Many ballot initiatives are built around a big, bad idea. Bob Huff and George Runner have distinguished themselves by filing a ballot initiative with two big, bad ideas.

Their innovation, and I use that term in a Hindenburg-esque way, is to combine those two bad ideas. Reversing the high-speed rail project that’s already under way, and using bond money for water storage.

And I write that as someone who has deep doubts about the way high-speed rail is being done in California, and who thinks the state needs to do better holding onto water from wet years.

The core problem is that water engineer and high-speed rail projects are complicated things that need to be done by humans, constantly tweaking and negotiating and improving, not by ballot initiative. In fact, the biggest problem facing high-speed rail, perhaps outside the Tehachapi Mountains, is that it got a good chunk of its money and many of its rules from a California ballot initiative. And California ballot initiatives are inflexible bludgeons that have a long record of doing far more unintended harm than intended good. High-speed rail needs not more rules or less money but more flexibility, so it can design and build a project that knits together the state so tightly that it’s worth building.

On the other subject: Water politics are famously difficult. And a ballot initiative or bond is no guarantee of anything other than more litigation. We desperately need to figure out ways to bring people together (and yes, it’s hard, when our governor is telling people to “shut up” on the subject). And there is opportunity to do just that – the drought has shown the power of Californians to pull together. Why not build on that? Instead, Huff and Runner want to start a big fight over water – and the environment.

There’s also another problem the measure. Almost by definition, it’s illegal – it covers two subjects. If the single-subject rule means anything at all (and under the California Supreme Court, which is world-famous for being dim about direct democracy, it doesn’t), this shouldn’t be allowed on the ballot.