Will Alan Lowenthal Side With President Obama or the Tea Party?

Feb 21st, 2012 | Posted by

State Senator Alan Lowenthal is running for Congress in an open seat – California’s 47th district. The seat is centered on Long Beach and includes some pieces of Orange County, which was why Lowenthal spoke last Friday at the luncheon of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County.

Lowenthal has made a name for himself as a leading critic of the high speed rail project. Of course, this is the same project that is very strongly supported by President Barack Obama, Governor Jerry Brown, and the other Democrats who represent California in Congress, a group Lowenthal wants to join. HSR critics, on the other hand, are Tea Party Republicans like Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy.

So it makes sense that a group of Democrats would want to know which side Lowenthal is on – the side of HSR and Democrats, or the side of the Tea Party. A friend of the California High Speed Rail Blog was in the audience last Friday at the luncheon, and asked Lowenthal that question.

His answer was not encouraging:

“There’s an inadequate business plan,” state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said at a Friday luncheon of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County. “A UC Berkeley study found the ridership projections were too high. We have $10 billion in state funds and $3 billion in federal funds for a $98 billion project. To start in the middle (of the state) when you have no (financial) commitment is too risky.”

Lowenthal’s answer is full of flaws. He cites a discredited Berkeley Transportation Institute in order to criticize the system’s ridership projections, but totally ignores the work of an independent peer review committee that found the ridership projections were sound. But Lowenthal ignores that because he knows that if he can tap into the belief that nobody rides trains in America, then he can undermine the project.

Further, as a member of Congress Lowenthal would be in a position to do something about federal funding. If he were concerned that the feds hadn’t kicked in enough money, he could simply pledge that he would go to Congress and vote for more HSR money, as opposed to a Republican who would presumably join the rest of his party in voting to defund high speed rail. Tellingly, Lowenthal made no such pledge.

Of course, if high speed rail isn’t built in California, then presumably the growth in travel will require an expansion of both the airport footprint as well as in the number of flights serving Long Beach and Orange County airports. One wonders if Lowenthal’s constituents are aware he is more willing to subject them to airplane noise rather than help build quieter, more sustainable trains that would help relieve the pressure on those two airports.

The OC Register article claims Lowenthal is a “high speed rail advocate” but that is a convenient fiction Lowenthal has maintained in order to try and hide his true opposition to the project. But Lowenthal will have an opportunity to prove that conclusion wrong later this year when he gets to vote on whether to release the voter-approved Prop 1A bonds for high speed rail construction. Republicans don’t want that to happen, preferring to kill a signature initiative of President Obama’s that California Congressional Democrats support.

So Lowenthal has a choice in front of him. Will he side with Obama, Brown, and Congressional Democrats and vote to build high speed rail in California in 2012? Or will he side with Tea Party Republicans and vote against high speed rail?

California is eagerly awaiting the answer to this question, even if he wouldn’t give his fellow Orange County Democrats an answer last week.

  1. joe
    Feb 21st, 2012 at 21:33

    Alan Lowenthal, the very serious, sensible centrist Democrat.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Who is Lowenthal’s primary opponent?

    He has one, right?

    This is Long Beach. Surely he has one? Or more?

    Which of them is actually for high speed rail?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Ah, answer below from StevieB!…. Thanks Stevie!

  2. VBobier
    Feb 21st, 2012 at 22:07

    I wouldn’t trust A. Lowenthal, But then I’d trust My Grandpa more than A. Lowenthal…

  3. Jonathan
    Feb 21st, 2012 at 22:15

    I’m a cynic. *When* Lowenthal comes out against HSR, will the DNC still help fund his campaign?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I think if he became the party nominee (given that arguably that’s tougher to do than win the seat itself) he’ll be told to tone it down or else.

  4. Roger Christensen
    Feb 21st, 2012 at 22:20

    What are the numbers here? It seems to me that the Democrats can have no more than 5 defectors in the State Senate and 13 in the assembly? If a vote were taken today what would it look like?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The current advantage Democrats have in the Assembly is 12 and five in the Senate. Thus if all defectors stay true to their word, the measure would fail…barely.

    However, that’s not how it works for appropriations because passing a budget isn’t an option. So the way it works is that the a few of the defectors (barring redistricting issues) in both houses will come along. But they are going to try milk whatever they can out of the process to get their vote.

