

The people of Kings County will soon endure what the people of Madera County are enduring:

Readers Riled Up Over High-Speed RailMadera Tribune -September 18, 2017

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California High-Speed Rail Summer Highlights, Part 2: Failed Promises

Contrary to the claims of the taxpayer-funded California High-Speed Rail Authority Communications Department, the summer of 2017 was grim for the future of California High-Speed Rail.

Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) continually tracks developments (or lack of developments) for this costly, misguided high-speed rail plan. We see several trends ongoing with this project. The second is Failed Promises.

In November 2008, when California voters were considering Proposition 1A to borrow $9.95 billion for California High-Speed Rail, fiscal conservatives warned about the official projections:

California General Election Official Voter Information Guide – Proposition 1A – November 4, 2008

Now, almost nine years later, the truth is being revealed. The project is much more expensive than was claimed:

California Bullet Train Costs Up $1.7 Billion for Central Valley SegmentLos Angeles Times – September 28, 2017

Even board members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority were compelled to ask about cost overruns:

California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting Transcript of Proceedings – September 19, 2017 (also California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting Video – September 19, 2017)

“That my concern and my discomfort level is that while this is short-term cash flow kinds of decisions that need to be made, in the big picture for the public, for our stakeholders where we don’t frankly have a great deal of good will or confidence in us, this sort of shell game of moving money around where we know we’re going to eventually — especially items three and four — we’re eventually going to have to come up with the money that we’re moving around.”

Rail Board Members Question Bullet Train Budget Overruns  – Associated Press – September 20, 2017

And it’s way behind schedule:

High Speed Rail in Valley Was Once Supposed to Be Done by Saturday. Not Even CloseFresno Bee – September 24, 2017

Not that any observers of California High-Speed Rail are surprised their predictions came true:

Why Missed Deadline for California Bullet Train Is No SurpriseSan Diego Union-Tribune – September 30, 2017

Of course, what California High-Speed Rail is today is not what was promised to voters in 2008:

High-Speed Rail Gets Us Stuck in Traffic – California Policy Center – July 24, 2017

Former leading backers of the project are now highly critical, especially former California State Senator Quentin Kopp:

Bogus Bullet TrainSacramento Bee – September 14, 2017

The Politician Behind California High Speed Rail Now Says It’s ‘Almost a Crime’ – Reason Foundation – September 20, 2017

But what can ordinary Californians do? One area where citizens have exposed the California High-Speed Rail Authority concerns its schemes to circumvent environmental review:

California’s Bullet Train Is Likely to Face More Environmental Hurdles After a High Court RulingLos Angeles Times – July 31, 2017

High-Speed Rail Backers Lose Another Round in Court – Los Angeles Times – August 2, 2017

Governor Jerry Brown and the majority party in control of the state legislature are committed to support this project to the end. Citizens have turned to the courts to bring California High-Speed Rail Accountability to the public:

Lawsuit Demands California High-Speed Rail Comply With Voter Intentions – California Policy Center – June 1, 2017

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California High-Speed Rail Summer Highlights, Part 1: Lack of Leadership

Contrary to the claims of the taxpayer-funded California High-Speed Rail Authority Communications Department, the summer of 2017 was grim for the future of California High-Speed Rail. Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) continually tracks developments (or lack of developments) for this costly, misguided high-speed rail plan. We see several trends ongoing with this project. The first is Lack of Leadership.

On April 21, 2017 the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced that on June 2 its CEO Jeff Morales would leave the position:

Big Change in High-Speed Rail: CEO Steps Down, Says New Leader Needed – Fresno Bee – April 21, 2017

There were high expectations for change:

Leadership Turnover at the California High-Speed Rail Authority Could Signal Shakeup – Los Angeles Times – May 1, 2017

But perhaps it can be said that great leaders never fade away. Two months after his alleged departure date, Jeff Morales was still on the Authority payroll:

California Bullet Train Chief Executive Is Still on the State Payroll – Two Months After His Exit Date – Los Angeles Times – August 4, 2017

As of October 10, 2017, no one has taken his place as CEO. It wasn’t that there weren’t qualified candidates. CCHSRA ally Kevin Dayton applied for the CEO position:

Applying for New CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority: My Cover Letter  – California Policy Center – May 2, 2017

In fact, ten days before the CEO announced his departure, Dayton had critiqued the leadership performance of the $383,000 per year CEO and found it wanting: 

Is the California High-Speed Rail Authority Paying for Legendary Leadership? – California Policy Center – April 21, 2017

Meanwhile, other top executives at the California High-Speed Rail Authority have announced their departure:

Another Key California Bullet Train Executive Is Leaving – Los Angeles Times – October 5, 2017

