2014: The Year California Goes Its Own Way?

Jan 5th, 2014 | Posted by

The California high speed rail project will face two related tasks in 2014: resolving the lawsuit that ended in a Sacramento judge ordering changes to the financing plan, and starting construction on the project’s first segment near Fresno. But to do those things, California will have to spend 2014 starting to blaze its own trail on building high speed rail without being able to count on future federal funding.

As we saw in 2013, federal austerity policies and Tea Party rule in half of Congress has blocked new federal dollars and caused a series of related problems, one of which was Judge Michael Kenny’s August ruling that the California High Speed Rail Authority needed to revise its financing plan. California cannot throw the Tea Party out of power in Congress on its own. But voters have thrown their ilk out of power in the Golden State. That, combined with California’s massive economic output, creates conditions that are favorable to the state following Palo Alto native Lindsey Buckingham’s advice and going its own way on funding the project.

SPUR has already laid out the basic elements of what it would take for California to fund HSR alone. The most immediate and likely source are the cap-and-trade funds, and last month I went into some detail about how that might work in practice.

It’s reasonable to expect cap-and-trade funds to play some role in the Authority’s compliance with Judge Kenny’s ruling. And we may learn whether or not that is the case as soon as this week. Governor Jerry Brown will deliver his 2014-15 budget proposal this coming Friday. I would not be surprised if it includes using some cap-and-trade funds for high speed rail.

The Authority needs to deliver its response to the Court by spring, and hopefully the judge will approve it soon thereafter. Some construction activities have already begun near Fresno, but the big work has not, and the Authority is probably waiting for the lawsuit to be resolved before doing so. They have just enough time left before the September 2017 deadline, but not so much that further delays are acceptable. Hopefully we will see a true groundbreaking in Fresno very soon.

Some other things to watch for regarding high speed rail in 2014:

Statewide elections in November: 2014 will be the first time that the all-Democratic state government, including statewide offices, are up for re-election. Jerry Brown is going to be re-elected easily. But he may want some insurance, and resolving legal questions about high speed rail and getting construction under way can help make that happen. That’s especially true for Democrats in the Legislature, defending their 2/3 majority. Republicans will try again to make an issue out of HSR in these elections, and they will probably fail just as they did in 2012. Congressional elections are in November as well, and so far it’s a crap shoot. We could lose the Senate to the Tea Party, or Democrats could retake the House. Who knows how it will play out.

What’s going on with Vegas HSR? 2013 was a bad year for passenger rail from Southern California to Las Vegas, with the XpressWest bullet train and the X Train both running into major funding obstacles that have put both plans into deep freeze, at least for now. In 2014 Senator Harry Reid will continue doing all he can to save high speed rail to Vegas, but my guess is he will struggle until the House is back in Democratic hands.

Will there be any movement on a statewide transportation plan? This was a subject that got a lot of attention in late 2012 but fell off the radar almost completely in 2013. California needs more money to fund transit operations, expansion of mass transit, and road maintenance. The state needs to significantly increase the amount of money it spends on those things, and it needs to free local governments to help out as well by getting rid of the 2/3 requirement for most taxes for transit. One or both would be a very good thing for Democrats to do while they’ve got the supermajority, but they seem pretty reluctant to do so. We may have to wait until 2015 to see real movement in Sacramento on a plan, which is unfortunate. The need is here and the time is now.

What else are you looking forward to in 2014 regarding high speed rail?

  1. Derek
    Jan 5th, 2014 at 11:53

    Instead of spending more money on road maintenance, it would be more efficient to replace stop signs and traffic signals with roundabouts that “require fewer lanes approaching the intersection” and therefore require less money in road maintenance. And does every residential street need to be wide enough for 2-way traffic plus street parking on both sides?

    Back in the Saddle Reply:

    Derek–As a firefighter who has traveled to California several times to work on wildland and urban interface fires, I do have a concern about making streets to narrow to effectively use structure fire engines. That is an issue for not only California but any residential or commercial area. Some if the streets I worked on were a bottleneck for effective engine use. In numerous cases roads and streets are overbuilt, however, they must be large enough for two engines to pass and turn around.

    Derek Reply:

    Actually, fire response times are lower where streets are narrower.

