Peer Review Committee Sees Improvements In New Business Plan

May 15th, 2012 | Posted by

According to the Sacramento Bee:

The latest plan for building a California bullet train system got a very conditional blessing Tuesday from a “peer review committee” of transportation experts.

Will Kempton, the veteran transportation official who heads the committee, told a Senate hearing that the latest revision is “measurably improved” from previous versions.

“It’s more reasonable and realistic than previous proposals,” said Kempton, who runs the Orange County Transportation Authority….

Kempton stopped short of recommending approval, but he did say that before money is committed, the Legislature should make sure that there’s a competent management structure in place, that the risks are fully weighed, especially whether more money will be forthcoming from the federal government, and that the authority update ridership and operating cost projections.

Of course, one needs to consider that Kempton works for an agency whose board, dominated by Republicans, is voicing more skepticism about the project. That’s due to their ideological opposition, based in an obsolete belief that Orange County should rely on automobiles alone for travel. High speed rail will benefit Orange County too, but because conservatives still tend to dominate local elections in Orange County, OCTA board members (drawn from local councils) reflect that bias.

According to tweets from those at the Senate hearing where Kempton spoke, the three anti-HSR Democrats – Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal and Mark DeSaulnier – all voiced opposition to approving HSR funds as part of the budget process. One wonders when the White House and Democrats in Congress will begin putting the heavy pressure on these three to start toeing the party line.

  1. lex luther
    May 15th, 2012 at 22:34

    When will the White House and Congressional Dems put heavy pressure?


    they dont care about HSR being built in CA, they just want it built somewhere so if California passes on this they will just move on to the next area, probably Chicago

    joe Reply:

    “One wonders when the White House and Democrats in Congress will begin putting the heavy pressure on these three to start toeing the party line.”

    EJ Reply:

    Poor Robert. He wants so badly to be commissar and the job just isn’t available.

    Reedman Reply:

    “What’s to stop a terrorist from hijacking a train and running it into, god forbid, the White House?”

    -Ali G

    Nathanael Reply:

    Heh. 150 years ago, it might have been possible to run a train into the White House with a great effort, since streetcar tracks ran right down Pennsylvania Avenue and railroad tracks criss-crossed the National Mall. Of course you haven’t been able to in a very long time.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There is nowhere else building Express HSR, and “the next areas” know that it will be much easier to be the 2nd or 3rd place building an Express HSR corridor than to be the first place.

    Why did you think that California got $3.3b out of $8b? Because its a swing state?

    synonymouse Reply:

    California is not a swing state; it is a welfare state. The GOP won’t waste any effort on it. Soon Brown and Pelosi will have their 2/3 supermajority and Berserkeley will be systematically imposed on California. Since there aren’t enough taxpayers to go around the Moonbeam regime will have to start talking soak the rich in a more confrontational way. The idle rich have many means to deflect taxation but the corps will simply pack up.

    Nothing stays the same but there are different scenarios. The 3 crones and 1 drone are at the Last Hurrah career stage and their proteges like Villa and Gavin are lackluster, mediocre. If the cartel violence jumps the border I can imagine a revulsion against the DreamActers and Occupiers.

    VBobier Reply:


    joe Reply:

    It’s a stream of consciencenus

    lex luther Reply:

    consciencenus? LOL

    lex luther Reply:

    watch the first episode of “wild justice, season 2” to see the reality of cartels in northern california and the game wardens frustration as they arrest cartels members for marijuana grows and then hours later have to let a medicinal MJ grower go while he is transporting 72 plants in a trailer down the highway with one passenger who is high and his 2 year old in the back seat. Oh and $7k in cash in a paper bag.

    the cartel violence is already here in CA

    Nathanael Reply:

    Have to legalize the stuff, it’s the only way to get rid of violent drug cartels. The sooner you legalize it, the better. This is the lesson we *should have learned* from Prohibition, but didn’t; it took a long time after the repeal of Prohibition for the alcohol cartels founded by the bootleggers to slowly break down.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    California is not a swing state …

    Reading is fundamental: that kind of rhetorical question, “Why did you think that California got $3.3b out of $8b? Because its a swing state?” presumes agreement that the answer to the question is no.

