SF Mayor and gubernatorial hopeful Gavin Newsom held a town hall in Oakland last night, and my friend sean mykael of Bear Flag Blue attended and gave a great report on the event. Becks of Living in the O was there as well, and focused on Newsom's answer to a question from AC Transit Director Joel Young. Newsom pretty much evaded Young's question on transit funding, but did use the opportunity to make a paean to high speed rail:
Joel explained that the state had defunded public transit and asked if Newsom, as governor, would restore public transit funding.
Newsom responded that public transit is so important for the environment and briefly answered, “Yes,” that he would restore the funding. But then instead of explaining why or how, he jumped into a long-winded speech about high speed rail. He started off by saying that he wanted to tell us about a project that he knew not all of us supported because it barely passed. This is a strange thing to say because 63% of Alameda County voters voted in favor of Prop 1A.
He then explained how high speed rail was going to change the state, creating jobs and changing how we thought about and used transportation. He talked about his vision for the “Grand Central Station of the West,” which is what some are calling the Transbay Terminal. Energetically, he explained how this would greatly improve the Bay Area region, making it easy to get from downtown to downtown (Oakland to SF).
And that was it. That was his answer to an AC Transit Director.
I'm sure Newsom and his staff will quickly learn that a large chunk of the SF Bay Area did support Prop 1A (or that they need to have different talking points depending on their audience!), but this is a nice statement of support for the HSR project from one of the Democratic candidates. It would also be worth noting that John Garamendi, another Democratic candidate for governor, has also been a strong backer of high speed rail.
I'm glad to hear that Newsom understands the importance of the Transbay Terminal and HSR more broadly. And I am also pleased to hear that he is not just promoting this at campaign events, but is working with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lobby the feds for HSR funds:
San Francisco officials are teaming up with their Los Angeles counterparts to jointly push for a huge chunk of the $8 billion the stimulus plan will devote to high-speed rail. California believes the federal funds could accelerate the state's plan for a bullet train that could whisk passengers between the two cities in 2 1/2 hours.
At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Pelosi told the San Francisco delegation the city was more likely to have success in winning the funding from federal officials if it presented a united front along with other California cities.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said the city was facing tough competition for the dollars from other regions, including President Obama's hometown of Chicago, which is seeking high-speed rail links to Milwaukee and St. Louis. But he said California is the only state to have passed bonds for high-speed rail and completed an initial environmental planning process.
"From a readiness perspective, we're ahead of probably any other comparable project in the country," Chiu said.
And as to the dispute over the train box? SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty says that high-level meetings between all the key agencies are happening, but Senator Dianne Feinstein is throwing a monkey wrench into the works:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a supporter of the project, said the city should be able to make a good case for the high-speed rail money, but only if state and local entities come together behind a realistic plan.
"My greatest fear is that it's not going to get done right," she said Tuesday. "Now I hear discussions that it has changed to fit a train every five minutes. Well, I know San Francisco, and there ain't going to be a train that gets in and out of there in five minutes. So I'm worried about how realistic the planning is. It used to be (one train) every 15 minutes, which is much more reasonable."
Someone needs to tell DiFi that if you want to "get it done right" then you need to build the train box to handle the desirable capacity now instead of doing a costly rebuild decades down the line. And I'm not the technical expert here, but I'm not sure the choice is between a train every 5 minutes or every 15 minutes - or that every 5 minutes isn't viable.
The worst thing that could happen is to limit the expansion capacity of the system - to prevent it from being "scalable" to borrow from web development jargon - just because a moderate Democratic Senator felt like being stingy way back in 2009.
Still, it's good to see Newsom taking a strong position publicly and privately for HSR. If he really wanted to help he could talk about the need to secure the $29.1 million (I got it right this time! yay me!) that the CHSRA needs to complete its work. And if he wanted to be bold he would go to the Peninsula and explain why they need to stop obstructing and start collaborating with the Authority and the project.
Let's hope Newsom's lead encourages the other gubernatorial candidates to demonstrate their support for high speed rail and provide some leadership that has been severely lacking these last few years.