The 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
Category Archives: Future of California High-Speed Rail
The 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.
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.
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.
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 and Federal Partners Realign Grant to Reflect Updated Business Plan – California High-Speed Rail Authority Press Release – May 18, 2016
During the past four weeks, the California State Legislature has discussed the 2016 Draft Business Plan for California High-Speed Rail in several hearings. While some legislators continue to effusively praise the project, many legislators – both Republicans and Democrats – have expressed grave concerns about the abrupt change in the direction of the project and the outlook for funding sources.
On March 28, 2016, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report entitled Review of High-Speed Rail Draft 2016 Business Plan. This report stirred the Assembly Transportation Committee enough to pass Assembly Bill 2847 on a 15-0 vote on April 18.
Introduced by Assemblymember Jim Patterson (a critic of the project), AB 2847 requires the California High-Speed Rail Authority to do two things in future business plans: (1) include projected financing costs for a proposed segment or combination of segments, and (2) identify any significant changes in scope for segments identified in the previous business plan or project update report, and provide an explanation of adjustments in cost and schedule attributable to those changes.
Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) continues to be active in calling for public accountability for this beleaguered project. CCHSRA Co-Chair Frank Oliviera spoke during public comment at the April 6, 2016 hearing of the Assembly Budget Committee #3 – Resources and Transportation – on California High-Speed Rail funding. (Watch the video clip of Frank Oliviera testimony.) A letter from CCHSRA was cited in a March 28, 2016 Associated Press article, State Lawmakers Poised to Scrutinize California High-Speed Rail Plan:
In a letter to the committee, Citizens for High-Speed Rail Accountability urged lawmakers to reconsider all funding for bullet trains. “There is not enough money available to put a functional financially sound high-speed train on what they are building,” the group wrote.
Nevertheless, the project moves on, with an Assembly budget hearing scheduled for April 20 to discuss the $500 million annual budget appropriation of cap-and-trade tax revenue to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
AGENDAS AND VIDEOS OF LEGISLATIVE HEARINGS
On March 28, the California State Assembly held an oversight hearing to review the Draft 2016 Business Plan for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
On April 4, the California State Senate held an oversight hearing on California High-Speed Rail: An Overview of the 2016 Draft Business Plan.
Complete Video: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3525
Individual Speakers (video compiled by derailhsr)
State Senator Lois Wolk: https://youtu.be/xTK8-13P7iY
State Senator Richard Roth: https://youtu.be/rYq34TFI75Y
State Senator Jim Nielsen: https://youtu.be/ebxdrSkUWbo
State Senator Cathleen Galgiani: https://youtu.be/N89xw1YaLNk
State Senator Ted Gaines: https://youtu.be/kuB2ECon1hc
State Senator Ben Allen: https://youtu.be/Iy9BaL-ubAk
State Senator Bob Huff: https://youtu.be/iCnPn36NSu8
Lou Thompson, California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group: https://youtu.be/7gZvvW4Jmvc
Jessica Peters, California Legislative Analyst’s Office: https://youtu.be/FXI3GHg3OLM
Dan Richard, Board Chairman, California High-Speed Rail Authority: https://youtu.be/yBnVW-0jHuw
On April 6, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee #3 Resources and Transportation held a hearing on California High-Speed Rail.
Complete Video: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3543 starting at 13:03
Individual Speakers (video compiled by derailhsr):
Jessica Peters, California Legislative Analyst’s Office: https://youtu.be/PhuWAclk0zI
Assemblyman Jim Patterson: https://youtu.be/iBziL_H0xOc
Frank Oliveira, Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA): https://youtu.be/J9DeiYsyxYE
William Grindley, high-speed rail analyst and critic: https://youtu.be/t9KEffvGG34
In 2014, Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) submitted thoughtful comments to the California High-Speed Rail Authority evaluating its 2014 Draft Business Plan. CCHSRA even prepared its own alternative 110-page Business Plan from scratch that tried to fulfill requirements in state law for the contents of the plan. See the CCHSRA alternative plan here:
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
Our long title was deliberate and revealed something few people know: the California High-Speed Rail Authority was authorized by Proposition 1A to spend almost $1 billion of borrowed money on “connectivity” projects. The State of California had already borrowed that money through bond sales to investors, and the state legislature appropriated the money to various state and local agencies for expenditures such as new train cars for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter rail.
Our alternative Business Plan served as a comprehensive centralized source of organized data that the public could not find elsewhere. In preparing our version of the Business Plan, CCHSRA determined that the California High-Speed Rail Authority did not comply with state law and actually COULD NOT comply with state law in preparing its official Business Plan. Perhaps that’s why the official Business Plan appeared to be a promotional marketing piece.
Nevertheless, the CCHSRA alternative Business Plan and comments submitted by hundreds of other Californians served as an outlet for public frustration and set a foundation for anyone wanting to add a new lawsuit to the many lawsuits filed against the California High-Speed Rail Authority. In a few cases, the California High-Speed Rail Authority revised its 2014 Draft Business Plan because of constructive public comments.