    The rest of your answer is just soapboxing.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Pelosi Patronage Machine dominates California politically. End of story – the Repubs are not about to waste their time.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You forgot about the black helicopters, again. And fluoridated water and going off the gold standard .

    VBobier Reply:

    Syno always does…

  2. joe
    May 16th, 2012 at 03:16

    CA and the Gov are suing OC for withholding taxes. It’s a battle over Brown closing a loop hole granted to OC.

    Since 1994, Orange County has been getting an extra share of vehicle tax money from the state, to help stabilize its budget after its bankruptcy. Because of its current budget crisis, the state cut off that extra money – all $48 million of it — so Orange County is now refusing to forward its usual share of property tax money that goes into the state treasury.

    joe Reply:

    And OC is suing CA over the taxes owed. OC demands an extra share of vehicle tax money – they went bankrupt after all and have a right to pay less taxes to the state than any other county.

    SANTA ANA, CA — The County of Orange has filed a claim against the State of California seeking over $23 million in Vehicle License Fee Adjustment Amount (VLFAA) owed to the County for Fiscal Year 2010-11.

    “Going back to 2005, the State of California has received the benefit of millions of dollars in property taxes that should have been available to provide services to the people of Orange County,” said John M.W. Moorlach, Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “This claim seeks to restore some of the property tax funding that Orange County should have received.”

    At issue is how the State calculated amounts owed to Orange County following the 2004 Vehicle License Fee swap, under which most counties received property taxes called “VLFAA” to replace Vehicle License Fees (VLF).

    lex luther Reply:

    lol you get your info from the “liberal O.C., whose slogan is “challenging the Orang County right wing noise machine”. I didnt need to read any further.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, if you don’t want to know what’s really going on, that’s your right (though I suggest you stop voting if that’s the case). However, the data from theliberaloc is in fact correct; it looks to be a straight press release reprint from the county, with every sentence starting with “the country says”.

    The OC – state situation is weird to say the least. It looks to me like OC doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but it’s all going to depend on how the legislature wrote the vehicle license fee swap. Pledging revenues which can be repealed by the state legislature as security for debt isn’t actually terribly wise, and leaves you up to the mercy of the state legislature.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Aaargh, typo correction. Practically every sentence starts with “the county says”.

    lex luther Reply:

    Under Prop 1A of 2004 , in times of fiscal necessity, the Governor could suspend sharing the vehicle licence fee with local government ONLY IF 2/3rd’s of the LEGISLATURE approve of the suspension, NOT A SIMPLE MAJORITY. It would require republicans to agree with democrats that orange county must forfeit their share. Governor Brown will lose this one

    Orange County is right to not allow socialist brown to take money from school children

    joe Reply:


    Nathanael Reply:

    Here’s the thing: the Governor actually did share the vehicle license fee with Orange County. Orange County is suing claiming that the state government should NOT have shared the vehicle license fee, and should have shared the VLFAA instead…. see?

    If you’re right about Prop 1A of 2004, then that means that Brown wins and OC loses.

  3. Paul Druce
    May 16th, 2012 at 09:43

    Of course, one needs to consider that Kempton works for an agency whose board, dominated by Republicans, is voicing more skepticism about the project. That’s due to their ideological opposition, based in an obsolete belief that Orange County should rely on automobiles alone for travel. High speed rail will benefit Orange County too, but because conservatives still tend to dominate local elections in Orange County, OCTA board members (drawn from local councils) reflect that bias.

    Yes, of course the OCTA that funded extra San Diegans for commuters two decades ago and has been consistently funding increased capacity and service with Metrolink believes OC should rely on automobiles alone for travel. Uh-huh.

    Look, can we stop with the bullshit and possibly, just maybe, actually pay attention to what is even said? Look at their complaints: 1) They want to fill the LA-Bakersfield gap first, which is reasonable given that it’s the single biggest impediment to unified state rail and the most heavily trafficked Amtrak bus segment (over 200,000 passengers a year even with relatively poor connections), 2) There is a severe lack of identified funding, which is an important and valid criticism of the project and 3) The Authority has a trust issue when it comes to their financing and management which again is a valid and true complaint.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I’m afraid it runs deeper than that.

