Brown Should Approve Oversight Bill on High-Speed Rail Project

Assemblyman Jim Patterson
Assembly Member Jim Patterson represents the 23rd District, which includes portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.

Democrats in Sacramento have developed a case of buyer’s remorse so strong that they joined Republicans to pass a groundbreaking high-speed rail accountability measure. Finally the Legislature is standing up for taxpayers and Governor Brown should take note.

I introduced AB 2847 to strengthen the public and Legislature’s oversight of the High-Speed Rail Authority. This bill implements two recommendations from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. First, it requires specific details about the cost, scope, and schedule of each project segment to make it easier to track changes. It also requires that business plans include the cost of borrowing associated with the project as a whole and for the construction of the various segments.

We can no longer accept the fantasy documents we’ve been receiving.

This bill was unanimously approved without question or debate in every committee, and in both the Senate and the Assembly because Democrats are beginning to realize this project is in trouble. Many of us already know the Rail Authority can’t get all the land they need. We know they don’t have enough money to finish the project and we know they are running out of time.

Leadership is vision that cash-flows. With every change order and subsequent demand for millions of unplanned funds, it becomes more and more clear that cash flow and leadership have been absent on this project since the beginning.

In the past year, the media has uncovered details that were purposely left out of business plans in order to paint a more positive financial picture. We now know that a 2013 report by Parsons Brinkerhoff estimated that the cost of the project would go up by 31 percent. However, a 2014 business plan presented to the Legislature gave a much lower number.

Recently, we learned that a Spanish construction firm actually included a warning to rail officials in their project bid, noting that government funds would probably be needed to run the system. Their research showed only three high speed trains out of 111 in the world function without subsidy.

Rail Authority officials insist that government funds won’t be needed. Not surprisingly, these important details included in the Spanish firm’s bid were deleted from the Rail Authority website. They were uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In yet another sleight of hand attempt, the 2016 business plan mysteriously dropped the Tehachapi Mountain route to Southern California altogether. There is no cost estimate, just a cleverly written fictional tale that promises to connect the Bay Area to Southern California without saying how it will get there or how much it will cost.

As the plan exists now, the Rail Authority will need almost $3 billion more from the federal government to get the train from the last stop (currently an almond orchard in Wasco) into Bakersfield. Then they will need an additional $43.5 billion to go through the mountains. This is information that was conveniently left out of their newest plan.

These omissions of fact are why Governor Brown must sign AB 2847. Unfortunately, these omissions of fact may also be reason enough for him to veto.

Previously posted in the San Fernando Sun.

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