CHSRA Considers Hiring Disadvantaged Workers, Preserve Farmland
The California High Speed Rail Authority held a board meeting today and took some steps that will ensure the HSR construction project helps some of the workers hardest hit by the Great Recession – as well as steps to protect farmland. Tim Sheehan has the report:
Job-creation advocates in Fresno said they moved a step closer Wednesday to ensuring that local workers who need a job can compete for one building California’s high-speed rail system.
Their hopes were boosted during the California High-Speed Rail Authority meeting in Sacramento, where bullet-train planners also took their first step to reducing their system’s footprint on agriculture — approving a $20 million effort to compensate for farmland lost to the railroad right of way.
Representatives from Fresno Works, a coalition of local government and business leaders, pitched a proposal Wednesday to establish a “national targeted hiring initiative.” The program would put a premium on contractors to hire workers who live in communities with high rates of long-term unemployment or other economic hardship, or workers who are considered economically disadvantaged — homeless, single parents who have custody of their children, chronically unemployed or other qualifying factors.
This is a very good thing to do, and I hope the Authority follows through on this commitment to craft a policy meeting these goals. Fresno has some of the highest unemployment in America – 13.1% as of September – and some of the folks described above have been suffering for even longer than the five years that have passed since the recession began in December 2007. High speed rail is not just a transportation system, it’s also a job creator and an economic engine. It’s appropriate that the project deliver immediate benefits to some of the people in the region most in need of help.
Valley farmers are doing comparatively well economically, but the Authority is also working to help them by protecting farmland. Sheehan again:
The farmland-preservation action approved Wednesday authorizes the rail agency to work with the state Department of Conservation to put up at least $20 million to buy farmland conservation easements. For each acre of agricultural land that would be lost to the railroad right of way in the Valley — an estimated 2,500 acres from Merced to Bakersfield — at least one acre of permanent easement would be secured.
Farmers are claiming that the cost of protecting those acres might be higher than the Authority budgeted, but we’ll find out once the easement purchase time comes. This is another good move that will help preserve more Valley farmland – alongside the actual construction of the trains themselves, which will help preserve farmland by pulling development pressure back into city centers and away from sprawl.