Citizens and Legislators Decry Poor Oversight of California High-Speed Rail

California State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins claimed in a November 3, 2015 letter that the Assembly would be “undertaking a broader range of oversight activities in 2016” related to California High-Speed Rail. She wrote that “oversight mechanisms have already been put in place” and “that oversight will continue in January through the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation.”

California Speaker Atkins High-Speed Rail Oversight PromiseThat promised committee oversight hearing about California High-Speed Rail referenced by Speaker Atkins happened on January 27, 2016. (See agenda and staff report here.) Representatives of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) were at this hearing of the California State Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 3 on Resources and Transportation. (See the list of committee members here.)

As expected, the alleged “oversight” of the validity of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s estimates of project costs and schedule was inadequate and deceptive. Citizens and state legislators concerned about the project were given minimal opportunity to challenge the “high levels of confidence” that California High-Speed Rail Authority officials claimed to have about the project.

No one from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) or any other organization critical of the project was invited to be a panelist, of course. Invited panelists were Dan Richard, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors, Jeff Morales, Chief Executive Officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and Louis Thompson, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group.

Similar to past oversight committee meetings, the chairperson of the committee (Assemblyman Richard Bloom) limited the time of the hearing to 90 minutes and the allotted time given to public comment to one minute. Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) asked questions. After questioning various claims about the project and receiving empty answers, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) futilely requested the committee chairman to allow additional time for discussion of the most expensive construction project in human history.

A chief focus of the hearing was rebutting an October 24, 2015 Los Angeles Times article ($68-Billion California Bullet Train Project Likely to Overshoot Budget and Deadline Targets). It was also emphasized that the California High-Speed Rail Authority would soon issue a new 2016 Business Plan that would essentially make the past irrelevant.

Brief public comment critical of project oversight came from Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando), representatives of two train rider organizations, a representative of several communities in Los Angeles County affected by the proposed route, and five residents of the San Joaquin Valley, including multiple representatives of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability. Valley resident Shauna Green simply declared that based on her past experience with the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the testimony at the hearing, people should know that “they’re liars.”

A few professional lobbyists defended the California High-Speed Rail Authority during public comment. Prominent among them was a representative of the California Labor Federation and a representative of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, who praised the agency’s transparency and eagerness for oversight.

Video of the Hearing (courtesy of Derail HSR)

Assembly Budget Committee High Speed Rail Oversight Committee – January 27, 2016 – Authority Chairman Dan Richards and Assemblyman Das Williams comments

Assembly Budget Committee High Speed Rail Oversight Committee – January 27, 2016 – Assemblyman Jay Obernolte Questions

Assembly Budget Committee High Speed Rail Oversight Committee – January 27, 2016 – Assemblyman Jim Patterson Questions

Assembly Budget Committee High Speed Rail Oversight Committee – January 27, 2016 – Assemblywoman Patty Lopez Comments and Public Comments

Papers Submitted to Committee

Population Growth and the Need for High-Speed Rail – Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail

4,300 Miles of Highway Lanes as an Alternative to High-Speed Rail – Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail

The Green Train – Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail

The Truth About Public and Private Financing for the California HSR System – Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail

Letters Regarding California High-Speed Rail Oversight

Assembly Speaker Must Strengthen High-Speed Rail Oversight – Background from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) – November 11, 2015

Request to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins for Legislative Subpoenas to Obtain Internal California High-Speed Rail Authority Documents – Assembly Minority Leader Kristen Olsen – October 28, 2015

Denial of Request for Legislative Subpoenas to Obtain Internal California High-Speed Rail Authority Documents – Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins – November 3, 2015

Letter to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins Regarding Inadequate Legislative Oversight of California High-Speed Rail – Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) – November 10, 2015

News Coverage

Bullet Train Chairman Projects Lower Cost, Longer Timeline – Associated Press (in San Francisco Chronicle) – January 27, 2016

Bullet Train May Take Longer to Build But Cost Less Than Originally Estimated, Official Says Los Angeles Times – January 28, 2016

High-Speed Rail Officials Seek to Reassure Lawmakers – KQED – January 27, 2016

Lawmakers Demand Answers from High-Speed Rail Leaders – KCRA (Channel 3) Sacramento – ‎January 27, 2016‎

