Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prop 1A Misinformation in Long Beach

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Today's Long Beach Press-Telegram editorializes against Prop 1A. As is becoming depressingly common with newspaper editorials, the Press-Telegram's anti-HSR screed contains a number of out-and-out lies that need to be called out here. The editorial staff does its readers a disservice by misleading them on some of the most fundamental aspects of Prop 1A and our state's high speed rail plan. Some examples:

That's the measure that would borrow $10 billion and spend it on promoting, not building, a high-speed train system. This is a colossal ripoff with no promises of any results except that the money would get spent.

AB 3034 changed the proposition to ensure that no more than 50% of bond funds could be used to build the system to ensure that we must have matching funds to proceed. The editorial somehow turns that into a negative, which is absurd. Their claim that the bond money wouldn't go to construction is a lie, plain and simple.

Worse, it would get spent with no oversight, and participation on the campaign's "finance committee" by nobody other than politicians and bureaucrats. Supporters brag that the $10 billion would not require a tax increase, but what they don't say is the obvious, which is that the money, $20 billion including interest, would come straight from the state's deficit-ridden general fund.

Another lie - AB 3034 created an oversight committee that Republican Roy Ashburn fought hard to include. The editorial misleads readers about the cost - $20 billion would not be spent all at once. The bond has a 40 year life, meaning the cost would be closer to a manageable $500 million per year.

If the project ever actually got built, supporters say the cost would be $40 billion, but skeptics say it would be more like $100 billion. The expectation (which seems more like a fantasy) is that the rest of the money would come from the federal government and the private sector, neither of which is standing in line with checkbook in hand.

There is NO evidence for the skeptics' $100 billion claim. None whatsoever. But there is a LOT of evidence to suggest Congress actually has the checkbook ready - John Kerry and Johnny Isakson are proposing a multibillion HSR funding bill and if he wins, Barack Obama has shown a desire to build HSR as well. As to the private sector, nearly a dozen companies responded with interest in helping fund HSR.

High-speed trains are wonderful assets in Europe and Asia, where they whisk travelers to their destinations at speeds of 180 miles an hour or faster without the misery of airport security lines. It's a concept that works well between Washington and New York, or between Paris and the chateau country. But those aren't 400-mile trips. The ideal travel distance for a high-speed train is a couple of hundred miles or less, or, as in Tokyo, less than 50 miles or so from an airport to an urban center. Trying to connect San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Jose, Sacramento and San Francisco is a far more daunting task, and not likely to put any airlines out of business.

The Madrid-Barcelona AVE train is a similar distance to SF-LA, and is pressuring airlines there. Passenger rail already connects the cities the editorial claims can't be linked - HSR merely provides a much, much faster service.

Additionally, the editorial makes the common media mistake of not explaining the cost of doing nothing. Nowhere are rising oil prices mentioned. Nor are higher airfares, nor are flight cutbacks, nor the environmental savings of reducing carbon and cutting oil consumption, nor the $80 billion price tag of expanding freeways and airports to meet the demand HSR will serve, nor the cost to the economy and the state budget of not creating 160,000 jobs. Instead the editorial board relied on misinformation and lies to give readers a deeply biased picture of Prop 1A.

The editorial board should know better than to write an editorial that has not been fully researched and vetted. Journalistic ethics do not end at the opinion page. The Long Beach Press-Telegram owes its readers a correction and an apology for this flawed editorial.


Rafael said...

AB3034 also explicitly limited the amount that could be spent on non-construction work to 10% of the bond volume. This includes the engineering required to get the project-level EIR/EIS work done.

I wouldn't hold my breath on an apology, though. For some "journalists", truthiness trumps truth any day.

Brandon in San Diego said...

A problem with newspapers is that they are undergoing tremendous pressure to maintain readership due to competition from online media content. Loss of readership has negatively affecting their advertising revenue.

The result is cost cutting... and lots of it.

Staff cuts involving veteran writers and editors has affected the quality of their product.

The accuracy and quality of recent editorials is a product.

Fortunately, many people are aware of what is going on in the media industry and increasingly scrutinize editorial. It's my hope that those that due tend to be registered voters than non-participants in society.

njh said...

brandon is right, people are already using online information sources more than printed newspapers, and once people are online why would they bother with a poorly funded and poorly hyperlinked article sourced from reuters or associated press. Most editorials will be the output of well funded 'think tanks' and have about as much connection to reality as the President has to the Economy.

