Sunday, May 3, 2009

Senators Lowenthal and Simitian Are Getting Played

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

by Robert Cruickshank

One of the drawbacks of using an independent authority to manage and build the high speed rail project here in California is that it risks not having enough political support to properly do its job. And that may be what we're witnessing here in California, as two state senators - Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal - are launching an attack on the California High Speed Rail Authority and its funding. Unfortunately, this attack, particularly in Senator Simitian's case, is based on outright lies being told to him by a very small group of people on the Peninsula who want Simitian to step in and overturn the will of the voters by changing the route of the high speed train.

As related in a recent Palo Alto Online article:

A state Senate subcommittee Thursday expressed concerns about the structure and business plan of the California High Speed Rail Authority -- the agency charged with building the $40 billion rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles....


Simitian said the community's message was "loud and clear." The subcommittee agreed to hold off on authorizing the funds and urged rail-authority officials to expand their outreach efforts.

The senators heard from about 30 concerned Peninsula residents who made a morning trek to Sacramento to lobby for more oversight and transparency.

"What we really asked for is for them to change the structure of who is running this," Palo Alto Vice Mayor Jack Morton, one of the speakers, said.

"It's quite clear that the high-speed rail staff is insensitive to the community and has no ability to be responsible for the funds," he said.

Simitian said the nature of the rail authority has changed over the past few months from a small study group advocating a high-speed rail line to an organization actually building the line. Now is the time to consider changes that would bring more oversight and more community outreach to the process, he said.

"We deferred action in part to ensure that before the funds are authorized for the coming year that we see a stepped-up program for outreach and oversight," Simitian told the Weekly.


Simitian is getting played. There's no other way to put it. Those "30 concerned Peninsula residents" include opponents of the high speed rail project, people who want to exercise an unfair and illegitimate amount of power over the project. They believe that unless the HSR project is compromised and weakened to suit their outdated and anti-environmental preferences, then the project should be killed - and they're working to line up Senate support for it.

I will be blunt here - Vice Mayor Jack Morton lied to the committee, if his words as quoted by Gennady Sheyner are accurate. "Insensitive to the community" is Morton's own distorted spin on events, since there is no evidence whatsoever of such insensitivity. Palo Alto has been regularly consulted. The CHSRA extended the Peninsula EIR comment period to accommodate Palo Alto. The CHRSA has also created a working group with Peninsula cities, including Palo Alto.

Even worse is Morton's lie about CHSRA irresponsibility with funds. As we have explained here the CHSRA's work has been hamstrung by financial factors totally outside its control - the state legislature refuses to pass a budget on time and CHSRA staff and contractors go unpaid; the state can't or won't sell the Prop 1A bonds; Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to zero out CHSRA funding (which he attempted to do in 2007).

Jack Morton should be ashamed of himself for making such blatant misrepresentations of the truth to a legislative committee like that. It is disreputable and makes the city of Palo Alto - which in reality has a diverse set of opinions on HSR, including a large number, probably a majority, of residents who back the project.

As for Joe Simitian, I don't really know where he has been, but as far as HSR is concerned he seems to have been out to lunch. The CHSRA has already worked proactively to provide even stronger community engagement.

Let's be clear here. This isn't about CHSRA's supposed failure to engage the community. This is about a small but loud group of NIMBYs who want to kill HSR outright who are doing the equivalent of whining to mom and dad when they don't get their way. They are making up things to undermine the CHSRA in pursuit of their actual goal - gutting the project - which is quite clear from the statements quoted in the article:

Hundreds have attended community and council meetings to raise alarms about the potential of an elevated wall splitting the city, and to express concerns about the possibility of having portions of their property's seized through eminent domain.

Palo Alto Councilman Pat Burt emphasized the eminent domain issue at Monday's council meeting, calling it the "elephant in the room."

Pat Burt is not being straight with the council or the public, since eminent domain takings are expected to be VERY small. I am also concerned with Yoriko Kishimoto's statements, which may indicate a "tunnel or nothing" attitude:

Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, who organized a coalition of Peninsula cities that meets weekly to discuss high-speed rail issues, said city officials are now discussing a variety of proposals they'd like Sacramento legislators to consider.

