Orange Is At It Again
The city of Orange is a wonderful town in the middle of Orange County. Their downtown area, oriented around the Orange Circle and just two blocks from the Orange Metrolink station, is a fantastic place to stroll and shop. Chapman University is just a couple blocks away too, and it’s a thriving hub for students and others as a result. If I was willing to move back to Orange County (I grew up next door in Tustin) I’d seriously consider getting one of those nice 1920s-era bungalows in Old Town, a walkable neighborhood ripe with TOD opportunities and with a train station and college nearby.
Unfortunately, Orange has also been governed by right-wing extremists for as long as I can remember. Back in my misspent youth, I was in a Rush Limbaugh Fan Club that met at an Orange restaurant (this was around 1993 or so), with members of the Orange city council regularly in attendance. The council and the school board were almost always in the news for embracing this or that element of the far-right agenda.
Sadly, times don’t seem to have changed. Yesterday the Orange City Council passed a resolution opposing the HSR project – which isn’t even going to go into Orange itself, at least not initially.
The Orange resolution is an HSR denier’s dream. It cites all the discredited anti-HSR studies, such as those of the State Auditor and the Berkeley ITS group. But the resolution went further than those reports intended. They claim the ridership studies “were inflated in order to move this project forward with unachievable goals” and that “the project costs are now estimated at $45 – $80 billion for project completion,” despite there being no actual evidence for either claim.
Project opponent Cynthia Ward, writing at the right-wing website Red County, commends the Orange city council for passing this resolution:
Rather than using State resources to pummel a City government for standing up for their own people, I would prefer to see the CHSRA show us where Orange is inaccurate in their assessment of the situation. We will be waiting for that statement for a very long time, because the CHSRA no longer has a leg to stand on in this argument. They continue shoving blindly forward on an underfunded project whose benefits have been exaggerated, and kudos to the City of Orange for taking a stand. This Resolution was not only appropriate, it is a model that could be lifted word for word and used by other communities up and down the State. I envy the people of Orange their bold leadership, and congratulate those at City Hall who were behind this Resolution, written so carefully that even proponents of the project can find no reason to deny their yes votes to protect the people of Orange. Good work.
In fact, as I just explained, the resolution wasn’t written carefully at all. Instead it makes unproven allegations that people like Ward then insist the CHSRA respond to, even though the allegations themselves are false. It’s the exact same thing as asking someone “when did you stop beating your wife?” A flawed statement is made, passed off as truth, and when the Authority says the statement is untrue, critics pounce and accuse the Authority of stonewalling and refusing to admit a “truth” that isn’t true at all.
The Authority’s response to the Orange resolution was given by Deputy Director Jeff Barker:
“The California High-Speed Rail Authority is working with hundreds of communities throughout the state – we value their feedback and want to work together to develop the best high-speed train project possible. So it is disappointing that the elected officials in the city of Orange have declined the opportunity to help shape this historic project and have declined to represent residents of their city – especially at this early stage in our development when input and constructive feedback is so vital. In opposing the high-speed rail project, the city council is opposing the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, opposing improved air quality, and opposing a needed new transportation option that will ease congestion on our freeways and in our airways. The Authority will continue to reach out to the residents of Orange and listen to their ideas about the high-speed rail project because we know we cannot develop the best train system possible without their feedback.”
This is the right response for the Authority to make. From the perspective of HSR supporters like ourselves, we can go further and call out the city of Orange for their misleading claims and their open embrace of obstructionism.
It’s not the first time an Orange County city has tried to undermine a California HSR project. In 1983 the city of Tustin hired researchers to knock down the HSR project Governor Jerry Brown had authorized the previous year. Their report did help push the Legislature to kill the project, but the project was on life support anyway – the Legislature had never really embraced it, and the new governor, Republican George Deukmejian, wasn’t a supporter.
Things may not be different in Orange in 2010, but they are very different around the state. California voters approved the project and $10 billion in bond money for it in November 2008. The governor and the state legislature have been much, much more supportive this time around, as have our Congressional delegation and the president. And the poll released yesterday shows that public support remains very high for this project.
So Orange can pass its resolution if they want to. I’m sure they’ll find some other councils controlled by right-wing opponents of passenger rail to pile on board. But those won’t be representative of the true views of the people of California, who continue to reiterate their support for the project and their desire to see it completed.