I recently did a trip from SJ to LA by plane. It took me 4 hours due to delays and the flight itself. It is not surprising that planes die once people can choose high speed rail. I think it's also clear that people fundamentally don't like to fly - "if God had intended us to fly, he wouldn't have given us the railways".

Morris Brown said...


If indeed it turns out to be a 40 year bond and not a 30 year bond, the overall cost raises to about 23 billion I think. In point of fact, I believe it only allows a 40 year bond; a 30 years bond would still be possible (that's the way I read it)

You have given absolutely no acceptance of any of the Cox - Vranich 190+ page due diligence report

That report puts a conservative estimate of over 80 billion on construction. I submit this report as being evidence of at least an 80 billion construction cost.

Prop 1A, will allow, as Rafael points out, at least 10% of bond funds to be used without matching funds and in ways other than direct construction, (studies, ROW acquisition etc.). The passage of Prop 1A could result in expenditure of over 1.8 billion dollars, without a single foot of HSR track being laid (950 million to other agencies + 900 million as 10% of bond funds)

The wording in Prop 1A actually say that no segment can use more than 50% of bond funds for construction; that 50% must come from other sources. This is considerably more liberal than the supposedly 33% that should have been required by a true matching funds from both Federal and Private parties.

Yes, indeed there is to be oversight. But as we have already seen, Prop 1A called for a business plan by Sept 1st, and it will not be produced by that time line, nor in time for the voters of California to see it before they vote on the issue.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Imo, the due dilligence report is flawed from its inception, it screames that it is a bias'd paper.

ANY attention to it is too much attention.

It's so ridiculous that inserting 'due dilligence' into the title is misleading.

If the report were a weekly rag sold at the market it would be at the checkout counter with papers having articles about UFO's, Brad Pitt cheating on Angelie Jolie, and having Britney Spears couter pics.

You certinaly wouldn't find it in the magazine racks at Barnes&Nobles, much less the library.

The internet is great in providing information, but it also elevates the credibility of anyone with a computer and means to put two words together.

Robert Cruickshank said...

We did our part on Cox-Vranich. Don't think you've had a thing to say on our rather thorough deconstruction of the study's core assumptions.

I also explained why their $80 billion figure is NOT evidence. It's speculative. If you want to discuss construction costs you actually need to look at the details of what will be built, with what materials, and use evidence to explain why you think that'll cost a certain price in 5 or 10 years' time.

C-V didn't do that. They said "well it was $30 billion, now $40 billion, so of course it's going to be $80 billion." Nonsense.

Even if it WAS true then that also means the cost of doing nothing - already double the cost of HSR, already something you deniers routinely ignore - will rise too. So HSR will STILL be a savings.

Morris Brown said...


You wish to dismiss the Cox - Vranich due diligence report. Now let me examine this a bit more.

The readers of your blog are presumably here to learn more about the project, from which they can make in informed decision on Proposition 1A.

Now, from what I gather you are a young History professor, who writes very well and is absolutely devoted to promoting High Speed Rail and in particular the project that will be built if Prop 1A is approved and other obstacles can be overcome.

For myself, I am against the project, seeing it as an economic boondoggle and drain on the State's resources. Now who am I. Well I'm about to turn 70. I have a PhD in Organic Chemistry from Stanford, was a NSF post-doc and was on the faculty at CalTech for 5 years, many years ago. Since that period I have been engaged in private business, and at this time am pretty much retired.

Living close to the tracks in Menlo Park, I have been accused of spending all my efforts to defeat this project in order to protect the value of my home. I strongly deny that; living close to the tracks has certainly brought into focus the nature of this issue, but it would be a simple matter to move elsewhere. I actually live over 500 feet from the tracks, so I can't imagine my home being taken in an eminent domain proceeding.

I certainly wouldn't think that if I had authored the report, it should be taken very seriously. However, look at the credentials of the Authors:

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis region-based public policy firm. He
was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission by
Mayor Tom Bradley, where he introduced the amendment to Proposition A (1980) that established
the local funding set-aside for the Los Angeles light rail and metro lines. He was also appointed to
the Amtrak Reform Council by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to complete the unexpired
term of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. There, he was instrumental in forging the
final financial self-sufficiency plan that was required by the U.S. Congress.

Joseph Vranich has been involved in rail passenger issues for more than thirty-five years. He has
advocated building high-speed train systems through public-private partnerships and served as
President/CEO of the High Speed Rail Association in the early 1990s, where he won the
Distinguished Service Award. He has testified numerous times before the U.S. Congress on highspeed
rail and Amtrak—including support for Amtrak’s high-speed Acela program. Early in his
career he served as an Amtrak public affairs spokesman.

