Acton Resident Installs Fake Cemetery along HSR Route

Feb 2nd, 2016 | Posted by

This is taking NIMBYism a bit far, if you ask me:

A cemetery — which some residents called fake — popped up on an Acton property right in the path of where a high-speed rail was proposed, which raised eyebrows of residents who said they believe the entire thing is a ruse to stop the rail project.

Google Satellite Map images of the property from 2016 did not show any tombstones as of Monday.

As the story explains, the property owner originally got the tombstones from the Whittier Historical Museum, and that they came from an old cemetery in Whittier that had been abandoned since the 1950s. The property owner seems to have originally installed them as either a prank on his kids or as a way to get film producers to the area.

But when he realized that one of the proposed HSR routes between Palmdale and Burbank went through his property, he decided to use the “cemetery” as a way to try and stop the project.

It won’t work, of course, since the “cemetery” is fake. This guy is nothing but an attention-seeker. But I wouldn’t be surprised if other HSR opponents try to run similar scams in their desperate attempt to prevent the project from being built.

Two New Members Appointed to CHSRA Board

Jan 28th, 2016 | Posted by

The California High Speed Rail Authority got two new board members this week. Lorraine Paskett was appointed to fill a vacancy created when Jim Hartnett stepped down nearly two years ago, and former Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal was appointed to fill a vacancy created when Thea Selby was elected to the City College of San Francisco board this past November. (Congratulations, Thea, though you’ll be missed on the CHSRA board!)

Some background on each, courtesy of the CHSRA’s news release:

Lorraine Paskett is an attorney and CEO of Cambridge LCF Group, and Paskett Winery. She brings over 25 years of experience on water, energy and environmental issues. She is also currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and was previously a Senior Assistant General Manager of Sustainability Programs and External Affairs at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In addition, she was previously a director for a private electric and gas utility, and served as vice president for a large solar energy company developing business, market, environmental and energy regulatory compliance plans for California.

Paskett was the Senate’s appointment to the board, and her background at the DWP and MWD gives her a lot of experience in big government bureaucracies – which I see as a plus for the CHSRA board.

Former Asm. Lowenthal probably needs less of an introduction, but you’re getting one anyway:

Bonnie Lowenthal was elected to represent Assembly District 54 (subsequently Assembly District 70) in 2008 after serving two terms on the Long Beach City Council, two terms on the Long Beach Unified School District, and on the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Ms. Lowenthal was appointed chair of the Assembly Committee on Transportation in 2010 by then-Speaker John A. Perez, becoming ex-officio member of the California Transportation Commission, where she oversaw public investment in highway, passenger rail and transportation projects. Ms. Lowenthal termed out of the Assembly in 2014.

She was appointed by outgoing Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. Lowenthal did some great work in support of the HSR project while in the Assembly, killing a GOP anti-HSR bill and passing a bill to speed up land acquisition. Lowenthal had run for mayor of Long Beach in 2014, but did not get elected. Her service on the board should be particularly helpful to the Authority’s relationships with the Legislature.

HSR Cost Might Be Lower than $68 Billion

Jan 27th, 2016 | Posted by

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee #3 on Resources and Transportation held a hearing today on the high speed rail project. You can view the 90-minute hearing below:

One of the big news items that came out of the hearing was California High Speed Rail Authority board chairman Dan Richard telling legislators that the upcoming 2016 Business Plan will show a new cost estimate below $68 billion to build the whole route from San Francisco to Los Angeles:

“There are a range of uncertainties here, so I can’t look you in the eye and tell you it will be $68 billion. I will tell you this: When you see our new business plan, the number’s going to be less than $68 billion,” Richard told a Republican lawmaker who has been critical of the project.

“I’m more confident about the dollars, sir, than about the time. It may take us a little longer to do this than we said,” Richard added.

So HSR could come in under the $68 billion estimate, but the 2028 date of completion could slip. That all sounds plausible. Given the legal and acquisition challenges the project has had to overcome, it’s not surprising that the timeline might be pushed out a year or two. And given that HSR contracts are routinely coming in below estimates, it’s also not surprising to hear that the project could be built for less than $68 billion.

CHSRA CEO Jeff Morales also pointed out another important note about the estimate:

Morales said the $68 billion price tag includes $10.9 billion in contingencies for unexpected cost increases and inflation, but he added, “the faster we get this built, the less it will cost.”

$11 billion in contingency planning makes sense. But if they can get this built for less than that, it would represent a big savings. Morales is right that building sooner means building cheaper and the legislature should take that point seriously.