High-Speed Rail Opponents Allege Conflict of Interest, Lack of OversightSan Fernando Sun – January 28, 2016

High Speed Rail Hides from Oversight – commentary by Morris Brown – Fox & Hounds – February 1, 2016

Press Releases

Assemblyman Patterson Questions Rail Officials on Major Shift in Project Plans – California State Assemblyman Jim Patterson – February 2, 2016

Vidak Calls Assembly Hearing on High-Speed Rail “Another Pitiful Whitewash” – California State Senator Andy Vidak – January 27, 2016

Salute to Farmer Harold Parichan from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability

Harold Parichan was one of the hundreds of San Joaquin Valley farmers who were minding their own business when California High-Speed Rail abruptly intruded into their lives.

Mr. Parichan grew up in Reedley (southeast of Fresno), where a thriving community of Armenian-Americans grew during the early 20th Century. His father was an immigrant from Armenia. Mr. Parichan subsequently attended some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and law schools. He then became a prominent corporate attorney. But ultimately he became an almond farmer in Madera County.

A March 14, 2015 article in the Los Angeles Times described his last fight, a fight for his own property rights and the future of his farm:

And it’s there that Parichan, 91, has a new opponent: the California bullet train authority. The agency wants some of his land…

Parichan, a Stanford University law graduate, insists he won’t give up any of his prized orchard without a fight. The bullet train route would cut through the middle of seven of his orchards, Parichan said, severing irrigation systems and landlocking about 200 acres from his tractors.

Sadly, Harold Parichan’s last fight has come to an end, as reported in the January 3, 2016 Los Angeles Times:

Harold Parichan spent sleepless nights worrying about the California bullet train. Over dinners with his daughter and sons, he would ponder the fate of his prized almond orchards in Madera County, which would be sliced diagonally by the future tracks.

Disabled since polio struck him in the 1920s, Parichan overcame many obstacles, attending UC Berkeley and Stanford University law school on crutches and braces. But the bullet train became one of the biggest emotional challenges in his life, and time was running out for the 92-year-old farmer.

Parichan died Wednesday in Fresno after a bout with the flu, leaving his fight to keep the train off his farm unfinished. Sue Parichan Habild, who worked with her father for decades, vowed that the family would continue his fight.

Many of the leaders and members of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability can relate to the experience of Harold Parichan. Immigrant families from all over the world (but particularly from Portugal/the Azores, Armenia, Basque country, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden) settled in rural areas of the San Joaquin Valley and passed an agricultural tradition through multiple generations.

Politicians and planners in the coastal cities assumed that these rural Valley communities would easily succumb to becoming the “initial construction segment” of a costly high-speed rail system that would eventually connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. But instead of “transforming” the future of the Valley from farming, ranching, and dairies into a trendy urban culture made in their image, these politicians and planners have brought out the best of our existing culture.

Harold Parichan’s descendants have vowed to continue the fight to save Parichan Farms. Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability will do the same.

News Stories About Harold Parichan

Ready to Fight: Some Growers Unwilling to Lose Land for Bullet TrainLos Angeles Times – March 14, 2015

Harold Parichan Dies at 92; Attorney, Almond Farmer Fought California Bullet Train Project – Los Angeles Times – January 3, 2016

Harold A. Parichan – Obituary – Fresno Bee – January 3, 2016

Family Members of Valley Farmer Renew Fight Against High-Speed Rail – KFSN ABC 30 News in Fresno

California High-Speed Rail Authority Hasn’t Planted Any Trees

Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) co-chairman Frank Oliveira was interviewed for an investigative news story about another failure of the California High-Speed Rail Authority to fulfill its commitments. KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento broadcast the story on December 8, 2015.

In June 2013, the California High-Speed Rail Authority produced a report for the state legislature as required by Senate Bill 1029, which was signed into law by Governor Brown in 2012. Entitled Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels, this report was supposed to analyze the net impact of the high speed rail system on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It promised “zero net emissions” during construction by offsetting equipment and material production emissions with programs such as irrigation pump replacement, new tractors for farmers, new buses for school districts, and a tree-planting program. According to the report introduction by chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, “The analysis of GHG emission reductions in the Authority’s report clearly demonstrates that the high-speed rail project will be an important part of meeting California’s overall climate goals.”