    Another crucial distinction is whether the “defectors” are committee chairmen. That alone is a big headache because those members naturally have long and not always reasonable wish lists for Leadership and the Executive branch.

  5. Jonathan
    Feb 21st, 2012 at 22:37

    Does anybody even know, after the non-partisan redistricting carved up so many districts, including across county lines?

  6. StevieB
    Feb 21st, 2012 at 23:05

    Alan Lowenthal is in a primary race with Long Beach Third District councilmember Gary DeLong.

    February 1, 10:30am | State Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach narrowly surpassed other fellow Long Beacher and congressional candidate Gary DeLong in fundraising, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

    The fundraising totals for the quarter are:

    $166,329 Alan Lowenthal
    $156,891 Gary DeLong
    $61,593 Troy Edgar
    $46,643 Steve Kuykendall

    However, DeLong holds far more cash-on-hand than Lowenthal, with an impressive $456,349 compared to Lowenthal’s $169,221. Edgar trails DeLong with $367,485, most of which Edgar had loaned himself. Kuykendall trails last with $37,659 in cash-on-hand.

    There is an open primary but Lowenthal will be on the November ballot as he is the only Democrat.

    Democratic voters will almost guaranteed offer Lowenthal the nomination. Given this, Republican voters will choose between DeLong, Edgar, and Kuykendall — and this means these candidates will have to spend more money in order to bolster their campaign.

    joe Reply:

    Joe Dunn is a potential Dem challenger.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Whaaat, the only Democrat on the ballot IN LONG BEACH is this clown Lowenthal? This does not make sense. Hope this Joe Dunn gets in, I guess…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why not? Richard Brodsky (of “congestion pricing is unfair to my top-quintile constituents” fame) ran unopposed.

  7. Jerry
    Feb 22nd, 2012 at 00:10

    ” later this year .. he gets to vote on whether to release the voter-approved Prop 1A bonds for high speed rail construction.”
    Does anyone know when the actual vote will come up later this year? And has anyone counted heads as to how the votes might go?

  8. Pat
    Feb 22nd, 2012 at 08:28

    Lowenthal’s position is disheartening. As a resident of Long Beach, the need for HSR and efficient public transportation options is so obvious to me, as I sit everyday in traffic. If he doesn’t like the plan, does he have an alternative? Is he working with the other players to make the HSR plans better?

    And as I like to ask anyone who scoffs at HSR in CA: What are the alternatives if we don’t build HSR? Surely, there is no way in hell the Long Beach airport can expand with out a huge fight and public outcry. He knows that. More freeways is out of the question. So what do we do to accommodate transportation needs for the growing population?

    Of course, I say this as I’m in the 46th district, and there is no way in heck we are getting support from THAT side of the aisle…

    BTW, I love you blog. A great resource. Sometimes I feel alone in my passion for wanting HSR. Many folks here are either just indifferent, or have a very knee-jerk reaction to anything HSR.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Lowenthal better be careful channeling his inner Bob Dornan — supposedly Long Beach has the second largest population of Cambodians outside of the country itself. Wouldn’t want any “friendly fire” now.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BTW guess who was the stealth #2 supporter of the Khmer Rouge(via the Thais)after China?

    Hint – motivated, at the time, like China and Thailand, by hostility and mistrust of Vietnam.

    Yeah, you guessed it.

    wu ming Reply:

    parsons-brinkerhoff? tejon ranch? bugatti doodlebugs?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Pelosi coven? Union featherbedding? Booooooooondoggle!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The US kept recognizing the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s legitimate government for years after Vietnam overthrew it. I think that’s what he’s hinting at.

    wu ming Reply:

    i know, but i couldn’t resist.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    What are Lowenthal’s positions on intra-city transit?

  9. synonymouse
    Feb 22nd, 2012 at 11:55

    Exercising their First Amendment rights:


    Jay Taylor Reply:


    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Classy or not, that is f-ing hilarious.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    This has been asked before, and it’s appropriate now: Where, where, where were these clowns when subdivisions and superhighways got built?

    More and more, I am becoming convinced this is not just a generational break (and there is much of that), but I think it’s a racial problem, and it’s becoming a problem for HSR because an American president who happens to have dark skin is for HSR.

    It’s a demon I though we had finally slain, or at least made into a mouse, but apparently not. . .