Now you can state that you have demolished this 190+ page report with its 530 referenced outside items, I simply don't buy your arguments.

So I'll let your readers decide for themselves how much to believe and how much to discard.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Arguments from authority don't count, as any good academic knows. What matters is the veracity of the evidence and the quality of the interpretation. Both are lacking in the Cox-Vranich report.

Cox in particular has a long record of anti-rail statements. Our friends at The Overhead Wire are more fully versed with that long record. His credentials are those of someone paid by anti-rail advocates to say anti-rail things.

nikko pigman said...

"He was also appointed to
the Amtrak Reform Council by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich"

That's where he loses all credibility. If he was such a champion of rail, he would not be so foolish as to support the "financial reform" of Amtrak.

nikko pigman said...

I guess what I'm trying to say is that yes there are a lot of transportation (rail) experts. But this guy is one opponent out of a million proponents. The only reason he gets so much attention is because he's the one opposing it.

And you must remember that all players in their field do not necessarily fall into their respective alliances. So its not fair to say that just because one transportation expert says its wrong, it must be wrong. Because most transportation experts (that are not politically affiliated) would have a favorable view of this project.

Eric said...

You know what is funny, well maybe not, is the fact that everyone in papers and on forums complains about the project being a drain on our economy and that we have too many problems to deal with now. Has everyone forgotten about THE GREAT DEPRESSION? The government spent billions upon billions of dollars on infrastructure projects to create jobs and stimulate the economy at a time of major problems. If we had the same defeatist attitudes then as we do now (like we can't afford it), we would never have gotten through it.

I think too many people nowadays have their heads stuck in the sand and cannot think past the end of their noses. Maybe some don't care, like Morris Brown who are getting old and won't ever see the benefits. Young people like myself are thinking about how this project will affect mine and my children future in a positive way.

So, Morris Brown, you go ahead and vote no on prop 1A, but the newer generations like myself can see the benefits of this project and what it will accomplish well into the future and will vote YES. It will pass!! Oh yeah, quit posting under Anonymous here.

Anonymous said...

The Conservatives in the UK are planning to scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and instead building a £20bn HSR system linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.


It looks like the British have gotten the right idea. What about Californians? Oh that's right, we have Morris Brown, Chris Reed, Richard Rider and other critics to contend with. Worse yet, their rubbish has made its way into the opinion pages of a number of local papers. If these deniers get their way our neighbors across the pond may yet gloat of "British High-Speed" whilst we Americans could only boast of 80 MPH Acela Express trains.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and here's the Guardian article the BBC wrote of.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Anon 9:37,
I think you're giving Morris Brown, Chris Reed and Richard Rider to much credit.

A large majority of the voters do not read the Sunday paper any longer. They tend to get their news increasingly from other sources... and that is when they are looking for it.

And, what is in the print media is more favorable for HSR than against.

And, drive time talk radio on KPBS probably has more influence!

It's actually quite funny listening to both sides when they are on the air together... as I heard in Orange County as I made my way back to San Diego a couple weeks ago.

The denier could not string together his argument against the project to forma coherent point. Although, the pro-hsr person could have done better too, unfortunately.

Rafael said...

@ morris brown -

"The passage of Prop 1A could result in expenditure of over 1.8 billion dollars, without a single foot of HSR track being laid (950 million to other agencies + 900 million as 10% of bond funds)"

This is factually correct, but begs the question: would you prefer CHSRA to start laying track willy nilly, before coordinating its plans with those of the cities and other railroads affected? Besides, as I understand it, the $900 million reserved for engineering work is subject to oversight by the state legislature. It's not as if CHSRA will be given a blank check.

Also, even those who oppose HSR have argued that more should be spent on local and regional transit. Well, that's part of what prop 1A calls for and now you're arguing that's a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

So that's two major southern California papers that have used lead editorials to recommend against Prop. 1A (the Orange County Register came out against it last week).

Yet you insist they're both wrong? Goodness!

Spokker said...

"Yet you insist they're both wrong? Goodness!"

A lot of people are for HSR and a lot of people are against it. Two anti-HSR editorials printed doesn't mean the project is flawed any more than two pro-HSR editorials printed make the project a godsend.

This will be decided in November. The editorials are just there to sell papers as old fashioned newspapers struggle for readership. Their strategy? Pander to their intended audience.

cal said...

What did you expect from either of these 2 papers? a Yes vote?