This report also helped to justify the decision of Governor Brown and the California legislature to keep the project alive through annual budget appropriations derived from Cap-and-Trade auction revenue. Construction of the high-speed rail system was not supposed to contribute to climate change. All pollution would be offset by other activities.

Almost a year after the ceremonial groundbreaking in Fresno, KCRA reporter David Bienick looked into the tree planting program. In response to a question asked with a camera running, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales admitted that not one tree had been planted. Morales had claimed in 2014 testimony to legislative committees and in other presentations that 5,000 trees would be planted to achieve the “zero net emissions.”

This KCRA story turned to CCHSRA leadership for commentary:

Frank Oliviera on California High-Speed Rail Tree Planting

Frank Oliviera speaks about the absurdity of the California High-Speed Rail tree-planting program.

Frank Oliveira of the group Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability said some studies have shown the state will need to plant 5 million trees.

“Where are they going to put 5 million trees and keep them alive? Who’s going to take care of those trees? How much is that going to cost to take care of those trees?” Oliveira said.

Read the article and see the video here: High-Speed Rail’s Tree-Planting Plan Slow to Start: Nearly a Year After Groundbreaking, Not a Single Tree Planted.

Also, see the CCHSRA letter to the California Air Resources Board about the appropriateness of using Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds to fund California High-Speed Rail construction: Questioning the Outlandish Idea That California High-Speed Rail Deserves Cap-and-Trade Funds.

An April 2014 article published by the California Policy Center suggested that the tree-planting plan and other “schemes” to achieve zero net emissions were “farcical.” See California High Speed Rail’s Dubious Claims of Environmental Benefits.

Rebutting Claims About California High-Speed Rail as a Highway and Airport Alternative

Below is a summary (abstract) of a report submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority board by Mark R. Powell of Against California High Speed Rail at the board’s November 9, 2015 meeting.


Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail

24,300 Miles of Highway Lanes as an Alternative to High-Speed Rail
by Mark R. Powell
October 30, 2015

The Authority’s most recent hyping of the need for high-speed rail, a June 2015 brochure entitled California High-Speed Rail Big Picture (2015), makes the claim that Phase 1 Blended, connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, provides a transportation capacity equivalent to 4,300 new highway lane miles, 115 additional airport gates, and four new airport runways costing $158 billion. A second claim is that high-speed rail provides this capacity at half the cost.

This paper dissects these deceptive claims where the Authority uses “capacity” instead of “ridership” knowing full well that the theoretical capacity of Phase 1 Blended will dwarf its ridership and that the itemized highway lane miles will not be necessary this century, if ever, whether Phase 1 Blended is built or not built.

The paper then traces the evolution over two decades of the asserted highway benefits of high-speed rail, from the thousands of miles of highway lanes reported in the Authority’s 2005 California High-Speed Train Final Program EIR/EISback to earlier minimal assertions made in its first business plan and those made by its predecessor, the Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission.

Lastly, this paper looks at California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) traffic data and Caltrans long range planning documents. The data and planning documents prove how the Authority grossly overestimated future highway infrastructure needs for the year 2016 in its 2005 California High-Speed Train Final Program EIR/EIS and attempts to give readers information sufficient to see for themselves high-speed rail’s true impact on future highway needs over the next 20 years.

Read the full report at the California High-Speed Rail Authority website at Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail or at the Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability website at Pushing Back on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Myths About High-Speed Rail.

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Voters Can Set California Priorities Straight: Water In, Train Out

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Aaron Fukuda, 559-707-8928 or cchsraorg [at] gmail.com

Voters Get Opportunity to Set California Priorities Straight – Water In, Train Out

 

(Hanford, California, Thursday, November 12, 2015) – The voters of California now have an opportunity to determine where the priorities of California need to be in the near future. Board of Equalization Vice Chair George Runner and Senator Bob Huff have submitted a voter initiative to the Attorney General that could be placed on the 2016 Election. This initiative will give voters a choice to take unused bonding capacity from the California High Speed Rail Project (HSR Project) authorized under Proposition 1A and put it towards water infrastructure projects that are vitally need to meet the current water needs of the State and to prevent social and economic impacts when the next drought strikes California.