    Orange County via Curt Pringle and Tom Umberg used to have pretty good leverage on the Board. Not so long ago, I remember debates about using the first installment on LA to Anaheim….

    Now, the Authority has committed all sorts of atrocities: Pringle and Umberg are off the Board, Anaheim was dropped “temporarily” from Phase 1, and then the MTA singlehandedly steamrolled all the other county transit agencies in the MOU with SCAG and the Authority.

    Hence the desire to “fill the gap”…because OCTA wants to call the MTA’s bluff about running lower speed diesel operations to prove that Metro’s real goal is to have the IOS end in Palmdale for a few years while it can reap the benefit of connecting traffic on Metrolink and new transportation upgrades elsewhere in Southern California.

    For Kempton, Schwarzenegger’s former CalTrans director, to have problems with the current type of contract arrangement is just silly. The current arrangement with PB isn’t that different to the hundreds of others contracts executed at the Department of Transportation with some frequency….

    Nathanael Reply:

    I’m sorry, but when it comes to a “trust issue about financing and management”, recently-bankrupt Orange County isn’t in a good position to be criticizing.

    And they really have been awful about local rail, by comparison with their neighbors to the north and south.

  4. Reality Check
    May 16th, 2012 at 10:56

    California bullet train chief seeks environmental exemptions
    The chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority says in a state Senate hearing that he hopes the initial phase of the construction project through the Central Valley can avoid legal delays.

    The chief of the state bullet train authority said Tuesday that he hopes to obtain some type of relief from environmental laws that would eliminate a risk that the 130-mile initial construction project could be stopped by an injunction, a potentially growing prospect as agriculture interests in the Central Valley gear up for a legal fight.

    At a state Senate hearing, Chairman Dan Richard also said the agency plans to spend the entire $6 billion of initial construction money within a 2017 deadline set by the federal government.

    Peter Reply:

    I’m curious what such “exemptions” would consist of. Relief from what specific CEQA sections or other statutes would reduce legal ‘risks’?

    lex luther Reply:


    VBobier Reply:

    More likely protection from frivolous lawsuits from Nutter Nimbys aimed at stopping any spending of DOT money…

    joe Reply:

    See below – 8 residents were holding up a stadium asking for a new EIR. 8 residents. Lucas had to bag his expansion in Marin because of a local community who wanted to keep his land clear for their enjoyment.

    I’m not a supporter of the stadium BUT abuse of the CEQA law is going to undermine it and I fear a large backlash which will gut the law – PAMPA for example wants a new EIR for the blended approach.

    PAMPA might undermine the very laws they need to protect themselves from out of control growth at Stanford and IT parks in the area.

    Peter Reply:

    I enjoy Lucas’ low-income housing revenge, though.

    joe Reply:


    The NIMBY Leader in the exclusive community was quoted as “surprised” Lucas quit.

    I think the residents expected they could delay and never see any development – rather than look at it as choosing between 100% housing or a 5% Lucas development and 95% preserve.

    The land is slated to be housing – they can’t block the housing – it is part of the county plan. Lucas offering to donate his vast EIR library to speed the low income housing should fast track the project. Plus – Marin needs low income housing.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If you are familiar with the NorthBay you would concede Lucas’ property is a very poor candidate for semi-industrial development. Real Ritchie Riches(the Bohemian Grove types, the kind that live in the hills above PAMPA, far removed from the SP ROW)oppose Lucas. He can locate his facilities in a myriad of locals in Marin and the Bay Area. He is a spoiled celebrity.

    Yeah, sure, they are going to build low income housing in Lucas Valley. Very few Marinites want any low-income housing anywhere around them. They have been trying to get rid of Marin City for years.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And you guys decry PAMPA for taking care of #1 but lionize the Chandlers, the ultimate “utter NIMBYS”.

    synonymouse Reply:

    let’s try utter and Nutter

    Peter Reply:

    “Suitability” of the site wasn’t one of the arguments used against the Lucas project. Construction effects and increased traffic were.

    joe Reply:

    Your lithium dosage needs adjusting. You are a fountain of silliness.

