Tomorrow I’m planning to cover what is likely to be the last public hearing on the environmental impact documents for the California High-Speed Rail enterprise, or at least the part that connects the San Joaquin Valley “spine” to its Peninsula extremity.
It should be, but I’ll be careful about saying this because of past history, the last word on the whole Alamont Pass-Pacheco Pass debate, which was largely settled in December in favor of a Pacheco Pass route and a stop in Gilroy.
I’m not even sure why anyone needs to go to this thing, so certain is the outcome. On the other hand, the history of journalism is littered with cautionary tales of assumptions that turned out to be wrong.
Today I had a conversation somewhat more illuminating with Adam Mendelsohn, who recently joined the ungainly monikered “Californians for High Speed Trains – A Coalition of Taxpayer, Business, Environmental and Labor Groups and People from Across California Tired of Being Stuck In Traffic.”
The group is hitting the ground running, with a $53,488 donation from the much older and comically named, “Californians for a Safe Reliable High-Speed Rail,” which back in 2003 received $80,800 from “Californians for Clean, Safe, Reliable Water-Yes on Proposition 13.”
It’s understandable that the campaign for the $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, while newly minted, has roots that go back a few years. It was to be on the ballot in 2004 and 2006, but was removed first in favor of a budget bailout bond measure and then a $43 billion package of infrastructure bonds. The strategy must have worked, because both of those measures passed.
What was intriguing that Mendelsohn had been the governor’s communications director, and since February he has been an outside political adviser for whatever causes Schwarzenegger wants to get behind.
While the governor has certainly said the state needs high-speed rail (as do most people I’ve spoken to about this), and even brought it up in his recent energy/offshore drilling discussions with John McCain, he’s been rather coy about his willingness to campaign for putting money where his mouth is.
Republican Schwarzenegger and Democratic Senate leader Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez campaigned together for the infrastructure bonds, which many believed was an essential gesture after the flame-out of the governor’s reform measures in the 2005 special election.
“I could not do this if he was not supporting it,” Mendelsohn said of the governor and high-speed rail. “I would be conflicted.”
Here I have to put on my Groucho Marx nose glasses and say: A more conflicted bunch of Republicans I’ve never seen.
Most people would ask, well what is it? Is he in it all the way or not? The answer is complicated, from what I’ve been told by various sources, but it boils down to Schwarzenegger and the legislative leadership in Sacramento wanted to change the ballot measure more to their liking before backing it all the way.
Part of the reason for that is that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is pretty much autonomous, and the idea of an independent government entity doing the state’s largest infrastructure project is pretty scary.
I asked Mendelsohn if the continuing uncertainty over the ballot language, which would be massively reworked by legislation now working its way through the Senate, makes his job a bit difficult.
“We’re optimistic that that situation will be worked out and the campaign can get under way,” he said. The governor “wanted to seem some changes made, but he’s a very enthusiastic supporter of the idea.”
He also noted that voters aren’t really thinking too much about ballot measures before Labor Day, so there’s some time for the process to play itself out.
And while those previous elections may not have been the year for high-speed porridge, this year it’s just right, as Baby Bear once said.
Pick your poison: $4.50-a-gallon gas. Global warming. War in the Middle East which few people believe has nothing to do with oil. They all add up to a global imperative for alternative transportation that doesn’t rely solely on fossil fuel.
I added the war part, which I’m guessing the Proposition 1 campaign would prefer not to address, but frankly the rest doesn’t matter one tenth as much as the gas price factor.
“We had to look at the roads, we had to look at the schools and we had to look at the levees first,” Mendelsohn told me. “Now that we have done that, the governor believes that it is time for the high-speed rail.”
Martin and Robert, you have the floor.