This initiative comes at a critical point in the HSR Project as the California High Speed Rail Authority (Authority) has made very little progress on the project and numerous questions of legitimacy surround the Authority and the HSR Project. To fund water projects in California, the initiative seeks to redirect unused HSR funds from the project that were authorized by the voters in 2008 under Proposition 1A. The Authority has spent eight years trying to develop a project that meets Proposition 1A’s requirements, and both the courts and the public have highlighted numerous shortcomings that have kept the Authority and the State from issuing Proposition 1A bonds.

More recently, the Authority came under fire for withholding key documents that showed that the 2014 Business Plan that was presented to the California Legislature was based on artificially low values, and the project will likely exceed the budget set forth in 2014. The Authority also received proposals from 36 international companies that specialize in high-speed rail projects, most of which told the Authority that private funding was not coming to the rescue and that the approach planned by the HSR Authority is not technically or financially feasible.

The Democratic Party-controlled California Legislature, charged with the responsibility to oversee the HSR Project, has refused to appropriately address concerns and has opted instead to loosen oversight of the project. Recently, Assembly Speaker Tony Atkins responded to a request to investigate the Authority for withholding documents by brushing off the severity of the incident and emphasizing “broader range of oversight in 2016.” Earlier in the year the legislature passed Assembly Bill 95, which eliminated the requirement for the Authority to produce and submit key progress reports and reduced the frequency that the Authority produced and submitted project and financial reports.

A large majority of voters of California are tired of watching communities, farms and businesses struggle with the lack of water while a rogue agency like the California High Speed Rail Authority and the Legislature mismanages their multi-billion dollar project. We hope that in 2016 voters will send a message to the Governor and the California Legislature that we can and will set water as our priority in the State of California and hold our public agencies accountable for the use of our limited tax dollars.

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Voters Get Opportunity to Set California Priorities Straight – Water In, Train Out

Assembly Speaker Must Strengthen High-Speed Rail Oversight

See a copy of this letter: CCHSRA Letter Dated November 10, 2015 to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins on Inadequate California High-Speed Rail Oversight


November 10, 2015

The Honorable Toni G. Atkins
Speaker of the Assembly
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0078

Dear Speaker Atkins:

We are commenting on your November 3, 2015 letter to Assembly Minority Leader Kristen Olsen about California High-Speed Rail oversight. Your letter claims that legislative oversight of the Authority planned for 2016 will be sufficient, and it rejects a request for the legislature to issue a subpoena to the Authority.

Your response, along with a law enacted in June to reduce legislative oversight, seems to indicate that the legislative branch is essentially in cahoots with the administration of Governor Brown in limiting public scrutiny of this troubled mega-project. By declining legislative oversight of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, you are evading an uncomfortable political reality and depending on the courts to reveal the truth about the status of this project.

Our extensive interaction during the past five years with the California High-Speed Rail Authority has revealed the agency’s culture. It works to conceal documents that contradict its public statements, its business plans, and other reports provided to the legislature.

It’s understandable why the California High-Speed Rail Authority avoids accountability. It cannot possibly comply with Proposition 1A. We urge you to reverse your position and take extraordinary means to obtain internal documents and public testimony from officials of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Our Experience with the California High-Speed Rail Authority

Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) was formed in 2011 by farmers, small business owners, and other residents of Kings County and rural Fresno County. It was a response to the lack of public accountability we observed firsthand from the California High-Speed Rail Authority as they planned the rail alignment through our rural agricultural communities.

Our introduction to the Authority gave us a foreshadowing of their typical conduct, which continues today. Representatives of the Authority began trespassing on our properties without notice or permission of the owners. Initially bewildered, we soon discovered these outsiders were assessing our land in preparation for the Authority to take it, either through unfairly low financial offers or through eminent domain.

Meanwhile, the Authority established a rail alignment that literally put the track through the front door and out the back door of the only livestock rendering facility south of Fresno. It was stunning. A conspiracy theorist would conclude that the path was deliberately chosen to undermine the region’s dairy industry and make an ideological statement of some sort.

We perceived the disdain of agency officials for the agricultural life and rural traditions of our community. You may not be aware that most of the 1300 parcel owners now targeted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority are resisting the government appropriation of our land. Every month, the State Public Works Board takes action to obtain that land.

