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

3 comments

  • CPUC has safety oversight responsibility over rail crossings. CHSRA plans to run on Caltrain’s 79 mph tracks between San Jose and San Francisco at 110 mph or more. Those tracks have dozens of grade crossings.

    2008 Prop 1A authorized bonds for ‘SAFE, RELIABLE” High Speed passenger trains. Trains on 79 mph track are vulnerable to collision, suicide, vandalism/sabotage, and worse. Amtrak in 1999 on 79 mph track hit a heavy truck at a Bourbonais, Illinois, grade crossing, derailing two locomotives and 11 of 13 cars. A Caltrain train in push mode going much slower hit a truck and derailed, but fortunately it was not crush-loaded.

    CPUC needs to analyze the risk of push-mode operation on 79 mph track at grade crossings. Also the added risk of adding another management running a fleet of train at much faster speeds. Pending CPUC approval of this “blended rail”, CHSRA may be compelled to terminate its line to the Bay Area at San Jose.

  • That’s Bourbonnais.

  • This meeting was nothing but a sham, orchestrated to deliberately allow zero or next to zero time for public comment. I find it reprehensible that my own Assemblyperson, an elected member of the State legislature, Patty Lopez, had to speak during public comment! One minute ended up being less than one minute because Chairman Bloom kept interrupting the opponents. Note that he did not interrupt the supporters, which of course, are having their wallets lined with taxpayer money from this debacle. Dan Richard just filibustered the meeting and had no evidence to support his assertions. He had a lot of words, but nothing tangible that supported his testimony. This ended up being a trial of Ralph Vartebedian, the hero Los Angeles Times reporter, who busted this case wide open. He did not make up what he reported, and the truth will be forthcoming. Jeff Morales contends the magical budget change was due to a draft powerpoint presentation just proves that this agency is completely mismanaged and badly run. I’ve never had a 31% projected increase between a draft and a final version of anything! Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And CHSRA is the biggest incendiary device in the history of this country.

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