The coalition, which met Friday morning, wants the rail authority to use the "Context Sensitive Solutions" developed by the Federal Highway Administration in designing the new rail line. The method emphasizes stakeholder involvement and design elements that integrate the project with the surrounding communities.

Kishimoto said the coalition also plans to request that the rail authority conduct an economic analysis for the various design alternatives concurrently with its environmental review of the options.

"We don't want to go through all the environmental analysis only to find at the very end of the two-year process that the tunnel is not feasible," Kishimoto said.

Yoriko, I can tell you right now the tunnel is NOT feasible from an economic perspective unless your city plans to pay for it. It's really that simple.

Further, this who "Context Sensitive Solutions" concept is total bullshit unless it includes the true context of HSR. That method must necessarily include:

• The impact of HSR on carbon emissions
• The jobs and economic benefits of HSR
• The benefits of high speed passenger rail and the costs of automobile congestion
• The impact of rising gas prices
• Safety upgrades of grade separations along the Caltrain corridor

Further, who exactly is the "community" that is at stake here? Palo Alto residents are implying they're the only community that matters, and that is nonsense. Such "Context Sensitive Solutions" need to be examined against the needs of the state as a whole if this exercise is to have any legitimacy whatsoever. Palo Alto believes that their needs trump the needs of everyone else. They are wrong about this, as they are about to discover.

The other part of the article notes that Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach is on the subcommittee and joined in the attack on the CHSRA. At this point I am forced to conclude Lowenthal is an HSR denier - someone who not only refuses to acknowledge the benefits of HSR, but who persists in spreading incorrect information and even disinformation about HSR. We have discussed Lowenthal before - his report from June designed to undermine the HSR project ahead of the Prop 1A vote, and his successful effort to get the Legislative Analyst to produce a flawed report on the CHSRA Business Plan.

As long as Senator Lowenthal is in office it seems he is going to try and kill high speed rail. Unfortunately he may now be joined by Senator Simitian, who has gullibly bought the BS being sold by Palo Alto interests who hope to kill the project, or to severely weaken its ability to provide for California's needs.

CHSRA also needs stronger institutional support inside the Capitol. That was supposed to be Quentin Kopp's role, as he was a former state senator, but clearly more is needed. I don't know if that means some changes to the board, or whether it means other Senators need to step up and chide their colleagues for trying to undermine a core initiative not just of California but of President Barack Obama.

Make no mistake - Peninsula NIMBYs are trying to sneak a gutting of the HSR project through the state legislature. They are out of their minds if they think we're going to let them happen.

The first step is to contact Senators Simitian and Lowenthal and ask them why they are opposing the will of the people and trying to undermine the HSR project.

Sen. Joe Simitian
Email page
(650) 688-6384
(916) 651-4011 (Capitol office)

Sen. Alan Lowenthal
Direct email
(562) 495-4766
(916) 651-4027 (Capitol Office)

96 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gee,
Is Sacramento really going to base decisions on what tiny PA pols/NIMBYs want or what SF/SJ pols, and the powerful SVLG, want? Take a chill pill Robert ; the "Big Boys" of the Bay Area and CA voters will prevail over the pesky flies of PA.

Clem said...

The wider problem, correctly identified by these hearings, is that the consultants get to set the scope of the work for themselves. The CHSRA is a skinny little cowboy riding the wild bull of multi-national engineering consultant firms.

If you were an engineering firm, would you rather:

(a) build HSR along the entire peninsula (bidding starts at $4.2B), build BART to SJ (bidding starts at $6.5B), and build fancy tunnels through Pacheco (50% longer than Altamont, $6B) TOTAL: $17B minimum

(b) build HSR down to Redwood City (20 miles shorter... $1.5B cheaper), not build BART-SJ because HSR Fremont-SJ needs the right of way and can share it with Caltrain EMUs, and build 30% shorter tunnels through Altamont? Oh sure, a new Dumbarton crossing is a consolation prize, but the total would still barely break $10B.

