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