Joe Simitian, “Great Train Robber,” Working to Destroy High Speed Rail
Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani today called out her fellow Democrat, Senator Joe Simitian, who has emerged this week as a significant threat to the high speed rail project. In a statement released this afternoon she accused Simitian of being the “Great Train Robber” for his apparent effort to take HSR money for Caltrain, risking the HSR project itself in the process. From Galgiani’s statement:
Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, author of California’s voter approved $10 billion high speed rail bond, today strongly condemned efforts to redirect the bond funds to non voter approved projects. This amounts to a bait-and-switch effort by certain interests to take money away from the high-speed rail system, and use it to cover shortfalls in funding the Caltrain commuter rail system on the San Francisco Peninsula,” said Galgiani. “It is highly suspect that the same few wealthy communities on the San Francisco Peninsula who want to stop the High Speed Rail project, would cynically work to divert the money to meet their existing obligations to the Caltrain system.”…
“Mr. Simitian is trying to syphon $1 billion of high-speed rail bond money for the Caltrain system in his district and proposes to make it legal under Proposition 1A by running one High Speed Train. This is the Great Train Robbery,” stated Galgiani. “Californians voted for a high-speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco, not a piggy bank for legislators.”
According to Galgiani’s release, her concerns were sparked by Simitian’s comments at a legislative hearing yesterday:
Yesterday, in a Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 2 hearing on the bond allocation to match Federal funds for the first segment of High Speed Rail, Senator Simitian told the executive director of the High Speed Rail Authority, “I don’t want to see an EIR completed for a project that will never be built.”
“Senator Simitian has continually criticized the High-Speed Rail Authority while failing to recognize the shortcomings of the rail system in his own back yard. Simitian should fix his own system, not tell the HSRA how to build theirs,” said Galgiani.
When talking about the authority’s proposed phased system, Simitian, chair of the Subcommittee, also said, “We’re saying there is a (one) phase and then you’re done.” He added, “If we run one High Speed Train from San Jose to San Francisco, at any time of day, we will comply with Prop. 1A”
That statement by Simitian is beyond the pale. He has been trying to occupy a middle ground, supporting high speed rail while seeming to be responsive to NIMBY concerns (for no understandable reason; he is termed out next year). But by threatening the project like this, Simitian is going too far. It is inappropriate for him or any other legislator to make threats like this.
Further, Simitian is basically trying to undermine the core premise of the project in a very fundamental way. He is clearly implying that SF to LA is an option, that a token one train per day would satisfy the Prop 1A requirement.
I’ve got news for you, Senator: Californians did NOT vote for a single token train. We voted for a true bullet train service, with numerous trips per day from SF to LA. We voted for it because we understood that because of rising gas prices, we needed high speed rail to move people around the state. Simitian is suggesting that he override the wishes of California voters merely to satisfy a very small number of NIMBYs in his district, people he isn’t willing to stand up to.
Here’s the background, for those of you new to the story. In November 2008, a clear majority of Californians voted to build a high speed rail system that can carry passengers from SF to LA in 2 hours, 40 minutes, using bullet trains like you’d find in Japan, Spain, or France. They also appropriated $10 billion in bond funding to get started. Voters wanted a true system that would provide fast train service all day long, from downtown SF to downtown LA while serving high-population communities along the way. That was the entire point of doing high speed rail.
However, after Prop 1A was approved, a small group of wealthy people living near the proposed HSR route in the Palo Alto area started to flip out. They didn’t want the trains in their backyards – even though the trains would use the Caltrain corridor, which has been carrying passenger trains for 150 years. Although the Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted to endorse Prop 1A in 2008, although 60% of voters there approved the project, and although a poll last year found that despite NIMBY whining residents there still supported the project by large margins, elected officials began to start chickening out. Palo Alto city councilmembers began criticizing the project, even joining a frivolous lawsuit against it.
Now, Senator Simitian appears to have succumbed to the vocal minority of NIMBYs. Last week he joined Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Assemblymember Rich Gordon to propose “blending” HSR with Caltrain. That’s an idea worth exploring, but Eshoo immediately began suggesting that the HSR trains stop at San Jose instead of going to San Francisco as promised. Eshoo was rebuked by Nancy Pelosi for that suggestion and she backed off.
But Simitian’s new argument, that we only have to run just one train a day from SF to LA to satisfy the law and the will of the voters, would effectively mean trains stop in San Jose and not San Francisco. Again, I hope he checked with Nancy Pelosi before trying to undermine the project.
Why would stopping in San Jose, or running just one train per day to SF, be a problem? Not only would it violate the law, not only would it be a big “fuck you” to the people of California, but it would destroy the HSR project’s viability. The project by law cannot rely on government operating subsidies, and so it needs to get a lot of riders to make ends meet. That’s also a good goal because the more people that ride the train, the fewer carbon we emit, and the less we spend in gas.
Simitian’s proposal, which includes limiting the Caltrain corridor to two tracks forever, would cripple high speed rail. It would mean an artificial and permanent limit on the number of trains that could go from LA to SF – all because Simitian won’t tell the NIMBYs that they’re wrong and don’t deserve to be prioritized over the rest of the state.
Galgiani’s criticism is motivated by this concern, and her statement matches what other sources have told me about what Simitian is doing. Basically, he is now demanding that the proposal he, Eshoo and Gordon made last week is an ultimatum. He’s taking high speed rail funding hostage, and will destroy the project if he doesn’t get his way – and that way would undermine the project anyway.
Galgiani’s anger is entirely appropriate. Simitian is way out of line here. His “blended” proposal is worth considering, but it is totally inappropriate for Simitian to demand that it be accepted, without study, or else the project lose funding and collapse.
In her statement, Galgiani vowed to fight the Great Train Robber:
Galgiani responded, “Senator Simitian essentially put a gun to the Authority’s head and said, do it my way or no way. Well, I’ve got news for him. This is not Florida, this is California. Proposition 1A is a voter mandate, and if we have to, we’ll sue.”
Right the fuck on. Good for Galgiani. But it’s not enough for her to stand up. We need to stand up to Simitian too. You can contact him here – or by phone at the numbers below. Keep in mind that calling during work hours on Monday is best (calling on a Friday night or the weekend would be pointless):
Phone: (916) 651-4011
Palo Alto District Office
Phone: (650) 688-6384
or (408) 277-9460
Santa Cruz District Office
Phone: (831) 425-0401
We cannot, and we will not, let Joe Simitian destroy high speed rail.