Fresno and Hanford Aren’t “Nowhere”
Readers of the Fresno Bee were treated today to something rather surprising: a columnist calling their fine city “nowhere.” Dan Walters is a political columnist for the Sacramento Bee, and because of shared ownership, his column is syndicated in the Fresno Bee. Walters is the one who told Fresno residents their city doesn’t count:
Despite this jumble of political and financial uncertainty, the HSRA plans to spend billions of dollars on a section of track out in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley.
Is that crazy or what?
Of course, neither Fresno nor Hanford are “the fields of the San Joaquin Valley” and I cannot imagine their residents taking too kindly to Walters’ dismissal of their cities.
Walters is floating the new right-wing attack on our high speed rail project – that because the new track will begin and end in undeveloped areas, it’s a “train to nowhere.” That only makes sense if you ignore the fact that two stations will be built in Fresno and Hanford, and ignore the fact that the track is just the first part of a much larger construction project, as Walters has chosen to do.
It’s a bit surprising to me that Walters made such a deliberate distortion – he’s a good observer of California politics, but in this case, his zeal to trash the HSR project has led him to overlook important facts. His column is full of misstatements and inaccuracies:
The HSRA’s ridership and revenue estimates have been widely panned, including a blistering critique by the University of California’s Institute for Transportation Studies, for their pie-in-the-sky unreality.
At a state Senate hearing this month, the UC researchers said the authority’s ridership consultant had cooked the books to create a far rosier picture than the facts warranted. Opposition is building in the Legislature, with Democratic senators publicly blasting the HSRA for clinging to an unrealistic business plan.
I don’t know if the Berkeley ITS researchers actually accused Cambridge Systematics of “cooking the books” at the hearing – that was Fresno Bee reporter Tim Sheehan’s interpretation of their statements, even though Samer Madanat, one of the researchers, has specifically disavowed the charge of “cooking the books.” And we know that their study did not provide a “blistering critique” of “pie-in-the-sky unreality” but actually offered a dry, boring technical analysis that merely questioned some of Cambridge Systematics’ methodological choices.
If Walters wants to oppose high speed rail out of his desire that Californians have no other transportation options but their cars, that’s fine, that’s his right. But it’s not too much to ask that he base his criticisms in accurate reporting of the facts, is it?
Walters also charges that the selection of the Madera-Corcoran route was politically motivated:
You’d have to be terminally naive not to believe that the splashy announcement, made personally by an Obama administration official in Fresno, was to help an embattled local congressman, Democrat Jim Costa, stave off a very stiff Republican challenge.
You’d have to be economically naive not to believe that the Obama Administration looked at the sky-high unemployment rate in the Central Valley (at least 15% in Fresno County) and thought “you know what? Since these are stimulus funds, shouldn’t they go to the part of the state in the greatest economic distress?” Sure, there are construction workers in the Bay Area and SoCal who could use the work as well, but if you want bang for the buck, it’s hard to imagine a project segment that would create more jobs than one in the San Joaquin Valley.