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CA17: Officials defend Honda on BART project

Call it the “Battle of the Truth Squads.”

People who’ve been involved in BART’s extension to San Jose have asked Ro Khanna, the former Obama administration official challenging fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda, to stop what they say are misleading attacks on Honda’s role in the project.

Khanna’s campaign on Feb. 14 and again on Feb. 25 posted to its “Truth Squad” website items claiming Honda had inflated his record on the BART extension and other work he has done in Congress; I wrote about the Honda campaign’s response last week.

honda.jpgBut Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta; state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Valley Transportation Authority chairman and San Jose Councilman Ash Kalra; former VTA general manager Michael Burns; and former Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon Sr. wrote to Khanna on Sunday urging him to “to correct the information on your website and what is given to the media by your campaign, and avoid further distortions of Congressman Honda’s record.”

“Mike Honda’s leadership on this issue in Washington and in the district has been vital to bringing BART and the thousands of accompanying jobs to our area,” they wrote. “Your questioning of such leadership undermines your credibility as a candidate and is not appreciated by those of us who have been working on this issue for decades.”

Khanna’s campaign is sticking to its claim that Honda has inflated his record on what he actually did.

Ro Khanna“Our concern has been and remains that Congressman Honda is taking sole credit for securing $900 million for the BART extension,” Khanna spokesman Tyler Law said Monday. “We have always appreciated that the Congressman played a constructive role in the project but voters are tired of politicians who take credit for a project that resulted from the work of countless individuals over a long period of time. Voters deserve a discussion of these issues, and that is why Ro has proposed monthly debates hosted by local media outlets – a proposal that has still gone unanswered by Congressman Honda’s campaign.”

It seems Law was talking about moments like this, when Honda tweeted this during President Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28:

Honda tweet

Though too late for the letter, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood weighed in Monday with his own support of Honda’s role in the project.

“Congressman Mike Honda is a dogged and effective advocate in Washington for the BART extension. The merits of such a solid project and Mike’s consistent support were key contributors to my decision to recommend the extension for a ($900 million) Full Funding Grant Agreement,” LaHood said in a statement shared by Honda’s campaign. “From my days on the House Appropriations Committee, I remember Mike’s commitment to securing funding to get the project going – he is a vociferous advocate for improved transit in the Bay Area.”

Read the full letter (with footnotes!), after the jump…
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TWINC: Polls, the President, the GOP & Solyndra

On Friday night’s edition of “This Week in Northern California,” we talked about what recent California polls mean for the President, Congress and Republicans, as well as about the state GOP convention, plus the Solyndra bankruptcy debacle. Also, Belva Davis’ interview with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

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Four Cabinet members in Bay Area this week

Wow, it’s Cabinet week in the Bay Area.

I just covered U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (accompanied by Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt) talking about FAA, surface transportation and job creation bills out at the Oakland International Airport control tower construction site.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will be in the Bay Area for two days this week meeting with local businesses and organizations to highlight job creation and green technology. On Wednesday afternoon, she’ll be touring Recycle Central, Recology’s recycling station at San Francisco’s Pier 96.

On Friday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will join Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Mike Honda, D-San Jose, to break ground at the new Defenders Lodge, a facility for veterans seeking treatment at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System that will have 53 beds in a two-story, 28,000-square-foot building.

And also Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be keynoting Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Women and the Economy Summit at the Westin St. Francis hotel on San Francisco’s Union Square, speaking about how “Some Leaders Are Born Women.” I’ll be covering that one.

UPDATE @ 11:30 A.M. WEDNESDAY: AND… U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will be speaking at 9 a.m. next Monday, Sept. 19 at the Commonwealth Club of California, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco; tickets cost $20 but are free for club members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online. Salazar “will share his views on fresh water, fishing and farming, along with other resource concerns in California and the American West,” the club says. “With projected changes in the Sierra snowpack and precipitation patterns, as well as an ever-increasing population, California’s water system remains in crisis, and the state’s ability to hydrate its citizens and its economy faces an uncertain future. Salazar will discuss how the federal government plans to help California secure future water supplies by aiding ambitious projects, including the restorations of the California Bay Delta and the San Joaquin River, while maintaining a balance between human needs and healthy ecosystems.”

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. WEDNESDAY: After his Monday morning address at the Commonwealth Club, Salazar will join Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor at the Contra Costa Water District’s fish screen project dedication ceremony at the Rock Slough project site, about four miles southeast of Oakley. Completed through a partnership between Reclamation and the Contra Costa Water District, the project – funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – advances the Interim Federal Action Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by helping to keep Delta fish from entering the Contra Costa Canal through the Rock Slough intake.

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LaHood, in Oakland, says FAA needs long-term bill

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood anticipates the Senate will pass and the President will sign a Federal Aviation Administration extension bill – which the House passed today – by week’s end, avoiding another worker furlough and construction freeze.

But this is the 22nd such extension in the past five years, LaHood said at a news conference next to the new control tower being built at Oakland International Airport. “These short-term extensions are not good for the best aviation system in the world.”

LaHood said this extension, which runs through January, should be enough time for Congress and the President to finish negotiating a long-term reauthorization, despite a few “big differences” remaining. One of those differences, he acknowledged while standing amid several dozen union members, is Republican insistence on a provision changing union election rules to make it harder for transportation workers to organize.

“There are always different issues with bills like this,” LaHood said today, adding he sees a growing feeling in Congress that a long-term reauthorization is necessary. “I’m optimistic that this can be resolved.”

Congress must move toward a long-term surface transportation bill as well, he said, and must take up President Obama’s American Jobs Act proposal in order to “put America back to work building America’s infrastructure.”