Now, we encourage YOU to read the California High-Speed Rail Authority 2016 Draft Business Plan and submit comments by close of business on Monday, April 18. Here are the instructions:
First, look at the 2016 Draft Business Plan:
Then, submit your comments. There are five ways to do it:
- Online via the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s web comment form
- Via email at email@example.com
- Mail to this address:
Attn: Draft 2016 Business Plan
California High-Speed Rail Authority
770 L Street, Suite 620 MS-1
Sacramento, CA 95814
- Leave a verbal comment on the Draft 2016 Business Plan voicemail at (916) 384-9516
- Submit written material or provide oral public comment during the March 8 and April 12 meetings of the California High-Speed Rail board of directors. (Note: public comments at board meetings usually have a three-minute time limit, and we recommend bringing 10 copies of any written material to submit to the board.)
All public comments submitted about the California High-Speed Rail Authority 2014 Draft Business Plan can be found on another website:
The People Express Frustration and Outrage about California High-Speed Rail in Comments about 2014 Business Plan; Read All Comments – commentary by Kevin Dayton at www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – April 25, 2014
What were the comments submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority about its 2014 Draft Business Plan? Here’s what was submitted through April 10, 2014, when the board approved the draft (with some minor changes) to be sent to the California State Legislature. I classified the comments based on three perspectives: critical, concerned, and supportive.
Several members of Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) attended the February 11, 2016 Sacramento County Superior Court hearing in Tos v. California High-Speed Rail Authority. From throughout the state, critics of the current high-speed rail project joined CCHSRA members in the courtroom to watch oral arguments in this pivotal lawsuit for the People of California.
Along with CCHSRA, John Tos and the County of Kings contend that the Authority has failed to comply with Proposition 1A. This is the ballot measure, approved by 53% of California voters in November 2008, that authorized the state to borrow $9.95 billion to start building the high-speed train system.
Attorneys Stuart Flashman and Mike Brady came to the hearing prepared to make this case for Mr. Tos and Kings County. They refuted many of the claims of the state attorneys representing the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Here are some of the arguments from Mr. Flashman and Mr. Brady:
- Prop 1A as presented to voters contains much more than just an authorization for the state to issue bonds. It sets specific criteria for the construction and operation of the system itself. For example, Prop 1A requires the train to be capable of traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, with five minutes between each train.
- Authoritative studies and analyses (for example, from Caltrans) indicate that the mandates of 2 hour, 40 minute travel time and five minutes between trains cannot be achieved under the blended plan. And the slower and less frequent trains under the blended plan mean that ridership and revenue projects do not achieve the Prop 1A guidelines either.
- Studies and analyses produced for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to demonstrate compliance with Prop 1A are based on erroneous, unlikely, and untested assumptions.
- California High-Speed Rail was portrayed to voters as a dedicated track system, not a “blended” system in which the high-speed train shares track with commuter rails (Caltrain and Metrolink). There are no references to a blended system in the 2005 and 2008 Environmental Impact Reports related to the project. The 2012 legislative mandate for the system to share track with commuter rail was a novel development that surfaced after Prop 1A was enacted by voters.
- If the California legislature or the Authority wants to deviate from Prop 1A, they need to ask voters to authorize those changes. Prop 1A was a constitutional measure that cannot be altered by simple legislative action.
Here are some of the arguments from the California High-Speed Rail Authority:
- Like in Phase 1 of this lawsuit, it is premature to claim that Prop 1A guidelines can’t be met.
- The Authority was required to develop a blended approach by the legislature. This plan served the public by reducing the cost of Phase 1 from $98 billion to $68 billion.
- There is a lot of evidence in the administrative record showing that the Authority can meet the requirements of Prop 1A.
- The court needs to defer to the decisions of the experts of the agency working on the project.
- Parties to the lawsuit are inappropriately challenging experts.
- When the judge asked the Authority’s attorney what would happen if the court determined that the Authority could not fulfill the Prop 1A travel times, the attorney responded that it would be the fault of the legislature, not the Authority.
A ruling is expected in 60-90 days.
News Media Coverage
California High-Speed Rail: Landowners’ Lawsuit Goes Before Judge – Associated Press (via San Jose Mercury-News) – February 11, 2016
Kings County Opponents of High-Speed Rail Get Their Court Date – Fresno Bee – February 11, 2016
Lawsuit Contends the California Bullet Train Project Is Violating State Law – Los Angeles Times – February 12, 2016
Legal Challenge Could Freeze Billions In Funds For California’s Bullet Train – Capitol Public Radio (via KVPR – Valley Public Radio) – February 11, 2016
Videos from Court Hearing (courtesy of DerailHSR)
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.”
That 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)
Papers Submitted to Committee
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
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 Oversight – San Fernando Sun – January 28, 2016
High Speed Rail Hides from Oversight – commentary by Morris Brown – Fox & Hounds – February 1, 2016
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
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.
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/EIS, back 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.
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.
November 10, 2015
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.
California High-Speed Rail Authority Must Remain Accountable to the Public for Its Legal Obligation to Obtain Private Investment
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.