After we became a visible critic of the agency’s conduct, the California High-Speed Rail Authority held some local community meetings devoid of substance in our region. To add to our frustration, someone arranged these meetings to be flooded with union construction workers from outside the area. The Authority briefly opened an office in Hanford (the county seat of Kings County) for community outreach and then shut it down without public notice, perhaps calculating it could better handle the rural communities by crushing us with political power.

For almost five years, our members have met weekly for status updates at the Kings County Farm Bureau office, attended almost every monthly meeting of the Authority board, and studied the legislative-mandated reports and public relations material available to the public. We identified numerous inconsistencies and questionable claims from the Authority to the Kings County Board of Supervisors, the California legislature, and the public. The 2014 Final Business Plan for California High-Speed Rail fails to fulfill statutory requirements and presents a false picture of the program. It’s already woefully out of date.

We hired some lawyers and policy consultants to perform detailed analysis of the performance of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, particularly in relationship to the mandates in Proposition 1A and in state laws implemented in conjunction with Proposition 1A. They confirmed our impression that public accountability is sorely lacking for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Some of the most devastating information obtained by Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability is only publicly available because of public records requests and off-the-cuff remarks made at board meetings. The discovery of unreleased internal Authority documents by the Los Angeles Times reporter isn’t surprising to us.

A Typical Example of California High-Speed Rail Authority Hiding the Truth

We surmise that your official perspective about the California High-Speed Rail Authority comes primarily from its representatives through communications such as an October 30, 2015 letter to you from the chairperson and the CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. This letter rests on outdated Authority claims such as the June 2013 announcement of bid results for Construction Package 1 (civil engineering work from Madera to Fresno).

Original bidding guidelines for Construction Package 1 emphasized the importance of experience with high-speed rail construction. During the bidding process, the Chairman and the CEO of the Authority – without any public vetting nor board action – changed the bidding rules. In the end, the contract was awarded to Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, a Joint Venture, which had the least amount of experience with high-speed rail construction.

You may not be aware that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has not even advertised a request for bidder qualifications yet for laying track for what is currently the Initial Construction Section (Madera to Shafter). That would be Construction Package 5.

Actual earthwork has recently begun for Construction Package 1, a bid has been awarded for Construction Package 2-3, and bidders have been prequalified for Construction Package 4. Realize that all of this work is merely civil engineering – no track, no electrification, no heavy maintenance facility, no stations – from Madera to Shafter. And Merced and Bakersfield are not incorporated into this work.

As far as electrification work for the genuine high-speed rail capability that voters expected when they voted for Proposition 1A in November 2008, it looks like they will need to settle for eventual electrification of the “bookend” track that the Authority will share with Caltrain commuter service (San Francisco to San Jose). The electrified Initial Operating Segment from Madera or Merced to somewhere in Los Angeles County is essentially a bunch of options drawn on paper.

Behind the Authority’s public relations campaign (funded by a $500,000 item in the fiscal year 2015-16 state budget), the specifics of the project’s outlook are grim.

Oversight of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Has Been Reduced

Perhaps the most egregious act to suppress accountability for the California High-Speed Rail Authority occurred this past summer. Language was inserted into a budget trailer bill (Assembly Bill 95) eliminating the requirement for the Authority to produce and submit some progress reports and reducing the frequency for the Authority to produce and submit other progress reports.

The October 30, 2015 letter to you from California High-Speed Rail top officials states that “the Legislature maintains strong oversight of the High-Speed Rail program through several mechanisms. Senate Bill 1029, which authorized expenditures for the program, contains strict reporting requirements.”

Echoing these comments, you claim in your November 3, 2015 letter that “oversight mechanisms have already been put in place.” Actually, oversight mechanisms are being removed, and you apparently condoned it as Assembly Speaker and voted for it.

We never expected the executive branch to acknowledge the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s lack of public accountability, but we expected the legislative branch to insist on it. Instead, it will be the judicial branch that fulfills its role to serve the people.

