Part of the Bay Area News Group

the battle for Proposition 1 begins

By enelson
Monday, July 7th, 2008 at 7:25 pm in driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, global warming, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving.

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.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

10 Responses to “the battle for Proposition 1 begins”

  1. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    I have the floor? To say what? You made the case pretty well. I might add the airline crisis and global warming but it is unquestionable that gas prices are the key for most voters. Gas will probably be less than $4.50 by November, as part of the usual fluctuations, but voters aren’t going to forget this – especially as they now realize cheap oil is gone for good.

    I’m not a fan of Arnold’s term in office, as a cursory glance at Calitics will show. But if he wants to campaign for HSR more power to him. He desperately needs something to leave as a legacy for the state, since he has little else positive to show for his five years in office.

  2. Rafael Says:

    Those critical of the Governor’s reluctance to campaign on behalf of a massive infrastructure project that he has already endorsed in principle should consider the following cautionary tale:

    In Bavaria (Germany), former Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber had for many years aggressively championed a Transrapid (maglev) line from the center of Munich to its new airport, some 25 miles to the north. This was supposed to be an eat-your-own-dog-food showcase designed to ramp up export contracts, which so far remain limited to a single similar project in Shanghai. For such short distances, the time savings relative to conventional rail technology amount to just a few minutes, so public support was uncertain in spite of supposedly moderate construction cost. Only after Stoiber was forced to resign in the context of an unrelated scandal did the companies in the Transrapid consortium roughly double the price tag to reflect their actual cost. Voters promptly nixed the project in favor of something appropriate to local transportation needs, as opposed to high-falutin’ industrial policy.

    Conclusion: if highly visible political figures become evangelists for a project too early in its gestation process, this can undermine the objectivity of the planning process and ultimately, voter support. If their endorsement comes late in the game, they risk being labeled as opportunists. Timing is everything. If the State Assembly and Senate reach agreement on the verbiage of AB3034, IMHO the Governor will have to come off the fence one way or the other. Hopefully, various amendments designed to limit the financial risk to the state will be sufficient to secure his active participation in marketing Prop 1 to the California electorate.

  3. Concernicus Says:

    “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.”

    I can only assume that the roads, schools and levees were “looked at” with rose colored glasses if the state of California was able to move on to high-speed rail. Our current systems of roads, highways, rail lines and public transportation systems are in such a decrepit and outdated state that they will soon be laughed at by even the world’s poorest nations.

    While our state moves forward with high-speed rail, which I might add it vital to our state’s economic and environmental future, I suggest we take a second look at the roads, schools and levees, all of which are in need of funding and have suffered from decades of neglect and underinvestment.

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Concernicus, you seem to have broken the code, noticing that he used the words “looked at,” rather than “improved to modern standards.” In fairness, the promoters of the 2006 infrastructure bonds were very good about saying the billions were only a down-payment on a more looming infrastructure need.

  5. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    I am SO not a defender of this governor. But in fairness, and it pains me to even saying this, Mendelsohn was likely referring to school and roads infrastructure, which were “looked at” in 2006 with the bonds passed that year. I quite strongly agree that our governor has badly neglected schools in particular but in his mind it’s “done” because of the seismic retrofit bond.

  6. Concernicus Says:

    While I am not in a position to intelligently (enough) defend the governor in any way shape or form, I can say that he has a lot more serious issues on his plate than I do. I do, however, believe he has taken some good steps in at least exploring other options to solving our state’s infrastructure problems. The looming $15 billion budget deficit doesn’t make it any easier. Speaking of budget deficits — I thought you all might find this blurb from a story in another publication interesting:

    The public sector was the single largest source of new jobs in the state, adding 4,600 new jobs in April alone. “The statistic can’t help but stand out given the state’s worsening budget situation,” says the Beacon Economics report.

    Interesting. The U.S. Board of Labor reported that 65,000 people lost their jobs in June alone.

  7. Scott Says:

    High speed rail needs to be included in our national transportation policy in a way that integrates HSR with airports and highways, to take advantage of each mode’s strengths.

    UNFORTUNATELY, California high-speed rail plan has been hijacked by the political animals on the CAHSRA board and staff. The Pacheco decision is a blatant abuse of proper choice of alignment, manipulated by Rod Diridon to favor San Jose interests. The ideal HSR system would come into the Bay Area over the Altamont, and split 3 ways: 1) through SFO and into downtown SF, 2) down to SJ Airport, and 3) up to the Oakland airport. Anybody with a map, however, would recognize that this would obsolete BART. Much of the political push to relocate HSR over the Pacheco is coming from the “BART Preservation Society”. It’s no coincidence that Quentin Kopp is on the CAHSRA board, since he was the main backer of the ridiculous BART-SFO overpass into the International Terminal, despite all transportation planner recommendations to the contrary.

    I’m all for HSR, but this plan in California is something I can’t get behind. Ed Jordan (former Chair of CA High Speed Rail) quit because he was disgusted with the political influence over key decisions. I’m also disgusted.

  8. Reedman Says:

    The Pacheco Pass decision is the one without the political influence. San Jose is 10th largest city in the country, the third largest in the state. Common sense says the HSR route should favor it over smaller burgs like Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

  9. MikeOnBike Says:

    Reedman Says: “The Pacheco Pass decision is the one without the political influence.”

    Now THAT’s funny!

    Of course a project of this size is going to be political. How could it not be?

    Altamont vs. Pacheco was a technical decision based on populations within city boundaries? Riiiight.

  10. Guy Span Says:

    I too, thought the Pacheco Pass alignment was goofy, until I went down there and looked at it. Grade, elevation and tunnels are less than the Altamont. And for those worried about development, there will be no stops between Gilroy and the Big Valley (Merced).

    Pacheco is a bit out of the way for service to Saramento, Oakland, and Livermore and the Altamont obviates the need for need for condemning property south of the new bridge. However blasting through the coast range either at Niles or on the interstate will still cause problems with grade and existing overhead bridges.

    Pacheco appears slightly less convenient (for the East Bay) but slightly more expensive. I’ll take any service rather thna no service.

Leave a Reply