Dan Richard has been doing a great job as Chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority board, bringing the project through some of its roughest seas. He’s gotten the Legislature to release the bond funding, gotten them to approve using cap-and-trade money for the project, and helped navigate through an important appeals process that led to a big victory. He didn’t do it alone, and his partnership with Governor Jerry Brown has been crucial.
But one other place Richard has excelled is in public advocacy for the project. He’s a consistent, persistent defender of HSR and routinely does the work necessary to slap down criticisms, most of which are unfounded. Late last week James Fallows devoted his column at The Atlantic to letting Richard respond to the latest barrage of nonsensical criticisms thrown at the project.
Richard’s responses are thorough and detailed. But some of them are also just straight and to the point, like this one:
[HSR in California is a boondoggle and a gigantic waste of money. You're likely subsidizing each potential rider with trends of thousands of dollars construction costs alone, plus more subsidies in operating costs.... HSR represents political corruption, crony capitalism, and vote buying at its purest.]
I know we live in a time of cynicism with strong distrust of government, but these statements are polemical and not based on fact. No subsidies will be given. None. It would violate the bond act and we believe the system will generate significant positive cash flows. Sorry to dispel the notion that this is all to support expensive union contracts; all federally-funded projects are based upon prevailing wage-labor rates and have been for decades. Please read our business plan – the trains will be operated by the private sector, not public sector.
We see this train service as operating at many levels to serve working class Californians and not just affluent ones. Oh, and by the way, our policy is that 30% of all contract dollars must be spent on small businesses. That’s $1.8 billion for small businesses in the Central Valley over the next five years, just on the first construction segment.
Now I’m not exactly wild about the trains being operated by the private sector, but Richard is right to cite that in his pushback against this particular absurdity.
Richard isn’t just having these conversations in public. He’s also having them in Sacramento, with legislators who are easily spooked by bad press. There’s a reason why the Legislature has been consistently willing to fund HSR these last few years, and it’s not just Governor Brown’s insistence. Richard’s patient yet thorough explanation of the issues has paid off when it comes to winning over wavering legislators.
Glad that we’ve got him on board.