Option (a) is the slam-dunk profit maximizer and is why Pacheco was selected.

There are serious problems with the CHSRA that high speed rail supporters ought to be gravely concerned about, and I don't think they should be summarily dismissed as NIMBY fabrications.

Anonymous said...

Build a proof of concept non-stop 200 mph line from San Jose along the I-5 corridor over the grapevine to LA. You have just connected California's two major regions. Do a diesel upgrade of the 99 corridor replacing the Tehachapi Loop in conjunction with the freight railroads.

Let the Caltrain 4 track and Transbay Terminal controversy sort itself out over time.

BTW Clem is onto something.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Then let's hear what those problems are, Clem. I'm not a rah-rah cheerleader for the CHSRA, but it seems extremely obvious to me that Simitian is being played here by a specific group of people who actually do want to kill or weaken the HSR project.

What you describe with the consultants isn't what Simitian or the Peninsula folks at his hearing were whining about. Fundamentally different set of issues. Further, we all know that this about Palo Alto's desire to move the HSR route off the Caltrain corridor, and that is something I firmly believe must be fought to the bitter end.

As to the consultants, if folks prefer that design work be done in-house, then CHSRA's budget needs a boost. Arnold Schwarzenegger has demanded public-private partnerships and use of engineering consultants is part of that.

I have a hard time agreeing with your interpretation of the Pacheco choice - bypassing the state's third largest city does not make much sense to me, and I'm not convinced a Fremont-SJ spur would make up the difference.

Finally, the forgotten part of all this is Caltrain, which is being put on the sacrificial altar by Peninsula residents who are so hell-bent on killing the HSR project that they'll happily hurt Caltrain if that's the necessary price.

We have seen how deep the commitment of Peninsula NIMBYs and the Palo Alto city council to environmental and mass transit causes is - not very deep at all. When it comes right down to it they're as wedded to outdated 20th century concepts of urban life and transportation as a Houston sprawl addict.

Anonymous said...

If you think Simitian is being played by anyone, you don't know Joe Simitian.

As one of his constituents, I have often wished that Joe Simitian could be played. In all his years in government, the man has proved himself more robot than politician.

Joe cares about process and process only. This is incredibly irritating if you are looking at him to throw around his weight to solve some problem.

On the other hand, if Joe has now decided that the CHSRA has outlived its usefulness, its time to start discussing what will be its successor organization.

jim said...

ITs too bad they hadn't started with a bigger plan for an alameda corridor type of solution that could have accommodated all the future needs both freight and passenger. Of course there would have been opposition to that too. I think they should hand out cash and buy everyone off. Even rich folks have a price.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Clem,
Executive staff of the consultant engineering firms follow the direction of whom they are doing the work for. They are also California residents and are motivated to seek the best solution that is economically logical. They want to see these projects built too... b/c they live here, see the necessity, and are motivated to seek solutions (that's why they originally entered the profession).

To say they are motivated by size of profit... or pushing the most costly capital project for the sake of making a larger profit... that is wrong and disingenuous.

They are not a manufacturer of widgets looking to find the best price-point on the supply & demand curve... seeking to maximize profit.

---

I tend to agree with Robert on this post... the tail is wagging the dog and our state representatives are getting shanghai'd.

On the other hand... I suspect the argument for doing 'contact-sensitive design' is already being applied. Or, will be applied once the project advances closer to design efforts. However, 'contact-sensitive design' would not shift alignment out of a corridor (like to US 101).

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:46,
Clem isn't on to shit! He's allowing the minority/NIMBY sentiment of the peninsula as a veil to his "hopefully Altamont will be reconsidered over Pacheco" fantasy. It isn't happening pal! There are thousands in the south bay, including many in a city of over 1 million residents, who are happy with the correct choice of Pacheco Pass. Clem, bro, that "war" is way over.

Straight_Report said...

