In Part One, I made a conservative-Republican argument for California high speed rail (HSR). The argument boiled down to millennial demographics, coalitions and a vision for the future.
While I believe that HSR is inevitable and deserves support—all those nations building HSR around the world are not experiencing mass hallucinations that only American conservatives have avoided!—the current California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) should be shut down immediately. It is absolutely out of control, a fiscal-political-bureaucratic disaster.
There are many players in the game. The booster sites USHSR and America 2050 have compelling arguments for a national HSR system but are blinded by utopian zeal. The California-centric fan-boy sites like California-HSR-Blog are highly partisan, with an often nasty anti-conservative tone in the posts and comment boards.
Anti-CHSRA sites run the gamut from the liberal Bay Area Peninsula NIMBY organizations like Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) to the hard core Republican-conservative anti-union operatives at CHSR-SCAM.
I have family members who were involved with the Palo Alto-Atherton-Burlingame NIMBY groups and have huge respect for what these moderate-to-liberal communities have done to organize against 58 miles of 4 tract HSR viaduct that would rip through their beautiful, tree-lined communities creating high-tech blight.
Their Democrat State Senator, Joe Simitian is pro-HSR but a thoughtful, passionate champion against the runaway CHSRA system. Simitian’s 2012 speech on the Senate floor before a critical funding vote says it all, eloquently. A YouTube channel created by an Atherton resident is an excellent resource for other videos.
Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) and Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Kern) are in the shut down fight on the conservative side. Harkey—from SoCal—champions Central Valley farmers. She’s a pistol, a red-meat gunslinger who calls the $3 billion Obama stimulus money, “cocaine for the train… or more accurately, crack for the track,” because the portion CHSRA intends to first build in the Central Valley won’t have train sets, electrification or signals… just track. The insanity is truly mindboggling.
And there is convincing evidence the Central Valley was chozen by Pelosi-Obama in 2010 to help Democrat Jim Costa win a close election. This is frankly scandalous.
Kevin McCarthy seems to have a gut instinct that CHSRA is out of control, but he isn’t a deep thinker on the subject. There is a cringe-worthy video of McCarthy enduring a boorish Tea Party harangue on HSR before finally getting an opening to say, “I’m with you!” McCarthy is staying with the base.
But strategic political sense is lacking in the CA GOP congressional delegation. No one seems to have considered what-if scenarios beyond the Party of No power politics of the current Tea Party control of Congress. Nor do I detect GOP coalition building with CA Democrats against CHSRA or wavering.
The most salient fact is that a March 2013 poll showed likely CA voters now oppose HSR 54%-43%.
But that does NOT mean CHSRA will go away! In fact, with Governor Brown doubling down during his China visit and with Obama making HSR a legacy issue, the likelihood that the Authority will bull its way forward is very high.
Everyone knows—or they think they know—that once something, anything, is built the project assumes inevitability given the astronomical costs. The new CHSRA Board President, Dan Richards, is counting on inevitability.
Richards is not a bad guy. In fact, he is an accomplished engineer-bureaucrat whose first job out of college was at NASA, who went on to build the BART system and who admits he loves building shiny, technological systems.
In 2012 testimony to the Senate Transportation Committee chaired by Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Richards described his new team as “the turnaround guys.” The Authority had a 3 year history of rotating leaders who made an initial mess, alienating everyone including the Legislature and creating gigantic public distrust in battles with Bay Area NIMBYS. Upsetting affluent moderate-liberals from Palo Alto to Burlingame who voted for HSR was a bad move. But Richards is much too smart for that!
A resident of the upscale Piedmont community in the East Bay, Richards is a political animal who knows how to appear to be listening while quietly ignoring critics to make damn sure HSR gets built to the specs of his bosses.
Richards brought former Caltrans CEO and highly paid Parsons-Brickerhoff consultant Jeff Morales in as the new CEO of CSHRA. Morales filled in the huge holes in the management structure rapidly, from the ranks of the consultants. There is now a formidable team of engineer-bureaucrat-builders running the show for Brown and Obama.
But if you dig deeply into the many revealing videos, the posts and comment threads on anti and pro websites you begin to see the true picture. Even with the new Richards-Morales team, the Authority is ABSOLUTELY out of control. It needs to be shut down. California should start over with HSR. But that will require an epic political battle and a coalition of liberals, conservatives and independents when the lawsuits ultimately fail, as they will. It’s just too easy for the System to manipulate the courts, which are part of the System in the first place.
Who and what is the System?
The System is Parsons-Brickerhoff the world-class engineering consultants who screwed up Boston’s Big Dig and the LA Red Line while lining their corporate pockets. The System is the Obama Administration and its transportation tentacles, the FRA, the DOT, Amtrak, etc.
The System is CHSRA, Caltrans and Cal Train and the plethora of regional rail, light rail and mass transit systems that will feed the HSR backbone when it is built. The System is the Democrat progressive legislature and the construction and service unions that finance it. The System is Governor Jerry Brown, the wizard behind the curtain for a day.
The System is leviathan. Against it is a rag tag band of citizens, marginalized and outgunned. It’s going to be an interesting fight.