Granted, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has long been notorious for staff vacancies and turnover. For a few years, the Authority was producing a “California High-Speed Rail Authority Position Summary and Vacancy Report Executive Summary Report” such as this:

California High-Speed Rail Authority Position Summary and Vacancy Report Executive Summary Report January 2016

But it now appears that employees of California High-Speed Rail are taking the advice that former California Republican Party chairman Shawn Steel recently gave to the people promoting the project:

California’s High-Speed Rail Promoters Should Heed the Wisdom of Rats – Sacramento Bee – August 29, 2017

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More Oversight Needed for Promise of California High-Speed Rail Job Opportunities

A majority of Californians now realize that the state’s promises to voters in Proposition 1A (2008) about California High-Speed Rail aren’t going to be fulfilled. This has forced the California High-Speed Rail Authority and its defenders to emphasize the project as a massive stimulus package to create jobs for disadvantaged workers in the San Joaquin Valley.

But how accurate is the rhetoric? The California Policy Center has begun an investigative project to determine how many jobs are being “created” and how many of those jobs have gone to disadvantaged workers who are San Joaquin Valley residents. This is the type of oversight that the California legislative majority does not do, for reasons that seem to be obvious.

Newly-obtained records from the State Center Community College District reveal the details of a union-only pre-apprenticeship program for construction trade workers funded by a $440,717 state grant. The records suggest that actual job creation isn’t matching the rhetoric. Unions either don’t have jobs to provide to local disadvantaged workers or choose not to provide jobs to local disadvantaged workers. See results as of June 2, 2017 below:California Apprenticeship Initiative - State Center Community College District

See the June 13, 2017 California Policy Center article at California High-Speed Rail Jobs: High Hopes, Harsh Reality.

Also, here are links to source documents about the $440,717 state-funded union-only pre-apprenticeship program at State Center Community College District:

California Apprenticeship Initiative at State Center Community College District – Grant Agreement

California Apprenticeship Initiative at State Center Community College District – Year to Date Expenditures and Progress Reports

California Apprenticeship Initiative at State Center Community College District – Performance Results

 

Confidential Report Says First Construction Segment of California High-Speed Rail May Cost 50% More Than Expected

California's bullet train is hurtling toward a multibillion-dollar overrunSomehow, Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian was able to get a document “for internal use only” that top Federal Railroad Administration officials reportedly gave to top California High-Speed Rail officials at a December 1, 2016 meeting in Washington, D.C. He reported on this “confidential” document today (January 13, 2017): California’s Bullet Train Is Hurtling Toward a Multibillion-Dollar Overrun, a Confidential Federal Report Warns.

This report claims that the Initial Construction Segment of California High-Speed Rail (apparently identified as Merced to Shafter rather than Madera to Shafter) would cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion instead of the assumed $6.4 billion. It also will not be completed until 2024 instead of the planned 2018.

Finally, the report concludes that the California High-Speed Rail Authority may not be able to achieve the conditions required to qualify for federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus grants awarded in 2009 and 2010. This means California taxpayers would be alone in paying for it.

Presumably this report only refers to the laying of track in the San Joaquin Valley and does not include electrification. At this time the California High-Speed Rail Authority had not even begun the bidding process toward Construction Package 5 – laying track on the Initial Construction Segment. Contractors for “Construction Package 1” are now working on demolition and civil engineering, including a viaduct near Madera.

Aaron Fukuda, co-chairman of Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) was a guest on the Ray Appleton Show (with substitute hosts Blake Taylor and Michael Reed) on KMJ News/Talk 580AM/105.9 FM in Fresno on January 13 to talk about the boondoggle. Also calling in to decry the insufficiency of state oversight on the project was California State Senator Andy Vidak. And a statement from California Congressman Jeff Denham criticizing the project was referenced during the show.

This cost overrun and delay is not surprising to Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA). Nor is it surprising that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is downplaying the report. That state agency continues its quest to take land from San Joaquin Valley farmers, homeowners, commercial and industrial businesses, places of worship, non-profit groups, and even homeless shelters. It wants to lock up the land for a time when state tax increases provide enough funding to pay for completion of the San Joaquin Valley track.

What Californians may end up getting for their $10 billion is a winding dedicated track for Amtrak diesel engines to cart passengers between Madera to Shafter. Is this what 53% of California voters envisioned when they voted for Proposition 1A in November 2008?