Robert, I have to ask, did you listen to the hearing or did you just report from the article?

I heard the testimony via calchannel - let me give you a report from my notes - hopefully there is a recording somewhere so you can verify it for yourself:

Morshed testified that HSR sent raw data to the LAO that came from the contractors. They are still processing it - but essentially, this data is the report from these contractors on all projects that would be immediately ready for construction using the funding they are requesting. Morshed said they would have a detailed analysis in about 2-3 weeks.

Simitian: (I'm paraphrasing) You were small, now you're big. The LAO staff report makes it clear that you lack an organization project to bring for the "implementation of this transportation mega project". I want to hear from you what structure you forsee to make sure we don't have contractor's managing contractors. (Ahem, Clem - you are on to something!) Simitian also asked if they have any internal controls in place to handle any money that is given to them or if they have hired any budget officers.

Morshed said "We have great consultants but we're deficient in the public sector to have adequate staff"

Simitian asks "how can we internalize the expertise over the next 3 yeras?"

Morshed goes on to explain that due to some technicalities, they can't hire the kind of people they need to hire because salaries are based on how many employees each person would manage. Since they have a relatively flat structure, they could hire "5-7 people but only pay about $60,000 - $80,000" where what they really need is people who would earn more money and bring the expertise necessary. (it was apparent that this is something they've discussed in the past and that the "problem" is some legal words regarding how they can hire employees)

Simitian asked LAO for their analysis and LAO reports that they did receive the raw data but that the part they are most interested in is the Organizational Structure

Simitian directed Morshed, Dept of Finance and LAO to tell the committee exactly what statutory language is causing the problem. He wants an organization structure immediately.

Simitian asked Morshed about Outreach and what is happening with it since there seems to be a lot of upset people.

Morshed testified " I believe and it is my philosophy that the Environmental Process is a great tool to engage the public in the process to get a good result". He went on to say that at on the Program EIR they had great outreach and that is why the voters voted the way they did.

He also said he has had some difficulties with the Board & public & the legislature in terms of Outreach. He says their outreach is often mistaken for self-promotion. He said he might get fired for saying so - but his board wanted to cut outreach by 50%.

Simitian told him that he was not interested in self promotion. He said the Goals of outreach are to communicate clearly & inform the public of the benefits. He also said California is a big, diverse state with different impacts and the only way to succeed is to listen to the folks.

Lowenthal agreed they need to listen to the public and build consensus.

Morshed went on to say that he can't be held responsible for things that Board members say and do - that the board only speaks through their votes.

Straight_Report said...

Part 2 - the report

The public then made their statements. I don't really have notes on these.
I did notice several "complaints" about board members making statements that have been proven false. -(which Simitian later discussed)

There were some people from the Greater Gardner area in San Jose that testified that there was no outreach done in Spanish. In fact, the first outreach meeting in Spanish was held on the night before this hearing - only after they sent a nasty letter about the lack of outreach.

Simitian allowed Morshed to comment after the public spoke.

Morshed pointed out that the HSR has now signed the MOU with Caltrain to help with concerns. He also stated that HSR was willing to sign formal MOUs with each city (this is new info b/c it is not what cities were told before).

Simitian made it very clear that Board members need to remember "words have consequences" and that he would be sending a letter to the board to make sure they understand that when they make statements that are personal - they need to identify them as such. When they are in public and representing the Authority, they must be careful to represent the board's true position on things.

Lowenthal made it clear that there needs to be transparency and oversight. He feels the governance structure has to be examined. He made it clear they still need a Business Plan, there are budget concerns and there are concerns about how Private money will enter into this moving forward. He is worried that there are decisions being made that might go against things that eventual public investors might want to make this viable. He made it clear that if they are asking for $140 million for this year, they have to identify exactly what the deliverables for that money will be.

Simitian closed by saying that going forward they will continue to oversee the process through Lowenthal's hearings, through the budget committee, through the LAO and of course any pieces of pending legislation

straight_Report said...

one more thing - you wrote "The CHRSA has also created a working group with Peninsula cities, including Palo Alto."