    Given a choice – I’d take 5% development and 95% preservation. But housing is housing and if the add low income or high income – the place is going to fill-up and Lucas’ EIRs are extensive and compete.

    lex luther Reply:

    OUT OF CONTROL growth at STANFORD and I.T. parks? youre kidding right. Palo Alto is only what is because of Stanford and “I.T.” parks like the Apple campus

    Shawn Wilsher Reply:

    Apple is in Cupertino, which is a fair bit away from Palo Alto.

    VBobier Reply:

    Give Nimbys an inch and they’ll take a Mile…

    Nathanael Reply:

    Didn’t that stadium business already lead to a law allowing expedited review for certain major projects? Hmm. I think the “obstruct, obstruct, obstruct” crowd really is undermining the genuine environmentalists.

    Peter Reply:

    More likely they’re hoping for an AB 900-like streamlined review procedure. While the effectiveness of such a statute is somewhat questionable, it would not be an EXEMPTION from ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION LAWS.

    I think this is what Richard is talking about because of his talk of “mitigations” instead of an “injunction”. An accelerated review procedure would increase the likelihood of a settlement, instead of a protracted legal battle.

    Alan Reply:

    All they have to do is add a provision to CEQA stating that if the court determines a challenge to an EIR to be frivolous or primarily for the purpose of delaying the project, the plaintiffs would be held liable for not only the agency’s cost of defending the suit, but for any cost overruns or other expenses attributable to the delays of the lawsuit. Should cut down on the NIMBY nonsense while still leaving room for legitimate challenges.

    joe Reply:

    Fees will only favor wealth. I would reform CEQA:

    Establish standards: “CEQA’s broad scope and lack of clear thresholds often lead to litigation, both by groups that support development, and individuals and agencies opposing such development.”

    Apply it to multiple smaller projects that accumulate over time in a city/county but fall under the size threshold.

    Use the Lucas Rule – “If you are going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about”
    “Star Wars” creator George Lucas could, indeed, make good on his idea of building affordable housing right next door to the high-income NIMBYs who blocked his plans for a production studio near his Lucas Valley ranch complex.

    His Marin County neighbors and conservationists have dismissed Lucas’ musings as sour grapes, and say low-income housing could never be built in such a remote and environmentally sensitive location.

    But those in the know disagree.

    There’s a feeling on the Board of Supervisors, which has final say over the project, that it fits into the county’s desire for more low-income housing – and by the way, the land is already zoned for residential use.

    joe Reply:

    Probably the same exemptions afforded to other projects like a football stadium.

    Statutory exemptions
    The California state legislature has, on occasion, abrogated CEQA such that specific projects or types of projects could proceed without an EIR.[35] One such abrogation occurred in October 2009, with the passage of a union-backed law exempting the proposed construction of Los Angeles Stadium from CEQA’s requirements. The abrogation mooted an ongoing lawsuit, brought by eight residents of a neighboring city, challenging the validity of the developer’s EIR. The developer had originally prepared an EIR for a commercial development on the site, then prepared a supplemental EIR to include a proposed 75,000 seat stadium situated within 3,000 feet of homes in that neighboring city; the plaintiffs argued that a single new EIR studying the entire project was required.[36] State officials said the abrogation ended an abuse of CEQA by individuals seeking to obstruct the project; at the signing ceremony, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would “terminate the frivolous lawsuit.[37]” A plaintiff in the lawsuit said the abrogation “opens up the door for other developers… to hire lobbyists… and get exemptions from the environmental laws.[38]” An environmental lawyer said that the slow economy would probably encourage developers to seek more abrogations, as legislators become more eager to stimulate job growth.[35]

    Peter Reply:

    Nah, that would be a complete exemption. More likely would be an accelerated legal review process, like I talk about above.

    joe Reply:

    CAHSR might swing for the fence with an exception in some places like PAMPA and compromise with the fast-track review for the project.