In less than six months, the California legislative leadership, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and Governor Brown will be exposed for concealing the reality of this project. We expect a Sacramento County Superior Court judge will confirm the Authority’s lack of accountability and failure to comply with Proposition 1A through a decision in Tos v. California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Oral arguments are scheduled for February 11, 2016. You still have time to respond to Assemblywoman Olsen’s request and avoid tainting the legislature in the California High-Speed Rail scandal. We urge you to issue a subpoena to the California High-Speed Rail Authority immediately and end its continual deception of the People of California.

Sincerely,

Aaron Fukuda, CCHSRA Co-Chairman
Frank Oliveira, CCHSRA Co-Chairman

Cc:

Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen
Assemblyman Jim Patterson
Assemblyman Tom Lackey
Assemblyman Scott Wilk
Senator Andy Vidak

California High-Speed Rail Authority Must Remain Accountable to the Public for Its Legal Obligation to Obtain Private Investment

Prop 1A Official Title and Summary - California High-Speed Rail Bond MeasurePrivate investment in California High-Speed Rail is more than just a “nice thing to have.” The law requires it!

But it isn’t coming anytime soon. During discussion at the October 6, 2015 board meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, CEO Jeff Morales tried to present a positive message: “Now the private sector is saying, ‘We’ll be there under the right set of circumstances and here’s how we’d like to be there.’”

The board chairman Dan Richard concluded that “Eventually we’ll be ready to really look to the private sector for their participation in funding; we’re just not there yet.” News media subsequently investigated and reported on the 36 “Expressions of Interest for an Initial Operating Segment” submitted to the authority.

There aren’t any serious offers for imminent private investment at this time. But interested parties made the following observations in their submissions:

  • There is too much risk for private investors
  • A lot more public investment is needed
  • Current technology cannot achieve the performance goals required by law
  • Ridership projections are overstated and public subsidies will be needed
  • It will take a lot more time and money than estimated to build the system

Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) has long made these arguments. It isn’t surprising that private entities don’t want to invest money in the high-speed train system.

As a grassroots organization working to ensure that the California High-Speed Rail Authority follows the law, CCHSRA wants to make Californians aware that the Authority has a legal commitment to voters to pursue AND obtain private investment.

What Is the Law?

Do you remember the statewide ballot measure that triggered the current land acquisition, contract awards, and preliminary construction for the high-speed rail system? It was approved seven years ago by 53% of California voters (including 78% of San Francisco voters).

Proposition 1A was identified on the November 2008 ballot as the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.” It authorized the State of California to borrow $9.95 billion via bond sales for high-speed rail and rail connectivity projects.

Today, the California High-Speed Rail Authority struggles with Proposition 1A. It likes the idea of getting the $9.95 billion, but it would prefer to see the people of California loosen up a little (or a lot) on the taxpayer protections required as a condition of borrowing that money.

Evidence That Private Investment in California High-Speed Rail Is Required

The November 2008 Official Voter Information Guide for Proposition 1A contains this incontrovertible evidence that private investment is required:

1. Language in the text of Proposition 1A, now in California law as Streets and Highways Code Section 2704.07, explicitly states this requirement:

The authority shall pursue and obtain other private and public funds, including, but not limited to, federal funds, funds from revenue bonds, and local funds, to augment the proceeds of this chapter.

2. The ballot summary in the Official Voter Guide states that the high-speed rail system will be established “…with private and public matching funds required…”

3. The neutral fiscal analysis of Proposition 1A by the California Legislative Analyst in the Official Voter Guide states the following:

  • the authority plans to fund the construction of the proposed system with a combination of federal, private, local, and state monies
  • $9 billion would be used, together with any available federal monies, private monies, and funds from other source.
  • bond funds may be used to provide only up to one-half of the total cost of construction of each corridor or segment of a corridor. The measure requires the authority to seek private and other public funds to cover the remaining costs.

4. The argument in favor of Proposition 1A in the Official Voter Guide states that “Proposition 1A will protect taxpayer interests … Matching private and federal funding to be identified BEFORE state bond funds are spent.”

Don’t Let Taxpayer-Funded Public Relations Distract You From the Law

As November 2008 fades into the past, the temptation increases for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to focus on the project itself at the expense of the legal justification for that project.