KMJ Podcast: 2:04:36 Blake Taylor & Michael Reed fill in for Ray Appleton – January 13, 2017

Congressman Jeff Denham: Denham Statement on Latest Report of California High-Speed Rail Overruns – January 13, 2017

State Senator Andy Vidak: Now Governor, Will You Finally Support an Audit of High-Speed Rail? – January 13, 2017

Congressman Kevin McCarthy: Statement on reports that California’s high-speed rail would cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated, or an extra $3.6 billion – January 13, 2017

The Hunt for Dollars to Build the $64-Billion Bullet TrainLos Angeles Times – December 24, 2016

Proposition 53 Has Implications for California High-Speed Rail

Proposition 53 Has Implications for California High-Speed Rail

Governor Jerry Brown and his political allies, led by construction trade unions, have ramped up a major campaign to defeat Proposition 53. This statewide ballot measure could jeopardize future funding prospects for California High-Speed Rail.

Proposition 53, also known as the “No Blank Checks Initiative” would require voter approval for the State of California to sell a total of more than $2 billion worth of revenue bonds for a project. Unlike “general obligation bonds,” which are repaid (with interest) through state income and sales taxes, revenue bonds are repaid (with interest) through fees, fares, tolls, or other payments for services.

The Delta farmer who funded the placement of Proposition 53 on the ballot and is funding the campaign to pass it was mainly inspired by a desire to stop Governor Brown’s controversial “Delta Tunnels” project. But Proposition 53 could also hinder future efforts by the State of California to borrow money for California High-Speed Rail construction and operation.

Voters fed up with the continuing expenses for high-speed rail could potentially reject the sale of revenue bonds and cut off a source of state funding. An effective opposition argument to the sale of revenue bonds for California High-Speed Rail would probably focus on the exaggerated projections of ridership and fare revenue for the high-speed passenger train system.

California High-Speed Rail is frequently mentioned in the news media as a project that could be jeopardized if Proposition 53 passes on November 8. For example, the October 14, 2016 San Francisco Chronicle article about Proposition 53 was titled “Prop. 53 Could Bring Big Projects to a Halt” and featured a frequently-published photo of CCHSRA allies Kevin Dayton and his daughter picketing at the high-speed rail groundbreaking ceremony in Fresno in January 2015.

Besides the farmer who is paying for the Proposition 53 campaign, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association – an ally of CCHSRA – is the main organization supporting it. The argument in favor of Proposition 53 cites California High-Speed Rail as a reason to vote for it:

Proposition 53 will STOP POLITICIANS FROM ISSUING BLANK CHECK DEBT to complete billion dollar state boondoggles. Take California’s bullet train. They told us it would cost California taxpayers $10 billion. Now we know it’s going to cost more than $60 billion! Yet, you don’t have a right to vote on that huge increase!

Leading opponents of Proposition 53 are construction trade unions, which have a monopoly on construction of the California High-Speed Rail system through a Project Labor Agreement. The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California; the Carpenters, Laborers, Ironworkers, and Operating Engineers unions; and the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust have been top funders of the campaign to defeat Proposition 53.

The rebuttal to the argument against Proposition 53 in the California Official Voter Guide states that opponents “include insiders who profit from massive state revenue bond projects, and politicians and bureaucrats who don’t trust you to decide whether to approve boondoggles like the $64 billion bullet train…” Some people would declare that to be an accurate depiction of the chief backers of California High-Speed Rail.

For More Information:

California General Election November 8, 2016 Official Voter Information Guide – Proposition 53

Proposition 53 Donors – For and Against

Convenient Sources of Information About California High-Speed Rail

Convenient Sources of Information About California High-Speed Rail

People frequently ask CCHSRA for some concise information about California High-Speed Rail or a synopsis of the project.

We now have that information available for you on our website. Send it to your family, friends, and work colleagues.

You can read the short and simple “Ten Things to Know About California High-Speed Rail.” Versions of this list have been floating around on the web and via social media for a few years and we obtained permission from the author to republish the latest version.

Ten Things to Know About California High-Speed Rail

For people looking for more comprehensive information, we have posted a somewhat longer 1300-word synopsis explaining the law and the background of the California High-Speed Rail project.

Synopsis of California High-Speed Rail

If you really want to master the details of this project, read the 110-page report submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority by CCHSRA in 2014. It attempts to provide a REAL business plan that fulfills what the law required of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It’s a couple years old but still quite relevant.

Legacy Issues: The Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability 2014 Business Plan for the California High-Speed Passenger Train System, Including Direct Connections with Existing and Planned Intercity and Commuter Rail Lines, Urban Rail Systems, and Bus Networks Using Common Station and Terminal Facilities

You can help to inform the public about the reality of this project. The more people learn about California High-Speed Rail, the more likely they are to oppose it.

Article in The Weekly Standard Magazine Sees Truth of California High-Speed Rail

Bullet Train to Nowhere - The Weekly StandardThe September 12, 2016 issue of The Weekly Standard magazine includes an excellent article about California High-Speed Rail and how it is affecting San Joaquin Valley communities. CCHSRA recommends that you read this article and share it on social media.