“There are no Republican or Democratic bridges, there are no Republican or Democratic roads,” he said. “We need to get back to that.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt also was at the Oakland news conference and recalled having attended the groundbreaking for the new control tower, one of many projects across the nation that were shut down for nearly two weeks this summer as Republicans refused to pass a clean FAA funding extension.

“It’s wonderful to see how much has been done,” Babbitt said. “We need to make certain that this job gets finished.”

The two-week shutdown led to the furloughs of thousands of FAA workers, the temporary layoffs of 70,000 construction workers and millions of dollars wasted nationwide, he said; in Oakland, workers on the tower were idled while scaffolding costing $6,000 a day remained unused. “We’re the model of the world, and this is not the way to do our business.”

Asked about high-speed rail, LaHood reiterated his support for such projects.

“I see a lot of support for high-speed rail in California,” he said, adding the state could be a model for the rest of the nation. “We are not going to be dissuaded by a little background noise of criticism. Whenever you do big things, a few people are going to be against it.”

And asked about Congress’ many stalemates on transportation and other issues, LaHood – who served 14 years as an Illinois congressman – said politics has eclipsed policy this year but he believes constituents’ frustrations voiced in recent weeks will spur lawmakers to cooperation and action. “I don’t think ‘no’ is enough anymore.”

Also at today’s news conference were Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin.

“I don’t know about you but I’m pretty tired of this backdrop,” Quan quipped, noting today’s was the third FAA-funding news conference at the site in recent months. Hopefully, she said, “the third time is the charm.”

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Congress’ inaction halts Oakland control tower

Contractors building the new air traffic control tower at Oakland International Airport have been told to stop work today on the $31 million project because Congress missed its Friday-night deadline to reauthorize routine funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

artist's rendering of new Oakland control towerThe Oakland tower, for which ground was broken last October, is just one of dozens of stop-work orders issued all over the nation, worth a total of about $148.5 million.

“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release issued this morning. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the longer Congress waits, the more work will grind to a halt. “Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification. The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning.”

As the Washington Post reported, the funding extension would have been the 21st since the FAA’s long-term funding authorization expired in 2007, but House Republicans added provisions to their extension bill that the Senate would not accept.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he included the provision to which Democrats objected due to his frustration over the pace of negotiations to reach agreement on long-term FAA funding plans passed by the House and Senate this year. It cut about $16.5 million in federal subsidies for air service to several small airports in rural areas.

The Senate refused this because these stop-gap extensions normally are bare-bones legislation to simply extend funding at current levels while Congress irons out differences over a longer term.

Construction workers, engineers and planners were told to stay home today after the FAA lost its Congressional authorization to pay a variety of airport construction, rehabilitation and modernization projects. Nearly 4,000 FAA personnel, many needed to oversee various aspects of these projects, were furloughed on Saturday. The delays could significantly increase the projects’ final costs, officials say.

Other major projects halted today are at Las Vegas’ MccCarran International Airport; Palm Springs International Airport; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) International Airport; Battle Creek (Mich.) International Airport; Gulfport-Biloxi (Miss.) International Airport; and New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The FAA also halted $370 million in contracts with Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, which is under contract to do all the architectural, design, engineering and planning services for existing and future air traffic facilities.

The FAA had been prepared to contracts for new air traffic control towers in Cleveland and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but now is no longer authorized to access the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Besides building major aviation facilities such as control towers, the FAA is a main funding source for other airport projects through the Airport Improvement Program, which can’t run without congressional reauthorization; that leaves the agency unable to get roughly $2.5 billion out the door for airport projects in all 50 states, meaning delayed or lost jobs.

Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been furloughed and forced to go without pay; California is among the eight-hardest hit states. This includes engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists, and community planners. Public safety is not being affected, the agency insists.

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California gets $368 million for rail projects

California landed about $368 million for rail projects today, part of a $2 billion pot redistributed by the Obama Administration after Florida’s new Republican governor turned it down in February.

But the debate over the wisdom of California’s high-speed rail aspirations will heat up even more tomorrow with the release of a crucial legislative analysis.

The Golden State gets $300 million for a 20-mile extension along the Central Valley Corridor, part of the project that ultimately aims to provide 220 mph high-speed rail service from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Work funded in this round will extend the track and civil work from Fresno to a “wye” junction connecting to San Jose to the west and Merced to the north. It also gets $68 million to buy 15 high-performance passenger rail cars and four quick-acceleration locomotives for the Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin, and Capitol corridors.

“It is a testament to the strength of California’s project that we have won 40 percent of every federal dollar awarded for the development of high-speed rail,” California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Curt Pringle said in a news release. In the past 15 months we have won the lion’s share of federal dollars, unlocked state bond funds and began engaging the private sector to secure their future participation, so that we can begin construction and begin creating thousands of quality jobs next year.”

The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called Gov. Jerry Brown this morning to congratulate him on the award.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, noted a strict “Buy American” requirement will be applied to these awards, so that U.S. manufacturers and workers will receive the maximum economic benefit. “Investments in transportation are key to unlocking this country’s economic potential,” he said in a news release. “I commend this decision to direct money to a proven job creator and to require that the equipment is made in this country. If America is going to make it, we have to Make It In America again.”

Garamendi also said that by strengthening a modern infrastructure network, this investment will create thousands of California jobs, advance environmentally responsible transportation, connect commercial markets, and unleash economic growth. He cited the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that every $1 invested in infrastructure adds $1.57 to the economy.

Tomorrow, however, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office will release a new report on California’s HSR project, covering “some major challenges the state faces in developing the project and new approaches that could increase the odds of its success.” Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor will meet with reporters early tomorrow afternoon to discuss the findings and recommendations.