He also had this to say about the federal stimulus funds:

On other funding questions, Morales pledged that he’s confident the rail authority will meet its September 2017 deadline to spend $2.2 billion in federal matching funds, ensuring the project will not lose out on the critical federal dollars.

That’s as I expected, but it’s certainly good to see it confirmed.

Morales also would not say whether the CHSRA has picked a northern or southern option for the Initial Operating Segment. That will probably fuel the current speculation that they’re looking at doing a northern IOS from San José to Merced, but we’ll have to wait for the business plan to find out for sure.

San Jose Loves Idea of Starting HSR Service in the North

Jan 25th, 2016 | Posted by

San Jose CalTrain station

I mean, this doesn’t really count as “news” given how obvious the positive reaction would be, but it’s still noteworthy that leaders in Silicon Valley welcomed the idea of building the Initial Operating Segment for high speed rail in the northern part of the state, from San José to Bakersfield:

“This would seriously be a game-changing win,” said Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who also sits on the California Transportation Commission. “One of the big winners would actually be our efforts to electrify Caltrain. High-speed rail comes to San Jose and we electrify Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco; the winner is everyone who depends on additional speed, with less noise and less pollution.”

…a northern route would be a boon for commuters who live in the affordable Central Valley and work in and around San Jose, said former Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon Sr., who sat on the California High-Speed Rail Authority board until 2010 and strongly supports the bullet train.

“Right now we have 50,000 commuters every day coming north from the Central Valley,” he said. “Highway 152 and I-580 get jampacked, and it’s taking people 21/2 hours to come from Fresno to work.”

Guardino’s support is a big deal, suggesting local industry would really like to see this happen. And Diridon is right about the importance of providing a good alternative to driving on 152 and 580.

Others in San José are welcoming, but also aware of the challenges ahead, like the city’s mayor:

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he’d heard rumblings that the city may be back in play for the early spur. Still, he said, he’s “not jumping for joy.”

“What would be good for San Jose and Silicon Valley would be to have a completed line that connects the entire state,” he said. “I’m not terribly interested in political battles over whether it gets to one city before another. I’m more interested in either getting it done completely, or focusing those dollars on intercity transit systems like BART.”

As an elected official who has to deal with the Legislature it’s understandable that Liccardo’s comments were measured. He’s aware that there may be some legislators from Southern California who are unhappy about this idea – though it is worth noting that so far, the comments quoted in the media have come from ex-legislators like Richard Katz.

Liccardo might also be thinking about the unresolved questions of how to get HSR tracks from Diridon Station to Gilroy – questions that helped lead the California High Speed Rail Authority to decide to put the IOS in the south:

When Diridon was on the rail board, the idea was to bring it north to the Bay Area. But he said it became problematic because there wasn’t consensus on what form or path it would take. So the southern option came to the fore.

Now “there may be a window of opportunity to have the San Jose extension be done first,” he said. But that would require a concerted effort and concrete decisions on a subject that concerns residents who live in areas that the tracks would cut through.

“If it ran adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way it can be done quickly and inexpensively,” Diridon said. But that route also cuts through San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, and the people there are “not excited about that,” he added.

An alternative such as a tunnel running between the Tamien and Diridon stations would be more acceptable to residents, but the added costs of putting the tracks underground would likely torpedo the plan, he said.

“We are talking about something that brings great benefits, but also comes with great impacts that no one takes lightly, nor should they,” said Guardino. “The outreach has to be thorough and thoughtful.”

There’s really no way to avoid these kinds of issues. Sometimes people who live near a proposed route don’t want it, and that opposition isn’t going to go away immediately or even in the space of a few years just because you focus on building somewhere else. Eventually the questions about how to build the HSR tracks south of Diridon Station were going to have to be answered, so that might as well happen now.

That said, the challenges facing an IOS from San José to Bakersfield pale in comparison to the challenges currently facing a Merced to LA route. The main unresolved issues along a northern IOS, as I understand them, are:

• How to get the tracks from Diridon Station south to the alignment along Monterey Road south of Tamien

• Where the Gilroy HSR station would go

• Any remaining (or potential) legal or environmental challenges to the routing east of Pacheco Pass, along the 152 corridor

• The final design of the Chowchilla Wye

Those are all much more easily resolved – and for a lower price – than the big challenge of how to get the tracks from Palmdale to Burbank, given the costs of a long tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains and the fact that such a route has just as much opposition as the Highway 14 route.

It’ll be interesting to see what Southern California elected leaders have to say about this plan, especially those in the Legislature. They might not have a problem with it, as long as projects such as run-through tracks at LA Union Station remain funded.