As it surveys opposition throughout the state to the bullet train, the article cites the Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA). It also profiles and quotes CCHSRA members and friends who are defending their property rights from the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Our region is described as “geographically, topographically, demographically, and culturally far away from the bustle of the two coastal metropolises that the train was supposed to be designed to serve.” But as the reader learns, the first cut of the rail alignment diagonally bisects our fields and undermines our rural agricultural life.

And for what end? To quote from the article, “It is undoubtedly unfair to perceive as metaphors the rain, the mud, the never-used equipment, and the solo unfinished viaduct over an isolated rural river in an agricultural valley more than a hundred miles from the heavily trafficked coastal corridor that connects Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the metaphors are irresistible because they point to reality.”

Bullet Train to Nowhere: The Ultimate California Boondoggle – The Weekly Standard – September 12, 2016

California High-Speed Rail Authority Blames You for Its Four-Year Delay

On May 16, 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration and the California High-Speed Rail Authority revised their agreement for $2.6 billion in federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for the High-Speed Passenger Train for the 21st Century.

California High-Speed Train Program ARRA Grant

The revised agreement can be found here: FRA Grant/Cooperative Agreement for ARRA Funding (Amendment, FR-HSR-0009-10-01-06)

In a California High-Speed Rail Authority press release dated May 18, 2016, the Authority CEO claimed that “High-speed rail construction is underway in California and this agreement is consistent with our efforts to connect Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 2024, and then move forward with connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.” Those “efforts” were just adopted by the Authority board on April 21, 2016 as the California High-Speed Rail Authority 2016 Business Plan.

This revised plan anticipates high-speed passenger trains running on electrified track between the Central Valley and San Jose by 2025. The 2014 Business Plan had anticipated high-speed passenger trains running on electrified track running between the Central Valley and the San Fernando Valley by 2022.

A May 18, 2016 article in Politico quoted the CEO as saying “Early on, there was a vision, but no clear sense of how to implement that vision…We have that now, and we’re moving ahead aggressively.” Central Valley residents are surprised to learn there had not been clarity in how to implement a vision, considering that the Authority has tried for several years via negotiations and eminent domain to acquire private property for the supposed implementation of a vision.

Proposition 1A was approved in November 2008. The federal grants were awarded in 2010. As of today (June 2, 2016), the Authority has not even issued a Request for Qualifications for track between Madera and Shafter (Construction Package #5) and there is no schedule yet for bidding on electrication or a heavy maintenance facility coveted by local governments in the San Joaquin Valley. Construction has been limited to a viaduct, the demolition of structures and a street bridge in the City of Fresno, and some token archeological investigation.

Who’s to blame for the delay? The Obama Administration and the California High-Speed Rail Authority have designated a villian, and it is YOU. The May 18, 2016 article in Politico reports the contention of the Authority that your quest for public accountability is to blame:

Federal Railroad Administration officials assigned much of the blame for the lags to the project’s vociferous critics, who have tied it up with a tangle of lawsuits, administrative challenges, and other red tape. They complained that the opponents, especially Central Valley farmers and other not-in-my-back-yard landowners, have gotten far more traction against the railway than they would have against a highway, reflecting a cultural and political bias in favor of traditional asphalt infrastructure. But while they described today’s agreement as a routine bureaucratic clarification, they said they expect an explosive reaction from opponents looking to score political points in Sacramento and Washington.

There will always be politicians and special interest groups who will blame any California High-Speed Rail failures on ordinary citizens who exercise their rights to bring public accountability to this boondoggle. Advocates of the high-speed rail often express resentment about being subjected to checks and balances inherent in the United States Constitution and the California Constitution.

But the truth is that the legislative branch and the executive branch have generally ignored opponents, and the judicial branch has mostly rejected legal arguments from opponents. The real cause of the delays is the flawed language in Proposition 1A approved by 53% of California voters in November 2008. That ballot measure made promises to voters that it could not possibly keep.

Since then, the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Governor Jerry Brown have used every trick in the book to keep the taxpayer money flowing and their patrons happy. (The funding comes from the annual state budget, particularly through cap-and-trade taxes.) Meanwhile, the self-declared author of Proposition 1A continues to receive awards and acclaim for putting out the bait while the switch goes on in Sacramento.

SOURCES

Federal Railroad Administration Cooperative Agreement with California High-Speed Rail Authority – California High-Speed Train Program ARRA Grant – Amendment No. 6 – May 16, 2016

High-Speed Rail Gets a Four-Year Delay: The California Bullet Train Megaproject Was Even Less Shovel-Ready Than AdvertisedPolitico – May 18, 2016

California High-Speed Rail Authority 2016 Business Plan

High-Speed Rail and Federal Partners Realign Grant to Reflect Updated Business Plan – California High-Speed Rail Authority Press Release – May 18, 2016

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