Gavin Newsom Flips his Flip-Flop, Supports HSR Again

Oct 20th, 2016 | Posted by

Seven years ago, during his first run for governor, Gavin Newsom told me he strongly supports high speed rail. He backed Proposition 1A in 2008 and said at the time that he supported continued funding.

Two and a half years ago, shortly into his second run for governor, Gavin Newsom changed his position and said the HSR funding should go to other projects.

Today, Gavin Newsom returned to his original view. In a talk at the Sacramento Press Club, Newsom said he supports public funding for HSR:

If elected governor, Gavin Newsom would commit himself to finding public funding for high-speed rail in order to see the imperiled project to completion, the gubernatorial candidate said Wednesday.

But the 49-year-old lieutenant governor also acknowledged that he was concerned about overall funding for the bullet train, and he stopped short of saying where exactly additional public dollars could come from.

“I want to make this work,” Newsom told an audience of about 75 at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon on Wednesday. “I don’t want to see it derailed.”

This is good news and a welcome return to the forward-thinking, infrastructure-minded guy I saw running for governor in 2009. Newsom’s shift to a more conservative mindset in 2014 was really annoying and caused many to question his commitment to green energy and mass transportation solutions. Now that the 2018 governor’s race is about to heat up, Newsom is rightly tacking back to his earlier view and backing HSR.

But he’s still wobbly and in some cases wrong on some key details. Juliet Williams of AP was also there and wrote about Newsom’s remarks:

“I want to be honest about the concerns, and transparent about how this project’s changed, and be honest about the fact that it’s unlikely to generate a big surplus,” Newsom said. “There’s only one rail system in the world that actually generates a profit. I’m not opposed to the vision.”

Um, no, Gavin. Pretty much every HSR system in the world generates a profit. Not all of them cover their construction costs, but there shouldn’t be an expectation that they do.

He went on:

On Wednesday, Newsom noted that when voters approved the project, about a third of the funding was to come from the state bonds, about a third from the federal government and about a third from private financing.

Newsom is aware that in 2010 Republicans seized control of the U.S. House and closed off any new federal HSR funding as long as they held the majority, right? If he’s blaming the governor or the legislature or the CHSRA for this situation, he’s just flat wrong.

“I want to give the governor the benefit of the doubt,” on leveraging more money from that program, Newsom said Wednesday. “If he is successful to invite and secure the private-sector money, that’s a game-changer. And if we can do that, then this thing starts to pencil out. Without that, then I remain concerned about financing.”

This is circular logic. Private sector money only shows up when there’s a more certain public sector funding stream. Cap-and-trade can provide that. So Gavin, where are you on that?

Still, this is a better place for him to be than he was in 2014. And it’s my hope that all the Democratic candidates for governor (and maybe the Republican, if Ashley Swearengin runs, even though Republicans have no hope of being elected governor) strongly support HSR funding in the 2018 election, so that it’s not a campaign issue and instead becomes a de facto position that our state’s next governor is sure to uphold.

No on Prop 53

Oct 18th, 2016 | Posted by

Opponents of the high speed rail project were able to get Proposition 53 onto the ballot, and now they’re hoping a favorable ballot title can carry them to victory. As a result, Gov. Jerry Brown and his allies are spending big to help kill this odious measure:

With less than three weeks until Election Day, Gov. Jerry Brown and his political allies are suddenly pumping money into the campaign to defeat Proposition 53, a previously low-profile measure that could be the death knell of Brown’s high-speed rail and Delta tunnels projects.

In the past week, Brown, labor unions, Indian tribes and Silicon Valley venture capitalists have contributed $7 million to kill the measure, tripling the size of the opposition’s treasury. If passed, Proposition 53 would require a statewide vote to approve any state project costing more than $2 billion that is financed with revenue bonds, which are the likely method of paying many of the costs for high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels.

HSR still commands majority support among Californians. But a small group of NIMBYs are trying to kill it by requiring constant public votes any time bonds are sold, even though voters approved the project in 2008. The opposition’s ads are effective:

(See more ads, including region-specific ones, here)

But analysts believe that with a crowded ballot, voters may focus on the initiative’s title as it appears on the ballot, which favors the proponents:

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles, said the Yes campaign may be outspent and outnumbered, but the race is a toss-up.

“If I were trying to beat it, I’d be working pretty hard,” he said. “The first four words are ‘require statewide voter approval.’ And those are four words that voters like. They might not read any further.”

The Mercury News cites recent polling showing Prop 53 has support from 51% of voters. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also much too low for most propositions, which usually lose support the closer we get to Election Day – and the more negative ads that get aired.

Prop 53 is not just designed to screw the high speed rail project. It’s designed to stop California from building a low-carbon, green future. Make sure it dies. Vote no on Prop 53.

Valley Maintenance Hub Location Still Not Decided

Oct 14th, 2016 | Posted by

It’s been a long discussion spanning many years…and still no resolution on where the HSR maintenance facility will be built:

The city of Fresno is presenting a 200-acre parcel bordered by Cedar to the west, train tracks to the east, and American to the north as the ideal place to put a heavy maintenance facility. City leaders called the station the crown jewel of High-Speed Rail for the jobs it would create.

“That is anticipated to be 1,500 high-skilled workers at a state scale pay,” said Larry Westerlund, Economic Development Director.

Fresno is competing with Kern and Madera Counties to land the facility.

Fresno has long provided strong support for the HSR project. It’s also centrally located, with a big population and thus likely with a pool of skilled labor that can be hired to build and operate the facility.

The other bidding counties have a good case to make as well. But if it went to Fresno, it would clearly be a good choice.

Will SoCal NIMBYs Slow HSR?

Oct 4th, 2016 | Posted by

Ralph Vartabedian waxes poetic about how that mean old HSR project would devastate the bucolic Big Tujunga Wash in his latest article, but the real story stems from political opposition crystallizing to using it as a route to get from Palmdale to Burbank:

The Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Unified School District in the last week have taken initial steps toward adopting motions and resolutions opposing the route, known by the authority as the E2 route. The actions follow a resolution earlier this summer by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to formally oppose the E2 route.

As a result, there’s a new desire to force HSR to use the existing Metrolink tracks from Palmdale to Burbank:

“The best bang for the buck is to stick with the existing Metrolink right of way,” said Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, who is a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and the Metrolink board. “The existing plan is very expensive for a project that is already financially burdened.”

Such a plan would put Southern California on par with the Bay Area, which succeeded in defeating the rail authority’s intent to build separate tracks through the wealthy peninsula communities of Silicon Valley. The compromise meant that future trains will have to share tracks at slower speeds with commuter trains.

This is simply not acceptable. Forcing HSR trains to use the existing tracks would render the train service not “high speed” at all.

It currently takes about an hour and a half to get from Palmdale to Burbank on Metrolink. The plan for HSR would get the trains from Palmdale to Burbank in about 20 minutes.

There’s no possible way to come anywhere close to the 2 hours 40 minutes LA to SF travel time pledged in Proposition 1A by putting HSR trains on Metrolink tracks.

Once again we see the damage being done to California’s future by NIMBYs and the politicians who listen to a small but loud fringe. There is no way to address the state’s climate, energy, and economic needs without building high speed rail. Just as with housing affordability, the NIMBY stranglehold on legislators has to be confronted and ended if California is to have a sustainable future in the 21st century.