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Betty Arenson: California’s crazy train

Posted: August 22, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 22, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari pegged it: The high-speed rail is Jerry Brown’s Crazy Train. Equally, The Signal named it “the high speed hoodwink” (July 13, 2014).

In 2008, California feel-good voters approved Proposition 1A, a proposition to issue nearly $10 billion in general obligation bonds to fund a high-speed rail project with a main focus on Los Angeles-to-San Francisco travel.

That $10 billion stacked onto the existing $100 billion bond debt.

Before promotion of 1A began, somebody with the checkbook had already spent $58 million on consultants, impressive brochures and European travel (enamored with Japan’s system and others) without “one inch of track.”

The measure passed 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent with authors utilizing about 8,000 words to sell Gov. Moonbeam’s Legacy as:

  •  $33 billion final cost for 800 miles of track;
  •  completed by 2020;
  •  no increase in taxes, yet “appropriates money from the general fund to pay bond principal and interest”;
  •  travel time from L.A. to San Francisco in 2 hours, 40 minutes, for $50;
  •  no subsidies necessary for operational expenses;
  •  all funding and environmental approvals will be obtained before construction starts.

Shortly the reported cost tripled. Channel 7/NBC San Diego covered a news conference as late as Nov. 6, 2011 giving a figure of $98.5 billion with completion stretched to 2033.

Mysteriously the number shrunk to $68 billion; the $33 billion vanished.

Numerous lawsuits from environmentalists, farmers and others are at appellate-court levels and on the way to California’s Supreme Court. Among others, potential plaintiffs include Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

The latter is owned by Berkshire-Hathaway (chairman is billionaire Warren Buffet). These two systems foresee violations of their property rights and operational interferences.

A June 2014 Los Angeles Times article offered the pro-con battle of the high-speed rail, stating: “When the restrictions were written, they were unprecedented.”

Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority when the proposition’s restrictions were written, said: “I can’t recall any general obligation bond issue that incorporated legal provisions to the extent this one does.”

The article underlines that the intent was to place “safeguards on the biggest infrastructure project in California history.”

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who also wrote many of the restrictions, concurs: “We didn’t put them in as guidelines. ... It was clear what we wanted.”

In contrast, another former chairman of the California Rail Agency, Rod Diridon, claims: “The conditions were unnecessary and ill-conceived ... guidelines, not hard and fast rules.”

If such language were so impotent, why was it foisted upon the public — the voters?

There we have it: a bunch of legal minds, politicians, chairmen and former chairmen of countless agencies and departments who have or are collecting a check from taxpayers, spending incalculable dollars, arguing which side has the upper hand — all in the name of “interpretation.”

One dilemma cited: “Does a requirement to ‘design’ the train so it can travel from L.A. to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes mean the state has to provide such service?” Huh?
When “fiscal effects” are discussed, a lot of “ifs” are issued. One site stated operating costs after construction as “unknown ongoing maintenance and operation costs, probably in excess of $1 billion a year.”

The bureaucrats’ $50 fare would require 54,794.5 riders per day to meet $1 billion annually. Does anyone believe operation/maintenance will not require subsidies?

Actually, “hoodwink” is a titanic understatement, but The Signal is on point with: “High-Speed Rail Authority executives themselves are pretending that all is well and are forging ahead.”

Michelle Boehm, California regional director for the California High-Speed Rail, quickly countered with a lot of bureaucratic goop to set us straight.

She failed, merely regurgitating much of the aforementioned, all based on “projections,” “scenarios” “robust risk analysis” and “pure run time for non-stop trains.”

There is much more, but there are obvious conclusions:

  •  California taxpayers know the promised $33 billion price tag is nonexistent;
  •  The experts who wrote the supposed tight language do not agree but sent it to voters anyway;
  •  The funding is not in place;
  •  The final sum and costs of lawsuits are inestimable;
  •  Jerry Brown will be 95 years old at his train’s target completion date.

Crazy Train promoters love reminding voters they voted this in.

Not so! Voters approved a huge deception and should not be bound by it.

Legislative promises should be bilateral. The only promise being kept here is that taxpayers must pay.

Voters, demand a mulligan. Proposition 1A would not pass today.

Betty Arenson is a Valencia resident, has lived in the SCV since 1968 and is active in a local Republican club.


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