Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari has been traveling around the Central Valley bashing the high speed rail project. For someone who claims to care about jobs and poverty, it’s a bizarre and hypocritical thing to do. High speed rail is essential to the Central Valley’s future economic prosperity, as well as providing desperately needed jobs now. But Kashkari wants to sabotage all of that:
“Sacramento and Gov. Brown are focused on building a train and not really putting people back to work in a real way,” Kashkari said in an interview at the shelter, not far from sidewalks where the homeless slept. “I think it’s an egregious example of him having the wrong priorities. It’s a vanity project.”…
In a swing through the Central Valley this week, he pledged to try to block the rail project if elected, saying that if courts don’t dismantle it, he would revisit it with voters. He dismissed the Democratic governor’s argument for the train as an investment in California’s future.
“We have more important things to do,” Kashkari, 40, told a Stanislaus County farmer. “Hopefully Governor Brown will admit his error.”
Kashkari has also attacked Governor Jerry Brown for supposedly not doing enough on jobs and poverty. But the bullet train would do wonders at addressing both issues. It would create 20,000 jobs over the next five years in the Central Valley. That’s a big number for the region and would make a huge dent in the 12.4% unemployment rate in Fresno County.
But just as important is the long-term impact. Fresno struggles with high unemployment precisely because it is poorly connected to the rest of the state. It takes too long to drive to SF or LA on the freeway. Fresno lacks good air connections to the coastal metropolises. And so Fresno gets left behind while coastal California experiences another economic boom.
Economists understand the central role of high speed rail in future economic growth. Richard Florida made that point in 2009. He argued that HSR makes “megaregions” possible, where places like Fresno can be brought into the same economy as the Bay Area and Southern California because travel times have been slashed. People can move to the Valley and commute to the coasts, or live on the coast and commute to the Valley. A tech startup can find cheap office space or warehousing in the Valley. Florida expects that regions are going to be more deeply interconnected to each other, and that when this happens new economic value is created. Agglomerations of multiple metropolises have a significant competitive advantage over individual metropolises, just as the individual metropolis emerged with a competitive advantage over the individual industrial city over a century ago.
This analysis is shared by shared by the World Bank, which found significant benefits to regional development as a result of China’s high speed rail expansion. A UCLA-Tsinghua study found the same thing:
In places like California where high-speed rail is planned, proposed stations could create booms for second-tier cities, like Palmdale and Bakersfield near Los Angeles, the authors said. This would improve quality of life by easing congestion in the major cities while giving more isolated cities greater access to metropolitan hubs. As the authors observed in China, lower housing costs initially attract new residents, creating a housing boom that will benefit the second-tier cities.
And that is exactly what happened in Spanish cities like Ciudad Real, which have boomed by being connected to Madrid and Barcelona by the bullet train.
Kashkari is telling the Central Valley to be happy with the status quo, that 12.4% unemployment is fantastic, that they don’t need to do anything at all to prepare for the future. That’s only true if you believe global warming is a lie and that gas will remain cheap forever.
The Central Valley will benefit more from HSR than any other part of the state. Residents there should reject Kashkari’s politically motivated attacks and his desire to keep them disconnected and poor.