    Age doesn’t stand out quite as much as I thought it would, but being white, registered as a Republican, and going to church all the time does. The level of “whiteness” is quite strong at 89% for the party itself, a good deal higher than the 77% level of the respondents as a whole.

    synonymouse Reply:

    What a crock. The farmers are pissed because there is a perfectly good ROW already owned by the State in I-5. Excellent for a starter hsr.

    The 99 corridor really depends a lot on the attitude of the UP towards electrification, which is likely to change over time. Build hsr on I-5 now and tackle 99 later with incremental upgrades. Dangle some carrots in front of the UP later, like helping to pay for cantenary.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The I-5 corridor is no good because it doesn’t stop in any of the Central Valley Cities. *sigh*. You do know there’s a reason SR-99 was built FIRST, don’t you?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Syn, if you don’t believe me about the racism question. something that makes me very sad, go back a few pages and take a look at the story you posted about the train wreck in Argentina, and look at the comments that followed it.

    That story came from Fox, and is “nothing” in itself (in other words, it’s just a news story), but the comments from the Fox audience are another thing.

    Take a look at that, then come back and tell us if you think I’m right or wrong.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    No they’re not. The farmers are “pissed” because they’ve been well-worked-over by the usual conservative asshat-brigade who know exactly the right cultural buttons to push and lies to tell.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yeah, we are still refighting the Civil War after all this time. The Republican Party is neo-Confederate. Among other things. Misogyny has also become one of its core traits.

    StevieB Reply:

    The largest component of the Republican party is older, southern, white males. As this demographic becomes more scarce the party will need to restructure or it will wither.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Santorum belongs to that demographic? Reagan was elected by that demographic alone?

    Why vote for a Republican who is a Democrat? Bloomberg is a virtual clone of Nancy Pelosi.

    You are looking at a future country dominated by an elite and with about 90% in pretty much abject poverty. They are going to make it work and now they will have domestic drones for the worst case scenario. It is called the enclave system and it works very well indeed. If you are in the affluent fringe.

    You can torch Watts but just talk about trying that on Beverly Hills.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’ll attribute the statement about Bloomberg being a clone of Pelosi to your living several thousand kilometers from New York. Those of us who lived in New York recently know that Bloomberg instead:

    – Hates public sector unions, especially teachers’ unions, and has an education reform plan geared almost entirely toward increasing the power of school administrators at teachers’ expense,
    – Is unabashedly a member of the 1%, and has been completely silent on such issues as health care reform and the minimum wage,
    – Opposes rules requiring employers using city-subsidized real estate to pay a living wage,
    – Wins election by arguing managerial competence and spending tens of millions of his own money to overpower opponents, and
    – Is a very anti-machine candidate, believing in using his money to get other politicians on board rather than any traditional politicking.

    He’s economically a Romney, without the constraints of needing to be publicly against reproductive rights or gay rights or immigration.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’d attribute it to his tin foil being wrapped too tight.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Wait, is being “unabashedly a member of the 1%” bad? I mean … being somewhat wealthy does not make one inherently bad…

    [Though in usage the meaning of “the 1%” seems to have shifted from being somewhat descriptive (if vaguely intended as an insult) to being simply an insult—almost all the uses I’ve seen of it recently have been essentially “somebody who doesn’t agree with me / I don’t like”…]

    Alon Levy Reply:

    To clarify, both Bloomberg and Romney run as tough businessmen, and think of government as an extension of managing a big business in the finance/consulting industry. Traditional social and economic concerns mean nothing to them – the only time Bloomberg tried to do something about poverty involved coming up with his own metrics for it and deducing that his methods were working.

    Not all super-rich people are like this. Not even all super-rich conservatives are. The Bush family knows that politics is different from business, and acts accordingly. When Bush pretended to care about normal people in 2000, he came off as sincere to most people; Romney and Bloomberg can’t – it goes against their basic personalities, and it’s not even out of honesty, for they’ll say anything, much like marketers.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yes, those are some pertinent differences but there are some Democrats who share at least sojme of these traits. A Republican patronage machine is an oxymoron to some extent.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Wow, what an incredibly racist statement to make.

  10. trentbridge
    Feb 22nd, 2012 at 13:46

    Both Long Beach Airport and John Wayne (Orange County) have stringent restrictions on the number of flights permitted. LGB is the West Coast hub for Jet Blue and they make extensive use of their slots. I’m not sure that there are any unused slots for commercial flights other than commuter. It is similar in the OC. It takes an airline leaving to open up more slots. There’s no dominant airline at John Wayne because a new entrant into the market can get – at best – two to four slots. Alan Lowenthal’s position on high speed rail is not based on any airline / airport support. The biggest employers are the ports &steamship lines/Boeing. Boeing makes the C17 in Long Beach but that’s not affected by high speed rail. I cannot think of any logical reason for his opposition – perhaps his mother didn’t give him a train set one year for the Holidays.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    There’s lot of reasons but they have everything to do with things other than high speed rail. It’s very similar to the issue with Senator DeSaulnier.