    PAMPA exactly copying the strategy the 8 residents used to block the stadium – they want a new EIR for the blended approach.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Now you need an EIR to not perform work? The blended approach would not require new work in PAMPA over and above the work for the electrification for Caltrain until the final stage of Phase 1.

    joe Reply:

    I don’t make the news, I just write what the nuts are claiming.

    PAMPA is threatening to sue over the EIR – they want a new EIR dedicated to the Blended design ONLY and threaten to sue to get one written.

    VBobier Reply:

    And then they’d sue to get another if they didn’t like a surrender detail and want to start over again, like I said Nutters…

    slackfarmer Reply:

    Neither anrogation nor exemption under CEQA will get the CAHSR project out of doing an EIS under federal environmental laws.

    slackfarmer Reply:

    Sorry, that’s abrogation. Dang tiny iPhone keys.

    Nathanael Reply:

    But that’s not a problem, as the CAHSR project has already satisfied most of the NEPA requirements anyway.

    The difference is that it’s much harder for 8 people with spurious complaints to get an injunction under the federal laws than under the California laws. The federal laws raise higher bars for standing and higher bars for issuing preliminary injunctions, from what I can tell.

  5. Reality Check
    May 16th, 2012 at 13:53

    Calif. seeks federal high-speed rail commitment

    The leader of California’s state Senate wants the Obama administration to say it will commit more federal money to the state’s high-speed rail project if the president wins a second term.

    Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is pushing skeptical lawmakers to approve $2.7 billion in initial spending by July 1 to meet a federal construction deadline. The federal government has pledged $3.5 billion, on top of the $9 billion authorized by California voters.

    The total price tag is at least $68 billion.

    A sticking point is whether more federal money will be available to complete the project once it gets under way.

    Steinberg, a Democrat, told reporters Wednesday that it would help if the administration commits to future financial support. Federal transportation officials said they could not immediately comment.

    joe Reply:

    Since the Budget is Congressional – the request for Obama to make a promise on the Budget is more chicken shit ass covering from a Political Party scared of its own shadow.

    Quit the position Derrall and let someone with a spine run the State Senate.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    All that the Administration can commit to is including HSR in the budget it sends to Congress ~ it can’t commit to authorizing and appropriating the funds, since neither are in its power.

    Since Darrell Steinberg knows that full well, it seems likely to be about giving political cover to State Senators who are looking to for cover for previous statements that sounded like opposition. “Sen XYZ stated, ‘My chief concern all along has been whether more Federal funds would be forthcoming. With this commitment from the Administration, we have much more reason for confidence that by the time the first construction segment is completed, there will be more Federal funding available to continue to the next segment.’ “

  6. D. P. Lubic
    May 16th, 2012 at 16:58

    Parallel commentary on one of the issues of HSR:

  7. California Taxpayer
    May 16th, 2012 at 17:27

    meanwhile in the valley supes seek amtrak leverage in bill

  8. Tom McNamara
    May 16th, 2012 at 23:09

    Part of me wonders if the Obama Administration isn’t secretly encouraging some State Senators to vote the bond down so that it can’t reallocate the money more strategically for the election. I can see how the President would love to have this money at his disposal in Virginia to extend the Acela and in Missouri.

    Moreover, this would give cover to nixing the MOUs with MTC and SCAG which would also have clandestine political support from entities like BART. It would also crush Simitian and Lowenthal by having their local transit providers take a hit for losing those dollars and have the Authority program a much smaller award for just the Central Valley….

    Nathanael Reply:

    Virginia doesn’t have its act together. The fact is that Virginia passenger rail extensions pay for themselves these days, but Virginia doesn’t even have a plan for purchasing the RF&P from CSX or building its own parallel right-of-way. (Heck, Virginia used to own the RF&P and actually sold it to CSX. Idiots.)

    More likely the money would go into Illinois to build more train lines which stop at the state border, providing a shining example to all the neighboring states of “Why didn’t you vote for Democrats like we did?” Or perhaps to Texas and Louisiana, which actually do have some decent unfunded plans.

  9. Emma
    May 18th, 2012 at 10:58

    “a competent management structure” And this is exactly the problem with CHSR. We don’t have a competent managment structure that provides a viable roadmap. Instead we keep on jumping from one issue to the other.

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