    Should outdoor mall walkways be wide enough for two engines to pass and turn around? If not, then how do they fight fires in outdoor malls, and could the same strategy be used in residential neighborhoods?

    jonathan Reply:

    A+ for statistical illiteracy.
    The Globe article actually says that fire-department response times are lower where *people are denser*. Narrowness of streets is a correlation, not causation. The narrow streets are caused by historical factors (horse-carts didn’t need very wide roads). The low fire-response times are driven by population density, which in turn leads to higher fire-station density.

    MarkB Reply:

    *Which* streets must be wide enough for a 2-engine pirouette? Clearly, many streets are not.

    I’m dubious of claims that things “have” to be a certain way, usually under threat of one’s painful, personal death because “precious seconds” were lost. For example, LAFD requires buildings over 75′ tall to have a helipad for use during a fire. That’s why LA has such a stumpy, unimaginative skyline. The thing is, basically every other big city in the world manages to maintain fire safety even with spires and pinnacles. If LAFD’s *must have* was so good at saving lives or property, statistics would have shown it by now and the world would be beating a path to our fire code’s door. Instead, after about 40 years of this policy, the department is budging ever so slightly, and under pressure from the city council, to ease up.

    I happen to think roundabouts could replace 4-way stop signs or traffic signals at many intersections below a certain volume threshold. And, the Dutch have, as usual, shown how to create one with the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in mind.

    Eric Reply:

    Exactly, the number of pedestrian/motorist/biker lives saved by roundabouts will be much higher than the number of lives, if any, lost due to worse fire response times.

    Jon Reply:

    More to the point, roundabouts can be designed so they don’t inhibit emergency vehicles.


    A fire truck would just drive straight over it, experiencing no more than a slight bump. You can do the same with speed bumps, too:


    Fire trucks have wheel bases wide enough to go over those things at full speed without experiencing a bump.

    Nathanael Reply:

    LAFD clearly just likes helipads. That’s an obviously stupid regulation and they should just be told “We’re getting rid of that idiotic regulation. Don’t like it, Mr. Fire Chief? Well then you can resign without pension.”

    Nathanael Reply:

    ” however, they must be large enough for two engines to pass and turn around.”

    Arrant nonsense. This form of overkill is not necessary in hardly any fire EVER.

    For fire engine access, streets should be wide enough to get one hose-and-tank engine and one ladder-and-rescue engine in, in sequence, and to get them out again somehow (perhaps by pulling straight forward to the next block).

    That is PLENTY. Fires which seem to require more fire engines than that are exceedingly rare and often need to be fought by airplane and by building demolition, not by fire engines.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s why Greenwich Village burns down so freq… oh wait it doesn’t. There’s neighborhoods like that all over the US, ones which don’t burn down.

    Observer Reply:

    I like roundabouts; they are much less expensive and more efficient. To start out with, they could be used at intersections that do not have that much traffic so people could get used to them; pedestrian safety also needs to be addressed – to kill the fear of the unknown factor as people in this country are totally unfamiliar with roundabouts.

    As for state funding for HSR, unfortunately, I think that not much will happen or be said regarding this until after the election. In other words 2015.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Roundabouts, unless “yield to pedestrians” is strictly enforced, are a PITA the walk across.

    jonathan Reply:

    If memory serves, numerous studies of roundabouts in the UK, 70s era, showed that roundabouts are more efficient for all but very heavy traffic. For heavy traffic — say, across all four points of a full intersection — traffic lights are more efficient.

    I recall seeing large roundabouts with pedestrian crossings, and stop-signs triggered by pedestrians (not traffic). Hm. The big roundabout on the council-housing-estate side of Cambridge may be what I’m thinking of.

    StevieB Reply:

    The case of Poynton, U.K. is an eye opener.

    Derek Reply:


    jonathan Reply:

    And another.

    jonathan Reply:

    And does every residential street need to be wide enough for 2-way traffic plus street parking on both sides?

    Patently not, because many *aren’t* that wide. Duh.

  2. joe
    Jan 5th, 2014 at 16:25

    Top Complaint for Mr. Roadshow MercuryNews readers.

