The 12 year saga of the California High Speed Rail Authority and its attempt to build a true high speed train to connect northern and southern California, has been shaken to its core.
At the 4.5 hour Assembly Transportation Committee oversight hearing of May 27th was painted a complete reversal of the unlimited support for the project, which has always been the Democrat caucus position.
At the hearing, not only were the Republican members objecting to the Authority’s plans, but Democrat committee members also joined them in a bi-partisan chorus of objections to the plans and actions proposed in the 2020 business plan.
About the only support for the Authority’s present plans, came in public comments from several dozen speakers, representing labor, City and County agencies etc – really representing support for any group which would financially benefit from the project going ahead — in spite of its failed promises, cost over runs, and shaky, to say the least, funds to complete the project.
The revolt was led by Chair Frazier, who finally has had enough of failed promises, and who wants a different plan.
To this end, an assembly resolution, HR-97,led by Frazier and co-sponsored with a 44 Assembly member majority, has been drafted. When approved by the full Assembly (no Governor signature required), the resolution would prevent approval of remaining Prop 1A bonds ($4.2 billon) from being issued and used to fund the project.
The Authority’s present plans include signing 30 year high-value contracts for various purposes, which essentially would negate any future oversight from the Legislature. If executed, these contracts would be very costly to cancel; thus the Authority will have granted itself immunity from oversight.
Chair Frazier made an interesting comment at the hearing. He stated the present plan would cost as much as simply buying for one-half of the Central Valley population, electric cars.
CEO Kelly, responded that these cars would just sit in traffic along the highway 99.
Kelly’s constant support for his plans, revolves on what he sees as the tremendous benefit generated from the greater mobility generated by the project.
This outlook is ignoring the exploding growth of jobs being filled by workers staying at home and doing their work remotely from home. Rather than workers needing to physically commute to a job site, it is now becoming more and more obvious,
jobs will be filled with workers connecting electronically from home. As an example, workers living in the Central Valley will not need to use mass transit (HSR) to fill jobs for Bay Area companies. The work from home evolving model was not mentioned by anyone at the oversight hearing. Working remotely has been ignored completely by the Authority in 2020 Business Plan.
The State is facing a $54 billion budget deficit. The recent Cap and Trade auction was a disaster. Cap and Trade auction revenues are a key funding source on which the Authority was depending for funding the project.
The Assembly should be commended. It simply makes no sense to continue with the Authority’s present plans.
Update: On June 11th, after a vigorous 25 minute discussion on the full Assembly floor, HR-97 was passed with 63 co-authors.