CHSRA Leaders Working To Repair Relationships in Central Valley
New California High Speed Rail Authority board chairman Dan Richard has been busy in the Central Valley working to repair relationships and rebuild trust, especially with farmers who have been critical of the project:
“I’m extremely unhappy with the kind of approaches that have been made to farmers and business people along the potential alignments,” Richard said. “Those have not been right or fair or just.”
Monday was Richard’s third visit to the valley in the past month. He met recently with farmers and property owners in Kings County, where frustration with the authority has resulted in lawsuits by residents against the agency and votes of opposition by the Kings County Board of Supervisors and the city councils in Hanford and Corcoran.
“One of the main problems that the High-Speed Rail Authority has had in the past is that it’s been mainly focused on building a train,” Richard said. “And when all you’re focused on is building a train, you tend to tell people to get out of the way because you’re coming through with the train.”
Richard said he believes treating owners honestly may overcome some of the built-up mistrust. Once the authority completes its environmental review and selects a final route through the valley, it can begin negotiating to buy land.
“I think that as we are legally able to approach people, and particular if we come to them with the philosophy of making them whole as opposed to jerking them around, we hope that process will go more smoothly,” he said.
It’s good to see Richard and others at the CHSRA doing what they can to address local concerns. Of course, they should realize that many of the critics are unlikely to ever agree to any aspect of the high speed rail project, at least not without gutting it for their own purposes. Frank Oliveira made that clear:
Now, Oliveira said, about the only option that would appease him and his neighbors is if the authority moved the tracks to the valley’s west side, along Interstate 5, bypassing the cities along Highway 99.
But Oliveira acknowledged that is unlikely, given the schedule that the authority has to complete work on the first 130-mile stretch from Chowchilla to Bakersfield by the fall of 2017.
“Richard seems to be a little more into talking to us about it, and that’s good,” Oliveira said. “But if they stay on the same time schedule and don’t address the flaws in the project, I don’t know what talking is going to accomplish other than to stall us or waste more of our time.”
At least he gets that an I-5 alignment isn’t going to happen – nor should it, since trains should go where the people are and that’s on the current route being proposed further east. I don’t know what Oliveira’s price is, but the notion of slowing down the project – presumably pushing it back beyond the September deadline to sign contracts for the federal stimulus money that is helping fund the Initial Construction Segment in the Valley – is not a good one and should be soundly rejected.
Still, it is good for Richard to be doing this kind of outreach work. It neutralizes the argument that the Authority is somehow mean and unwilling to work with communities – in fact, in recent months they have bent over backwards to work with communities to address concerns and accommodate them, where possible. If HSR critics and opponents reject this outreach and persist in their attacks on the project, they show themselves to be unreasonable and motivated by a basic animus toward the project, rather than being motivated by something the Authority somehow did wrong.
While HSR critics think they’ve got the project on the ropes, it’s seeming increasingly clear that the project is well positioned to survive its most difficult test. If and when the legislature votes to approve spending Prop 1A bond funding later this year, the project will be alive and well. And depending on how the November elections go nationwide, there could be billions in federal funding available to extend the system and get an Initial Operating Segment up and running.
I’m feeling optimistic. But there is a lot more work to be done, and HSR advocates need to continue pushing hard.