    The scarcity of BART parking is the top gripe on Mr. Roadshow’s complaint line this year, making it the first time a highway has not held the top spot in the dozen years the “Dirty Dozen” list has been compiled.

    “Why not build more parking?” asked BART spokesman James Allison. “Do we use land to build more parking, which is not only a money loser for BART but encourages driving, or do we consider ways to provide some parking but not necessarily a spot for every rider?”

    There is no major fix in the works, so transit officials recommend being dropped off by a spouse or friend, or traveling to a station by bicycle or bus.

    Derek Reply:

    So BART creates a parking shortage by charging below the market equilibrium price, then they complain that parking is a “money loser.” That’s pretty funny.

    Joe Reply:

    I think they are charging more for some spaces.
    Maybe click on the link.

    Interesting at how indifferent the spokes person was, or was quoted, about bus alternatives. I’d be all over the local transportation authorities to get riders to BART.

    Joey Reply:

    BART charges for parking on weekdays. They should probably be charging more.

    Joe Reply:

    Yeah, then it does push people back to driving.

    I prefer incentives which would be BART accepting more responsibility for ridership without autos, pushing shuttle buses or better bus service to from BART.

    Not a fan of park and ride stations.

    Derek Reply:

    Creating a parking shortage at the stations by charging below the market equilibrium price for parking also pushes people to driving.

    joe Reply:

    Creating more parking encourages people to drive.

    BART has to held accountable for increasing the fraction and absolute number of non-automotive riders getting to / from their park and ride stations. It’s their job, their responsibility their problem. Right now I don;t read that urgency in their spokesmen’s response. They have to provide a service that doesn’t encourage driving.

    Ian Reply:

    My first inclination is to replace the surface parking with structured parking, and build mixed use nodes on the freed up land, ala MacArthur Transit Village. Hopefully that works out well and can be a model. Ashby Station, I’m thinking of you. Will spots in the structured parking at MacArthur remain the same, or are they increasing? What is the “at cost” rate for structured parking?

    joe Reply:


    Here’s a 12M structure in Mountain View with 14,000 square-feet of retail space (CVS Pharmacy). That’s 415 stalls.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART was not conceived as a train or as part of a low-end public transit network. Remember “supported duorail”?

    BART likes freeways and airports.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART steals bus outfits lunch money.

    jonathan Reply:

    BART steals Caltrain’s lunch money too.

    joe Reply:

    We should measure BART’s performance by the number of riders and fraction of ridership that do not use a car to reach their awesome park and ride moats.

    CA should treat BART park and ride lots is a car trip inducing development. They are inducing car trips and need to mitigate that development just like a business.

    Travis D Reply:

    Well what are some of us to do? If you live over an hour away from a BART station driving to it is just about your only option.

    I do this often. Driving in from the country to the Dublin station then taking BART the rest of the way into the city.

    Is BART supposed to just ignore users that do this?

    Eric Reply:

    It’s supposed to give users who do that lower priority than users who don’t do that.

    Anyway, if driving is your option, you can park on the nearest curb/private parking lot you can find, and walk a few minutes to the station. It won’t kill you.

    jonathan Reply:

    BART is *against* public-works projects which involve pouring inordinate amounts of reinforced concrete (parking structures)?

    “Very strange”.

    That might be before Richard M’s time, though.

    Reedman Reply:

    BART is planning on automotive commuters:
    — the new Milpitas station will have 1200 spaces
    — the new Berryessa station will have 1200 spaces
    — the new Warm Springs station will have 2000 spaces.


    I believe the Berryessa station has room/plans for 2500 spaces if demand warrants it.

  3. Stephen Smith
    Jan 5th, 2014 at 19:12

    Robert called it:

    Gov. Jerry Brown plans to propose spending millions of dollars in fees paid by carbon producers to aid the state’s controversial high-speed rail project.

    The proposal – and the prospect of additional funding from the state’s cap-and-trade program in future years – could provide a significant lift to a $68 billion rail project beleaguered by uncertainty about long-term financing.

    Brown plans to propose allocating several hundred million dollars this year, sources told The Sacramento Bee.

    missiondweller Reply:

    Someone might want to inform Robert of this:

    “The budget deal finalized by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders Monday night borrows $500 million from California’s cap-and-trade auction revenues, as Brown proposed last month.:

    It would seem the Cap-n-trade funds were needed to fill yet another Democrat passed non-budget.