    There’s also the issue of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which Lowenthal ardently supports to protect the affluent members of Palos Verdes (j/k) from having to breath in air dirtied by the port and oil refineries. By extension, if thinks something is going to increase pollution by the sea, he will oppose it like a rabid animal.

  11. jimsf
    Feb 22nd, 2012 at 17:06

    o/t but two interesting articles in progressive railroading. The cover story about how transit agencies are moving towards a more market based approach to attracting ridership. The public wants more personal service and more tailored service.

    also, TSA is meeting with international high speed rail security experts in SF this month, to refine best practices for american high speed rail security.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Riiiight. International best practice and the TSA have never had ANYTHING in common, so I have serious doubts the TSA will listen to the experts at all.

    Well, we can hope.

    swing hanger Reply:

    I have a bad feeling about this…

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    The main light rail line that article highlights—Dallas’s Green Line—wouldn’t need a marketing team if it were planned to actually serve urban areas at peak-period frequencies of less than fifteen minutes, rather than eating up operating dollars running along industrial right-of-ways between suburban park-and-rides.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Not to be an A, but I told you so.

    Think air security pre-9/11. ID Cards, magnetometers and carry on screening.

    The TSA gets $2.50 per leg up to $5 each way from air passengers (so it’s $10 a round trip for one connection each way), but wants $7.50 to $15 so you can count on that sort of fee coming too. Add in the time to get through security, plus the cost to have terminals big enough for screening (they add millions to airport terminal projects). Probably not as high because I doubt they’ll screen checked bags reducing equipment costs exponentially, but you never know. The Federal Government is always looking to expand is wonderful services (tongue firmly in cheek).

  12. joe
    Feb 22nd, 2012 at 21:39

    Consumers are reducing gasoline consumption to allocate $ to other items. Trends favor public transportation and less emphasis on Automobiles.


    Why the decline in gasoline demand doesn’t mean a recession — yet

    We’re not seeing a decline in gasoline demand because of a recession,
    we’re seeing a decline in gasoline demand instead of a recession.

    1. Ridership of mass transit is up:
    Ridership on public buses and trains increased 2%[in 2011] — from 7.63 billion rides to 7.76 billion, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

    2. Ridership of intercity luxury buses (e.g., MegaBus and BoltBus) is up. Any driver stuck in an Interstate traffic jam has probably looked longingly at passengers lounging in these buses over in the next lane. And commuters have acted:

    3. Online retail purchases have risen to 5.5% of total retail sales.

    6. Fewer teenagers are getting licenses, “with the decline accelerating rapidly since 1998.” Time magazine reports that:

    7. Multi-vehicle households are making a more strategic allocation of vehicle usage,

    8. Trip compression. In response to a return to near $4 a gallon prices last spring, Nielsen reported that “Sixty-seven percent of consumers say they are combining errands and trips as a result of high gas prices.”

    So while it’s impossible to say how long consumers will continue to be able to fuel general spending by constricting gas purchases, we can say that they are significantly more vulnerable to an oil price shock — say, of $4.50 a gallon gas by Memorial Day, than they have been in several years.

  13. D. P. Lubic
    Feb 23rd, 2012 at 04:28
  14. Scott W
    Feb 23rd, 2012 at 09:58

    Thank goodness some sensible people in government are starting to take notice of this pet pig project. I submitted several sets of comments to the HSR Rail Authority on their recent Draft 2012 Business Plan and also shared them with my elected officials.

    From an investment standpoint this is a terrible project. Even using the actual projections by the Authority this project has a negative rate of return to the taxpayer and that doesn’t even include the fact that ridership projections are grossly inflated or the cost of construction is understated considerably. Quadrupling the current number of trips per Californian in the target market and assuming the same population growth as the last 10 years going forward system demand will not meet the Authority’s low-case projections until the year 2080. Also of interesting note, the Authority projects that the California HSR line will see almost double the usage of the Proposed Amtrak Northeast Corridor Next Generation HSR which serves a population target area that is twice that of the California HSR market.