The Authority’s taxpayer-funded public relations campaign may nudge voters toward a conclusion that 2008 was a long time ago, and since then the state has “evolved” out of a rigid legal expectation of private funding. Voters may also hear a claim that passage of Proposition 1A was simply an endorsement from voters for California High-Speed Rail, and therefore the details of how it’s funded, built, and operated don’t really matter.

If this is truly the case, then the California High-Speed Rail Authority needs to ask voters to approve a new ballot measure that doesn’t include taxpayer protections such as private investment. When you hear elected and appointed government officials claim that it’s too soon to expect private investment for California High-Speed Rail, refer them to the Official Voter Guide for Proposition 1A.

Secret Money Funds a Fresno Contingent to Visit Spain to See High-Speed Rail Infrastructure

One of the prizes dangled by the California High-Speed Rail Authority in front of the people of the San Joaquin Valley is a “Heavy Maintenance Facility” for the Initial Operating Segment of the bullet train. The cost of construction for this facility could range from $650 million to more than $1 billion. Up to 1,500 employees could work there during any 24-hour period.

It is expected that numerous research and development firms related to high-speed rail transportation will set up shop near the facility, bringing thousands of college-educated workers who would populate the transit villages around the Fresno rail station. This demographic group is regarded as highly desirable for the future of the Valley.

Before the startup of initial operations, the Heavy Maintenance Facility would support the assembly, testing, commissioning, and acceptance of high-speed rolling stock. During regular operations, it would provide maintenance and repair functions, activation of new rolling stock, and train storage.

In 2010, the California High-Speed Rail Authority identified five feasible sites for the facility on what is currently the Initial Construction Section between Madera and Shafter: Fresno, Hanford, Wasco, and two in Shafter. To lobby for Fresno to be the location, the City of Fresno, the County of Fresno, and other Fresno local governments teamed up with construction-related businesses and unions to create a coalition called Fresno Works.

Based on a September 10, 2013 staff report to the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, it seems that one company will win one contract to provide and maintain the trains and also construct, outfit, and maintain the Heavy Maintenance Facility. And this prospect apparently explains why a contingent of Fresno government officials and community leaders traveled to Spain from September 26 to October 4, 2015.

A September 23 article in the Fresno Bee reported on many unknown aspects of the trip, including who was going, what the group would be doing, and who was paying for it. (See Fresno Officials Will Travel to Spain to Study Its High-Speed Rail.) Some people definitively identified as part of the contingent:

  • Fresno Assemblymember Henry T. Perea
  • Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea
  • Fresno City Council President/Councilmember Oliver L. Baines III
  • Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria
  • Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford, Jr.
  • Lee Ann Eager, President/CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Fresno County
  • Chuck Riojas of the Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare Counties Building and Construction Trades Council (construction unions)
This photo was allegedly taken during the trip to Spain.

This photo was taken during the trip to Spain.

Unions anticipate 600,000 construction jobs from the development of the entire train system, all of them filled by unions as a result of a “Project Labor Agreement” implemented internally by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

A September 23 press release from the office of Assemblyman Perea stated that “the tour to Spain includes elected officials, labor organizations, business and economic interest representatives, higher education administrators, and representatives of the California agricultural industry.” That press release also denied that taxpayer funds were being used for the trip. There is speculation that some travel was paid for by construction-related companies and/or labor-management cooperation committees affiliated with construction unions.

A highlight of the still-mysterious trip was on September 28, when the group toured a heavy maintenance facility in La Sagra operated by Alstom, a French industrial power and transportation conglomerate. Alstom is widely rumored to be a leading candidate for selection by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to provide trainsets and to build and operate the Heavy Maintenance Facility. Alstom contributed $21,500 to the 2008 campaign to support Proposition 1A, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.

This trip probably succeeded in giving Fresno an advantage on winning this facility. Will the competing cities of Hanford, Wasco, and Shafter be able to organize and scrape together enough money to fund their own lobbying contingent to travel to Spain or France? Who will make the case to Alstom or other companies that other cities are more worthy than Fresno to be the location of the Heavy Maintenance Facility?

This kind of sly politics is another reason why Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability continues to monitor and expose the questionable antics of the politicians and special interests jamming this rail project through farmland, businesses, and homes owned by generations of San Joaquin Valley families.

Salute to Charlie Waters from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability

There are many wonderful individuals our group has met during the past several years on our mission to hold the California High-Speed Rail Authority accountable for its actions.