    Might have a better chance of getting money from the Tea Party.

    joe Reply:

    Why? the date on you link is June 2013. That’s old news.

    In Smith’s link it says:

    Moreover, the Democratic governor and lawmakers infuriated environmentalists last year by approving a $500 million loan from the cap-and-trade program to the state general fund.
    Brown’s budget plans also include using general fund money to pay back part, but not all, of the loan, a source said.

    He borrowed 500 M last budget and in this he is rumoured to pay part of last year’s “loan” back in the current.

    I don’t recall the Tea Party keeping fiscal promises. Benghazi!

    Tony D. Reply:

    So how much $ are we looking at for HSR from C&T?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Brown plans to propose allocating several hundred million dollars this year, sources told The Sacramento Bee.

    But the use of cap-and-trade money for high-speed rail could be problematic. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said in 2012 that while the rail project could eventually help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, benefits would not be seen until after 2020, the year by which California is seeking to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

    So they’re looking at perhaps 3 or 4 or 5 billion over a decade.
    Certainly enough to keep the consultant mafiso fat and happy doing another billion of “studies” and “planning”, which is what matters, and a few bits and pieces left over to hand out to place random non-strategic pieces of concrete in random parts of the state.

    Still $90 billion short for construction, but no matter. Put on your caps and trade!

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    Well, the alternative is to pay China a half $ Billion not to emit HCFC’s, which everybody else stopped emitting without having to be paid. Or pay Brazil not to cut down a rainforest, which means they cut down the rainforest down the road instead, and save this one for later. Or plant some trees in a desert in Africa, which then get cut down for firewood.

    It’s not a perfect world. But I’d rather see California’s money spent in California where it will create some economic activity, and public infrastructure of lasting value.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    “Still $90 billion short for construction,” references please.

    Joe Reply:

    References? Careful. He might text you a pic of where he pull out that factoid.

    Whatever Brown directs to HSR, 300 million to 600 million, will be matched with Prop1a bonds. 500m becomes 1,000 million. Over 10 years that will pretty much use all of prop1a funding. So 9 B plus matching funds.

    Observer Reply:

    It could depend on the going rate which could vary. It is currently low, but it could go up. If it does up, it could add up to real money. Charge the frackers.

    Observer Reply:

    That is charge what the market can bear; capitalism 101. It is too low now.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    And it will only get lower. If you tax something that is not tangible, over time people will redefine it to avoid paying it.

    Observer Reply:

    It can also be redefined to get people (corporations) to get them to pay.

    Nathanael Reply:

    That statement doesn’t make sense, Ted. We generally tax money, which isn’t taxable, but people can’t redefine it — it doesn’t work because money is a social construct and you can’t redefine it unless a large community agrees to redefine it all at once.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Aargh, let me try that again.

    We generally tax money. (Income tax, capital gains tax, payroll tax, sales tax, etc. etc.)

    Money isn’t tangible. It’s a social construct. But people can’t just redefine money on their own — you need to get a whole society to agree in order to redefine money. So it’s pretty damn easy to collect taxes on money and pretty damn hard to avoid paying those taxes.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Brown’s people refused to comment on the specific amount, so we’ll have to wait until Friday to learn that. I have a post coming out at 8AM tomorrow on this.

  4. Ben
    Jan 5th, 2014 at 21:08

    Doesn’t the revenue from C&T need to be spent on reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as required by AB 32? HSR would be completed much later than 2020. What are the chances the legislature would approve a meaningful amount of C&T funds for HSR?

  5. D. P. Lubic
    Jan 5th, 2014 at 23:21

    Off topic, but I believe strongly of interest–seems the oil in the trains that had serious incidents may have been deliberately misclassified as to flamability; on top of that, what may be oil-influenced politicians in Canada may have hampered the accident investigation there:




    Nathanael Reply:

    I am not surprised that the criminal gang run by the criminal Prime Minister Steven Harper from the criminal Conservative Party of Canada is encouraging criminal misclassification of the flammability of the oil and hampering the investigations.

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