    I would like to point out that the Authority never presented a comprehensive cash flow model for the project. In order for me to determine the rates of return and paybacks (as is commonly the case to determine if a project has a positive payback). I had to manually input and organize many tables that were presented in different locations so that I could come up with an actual cash flow model in Excel. When I first read the Authority’s Business Plan I was shocked that no such comprehensive analysis was ever presented. Even if you conceptually support this project you should be very upset that our government officials never ran such an analysis. This is clearly irresponsible behavior and not excusable. No wonder our state is in such a fiscal mess if our government officials invest in negative return projects.

    I could go on and on picking apart the Draft Business Plan, there is so much that is wrong with their proposal. I challenge Robert here at Cal HSR Blog to contact me through my email and actually publish my analysis showing what a poor project this is.

    And my suggestion for our elected officials is to stop listening to the special interest groups and focus on an integrated regional transportation system that could one day support a HSR network.

    Jack Reply:

    Public Projects don’t typically generate net positive cash payback. No HSR line has paid back it’s construction costs and operating costs combined and shouldn’t be expected.

    Please source your statement “grossly inflated” as your evidence is circumspect at best.

    Or were you just trollin’ if so right on Bro!

    *eye roll*

    joe Reply:

    The project he points at is 117B and thus more costly than CA HSR’s conservative 100 YOE cost estimate or approx 67B in 2010/2009 funds.

    “A vision for High-Speed Rail”
    “A vision for High-Speed Rail on the Northeast corridor” is an aspirational proposal for new dedicated high-speed tracks between Washington, DC, and Boston, Massachusetts produced by Amtrak in October 2010.[25] At a cost of approximately $117 billion (2010 dollars), it would allow speeds of 220 mph and reduce the travel time from New York to Washington, including a stop in Philadelphia, to 96 minutes, and the travel time from Boston to New York to 84 minutes.[3][26]

    No data on the projected ridership or if Apple is comparing to oranges. At least the more mature business plan, CA HSR, is less expensive.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Vision is $117 billion in 2010 dollars, so it should be compared with $65 billion for CAHSR. And yes, it’s supremely expensive, and that Amtrak thought it should even be seriously proposed is reason enough to fire all involved and bring adults to take over.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Well it did get people talking. Especially the ones in Woonsocket.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No HSR line has paid back it’s construction costs and operating costs combined

    …except for all of the early ones and some of the subsequent ones. The ones under construction won’t, but those are fifth or sixth lines in some countries.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    We already know this one won’t, so the point is already moot.

    What will be most entertaining is when they come to voters for more money to pay for the extension to Sacramento and San Diego that they claimed will be paid for with profits that won’t materialize.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Jack I believe you want suspect, not circumspect.

    The CAHSR raison d’etre is to spend money, not to make it. Kill Tejon, I-5, Altamont – all faster, cheaper, more practical and appropriate for a starter proof of concept. Instead go to war with PAMPA and the Valley farmers over eminent domain that can be mostly avoided. Go figure.

    Still gonna go long and say BART will mug Caltrain thru MTC and bottle up hsr at Diridon Galactic.

  15. John
    Feb 23rd, 2012 at 17:00

    Could someone point me to ONE reference in which Lowenthal is on the record as opposing HSR. I can’t find one. I have found dozens of references to him claiming on the record that he supports it, But I can’t find any evidence of him being opposed.

  16. jimsf
    Feb 23rd, 2012 at 19:20

    some more on TSA Hopefully what they are planning is passive security which is what we are mostly using now on the railroad.
    I do wonder if one will have to present government issued photo id as is required now for amtrak and air travel.

    I also found this shocking; “TSA’s budget: $8 billion. Amtrak’s budget: $2.6 billion.”

  17. jimsf
    Feb 23rd, 2012 at 20:05

    before everyone gets all doomsday gloomsday over TSA and HSR. Note that they are meeting with international hsr security to learn how to do it best, rather than just going ahead with an un researched plan. And two, I can tell you from my own training on secutiy and the railroad that the railroads and tsa already know the airline style security is not the answer and is pointless. Thats why a different type of more passive seciruty is in use instead. high speed rail security is not going to be cattle herding lines. It will be platform and train based police presence, both visible and not, dogs, random checks, cameras, adn built in passive physical barriers, and so forth. sorry to disappoint those looking for more reasons to badmouth hsr.

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