One such person was Mr. Charlie Waters, who always put others first and fought for what he believed was right. We are forever grateful to this Marine and American hero, who advocated for veterans, immigrant farmers and issues impacting the San Joaquin Valley – including water and rail.

Many of us have seen, firsthand, the passion and knowledge with which Charlie spoke at meetings and events concerning rail. His travels in the world included travel via high-speed rail.

The Fresno City Council will issue a proclamation next week declaring “Charlie Waters Day” in Fresno. (See the item on the September 24 meeting agenda.)

Our sincerest condolences to his family and extended family at the Fresno Veterans Home.

Mr. Waters was one of the individuals who addressed the media and concerned citizens at a rally to bring awareness of the Fresno businesses impacted by the California High-Speed Rail project. The event was held at Klein's Truck Stop in Fresno on May 1, 2012.

Mr. Waters was one of the individuals who addressed the media and concerned citizens at a rally to bring awareness of the Fresno businesses impacted by the California High-Speed Rail project. The event was held at Klein’s Truck Stop in Fresno on May 1, 2012.

 

Questioning the Outlandish Idea That California High-Speed Rail Deserves Cap-and-Trade Funds

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is desperate for funds to perpetuate its vision of a $68 billion high-speed passenger train between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The United States Congress and private investors don’t want to give it any money. The San Diego Union-Tribune published an editoral on August 30 (High-Speed Rail Project: Dead Train Walking?) optimistic that the courts will soon bring the boondoggle to an end.

Only the most committed supporters of this project (such as Governor Jerry Brown) choose to ignore the Authority’s failure to comply with the requirements of Proposition 1A, the November 2008 ballot measure that authorized $9.95 billion in borrowing to advance design and construction of the high-speed rail system. But those committed supporters have political power.

The ongoing convenient solution to the funding shortage is the California legislature’s budget directive to send a few hundred million dollars each year from the proceeds of “Cap-and-Trade” auction revenue (referred to by some as “taxes”) to the High-Speed Rail Authority. That money allows Construction Package No. 1 (civil engineering work between Madera and Fresno) to sputter onward with dreams of a big cash infusion someday.

In the summer of 2015, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) held workshops and requested written public comments about the development of guidelines for the distribution of Cap-and-Trade funds. Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) sent a letter telling CARB that it isn’t appropriate for the state to spend Cap-and-Trade funds on California High-Speed Rail:

ARB is faced with the challenge of making decisions on the expenditure of Cap-and-Trade revenues based on predictions of the future. Unless it establishes a procedure for a recipient of the funds to pay back the money if GHG emission reductions are not achieved, ARB has to ensure a reasonable degree of certainty that a recipient of funds will actually spend it on a project or program that mitigates global climate change. An example of a program or project with significant uncertainty about reducing net GHG emissions would be the California High-Speed Rail project…

See the CCHSRA letter at Public Comments from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability: Funding Guidelines for Agencies that Administer California Climate Investments.

A few other parties have urged CARB to stop the charade. For example, Fresno environmental activist Cherylyn Smith wrote two letters to CARB explaining an obvious reason why the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) is not qualified to receive Cap-and-Trade (C&T) funds:

No state agency that attempts to escape CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] regulations should ever benefit from Cap and Trade revenues. If HSRA continues down that path, logically the following exigency must be enforced: C&T, a state environmental program, would necessarily have to rescind all funding to the HSR project. Several attempts to soften CEQA regulations or to exempt the HSR project from CEQA have occurred since 2012. At this time, the ARB needs to hold back funding to a project of this magnitude, in favor of remaining in alignment with CEQA regulations, rather than being complicit with HSRA’s efforts to avoid them.

See the Cherylyn Smith letter at Public Comments #1 from Cherylyn Smith: Funding Guidelines for Agencies that Administer California Climate Investments and Public Comments #2 from Cherylyn Smith: Funding Guidelines for Agencies that Administer California Climate Investments.

See all of the public comments to the California Air Resources Board about Cap-and-Trade Guidelines at these websites:

Comment Log for Auction Proceeds Funding Guidelines (ggrf-guidelines-ws)

Comment Log for Auction Proceeds Investment Plan Public Process (investplan2015-ws)

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