Well, actually, the Merc reported that the HSR made an announcement. However, I have spoken to city officials from several cities and they have not received ANY official communication regarding the new working groups. Have you seen any letters to city leaders regarding these working groups?

If this is the plan, then great! But if they don't officially let the cities know - then is this a true gesture in outreach or merely a way to say they are willing to work with them - but not actually speaking to them about how these groups would work, who would represent each city, etc?

Also, then why is Morshed now saying that each city will sign an MOU. How will that play into these working groups?

I think Simitian's speech to Morshed about the Board members making statements that don't represent the HSRA was not just about the citizens complaints - but about Kopp's letter to Feinstein (http://www.calrailnews.com/crn/0409/crn0409.pdf - see center page). Of all the things that went on, this seemed to make him the most concerned.

sorry for the long posts

Anonymous said...

Robert,

The Senators and the LAO are not complaining about consultants doing design. They are complaining about hiring consultants to manage the consultants.

alcosu

Robert Cruickshank said...

Straight_Report, thanks so much for that info. Unfortunately it doesn't really change my opinion of Simitian or Lowenthal's actions.

In particular, this whole discussion about "consultants managing consultants" is happening totally out of context. The CHSRA has NEVER had the financial resources to "staff up" properly. Even after November 2008. Either Simitian is aware that the Prop 1A bonds are on hold thanks to the state's financial crisis, in which case his concerns are totally misplaced, or he isn't aware of the problem with the bonds, in which case he is clueless. Either way he is making charges that are unfair.

I am sympathetic to Lowenthal's call for a sense of accountability of how money will be spent, even as I continue to completely distrust Lowenthal's reasons for doing so (and I believe the evidence is quite strong on this). But he must know that they can't produce what he wants them to produce if their money is unstable. He's setting them up to fail.

Finally, if Simitian is able to be swayed by a small group of whining NIMBYs, then that is deeply troubling. It's one thing for him to mediate a dispute. But what the Peninsula NIMBYs are trying to do is get him to back their play of killing the HSR route through their towns, using the supposed "problems" of the CHSRA as an excuse.

I'm glad to see the details of the hearing (and do you have a link to the video?). But as far as I can tell this doesn't do much to allay the concerns I raised in this post. Simitian in particular needs to take care that he isn't being used.

Anonymous said...

The Senators were not happy that HSRA has all these people http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20090501132429_Consultant%20List.pdf
doing work for the state but only 7 people to manage them.

Joe was not happy with excuse Morshed had about salary levels, as this should have been a known issue for 10 years so this should not be the first time Joe is hearing it and it should have been solved by now.

Anonymous said...

HSRA has had plenty of money to spend on staffing but has purposely decided not hire staff but to pay consultants.

Even Morshed did not try that excuse.

The HSRA wasn't even able to produce support for the budget requests other than dumping a stack of 500 pages worth of various work plans the consultants had given them on the desk of the LAO.

political_i said...

If they are using these issues to stall CAHSR, they're making a huge mistake. If you financially starve an organization that you created, what do you think is going to happen? If you want a better job of managing the project, then give them the money, not take it away since we're still in the planning stages! I think it's another case of politician idiocy. We need to get the national politicians speaking on this, why California should be the future of rail!

Anonymous said...

If you read my post, the reason they don't have more than a skeletal organization was a philosophical decision they made that they didn't want any real staff.

This is creating real problems in managing the current process and day-to-day functioning.

They have no accounting, no audit, no nothing.

It is very clear to all involved that it is time for the Authority to morph into an actual agency capable of managing the largest project in California history.

Rafael said...

Simitian and Lowenthal both want to get re-elected so they are responding to complaints from their constituents. They may well know that those complaints are coming from HSR opponents but that does not mean they themselves are opponents as well.

---

Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) has consistently argued that the end sections of the route should be built first, because that maximizes the value of the $9.95 billion CA taxpayers are investing if federal and especially, private, investors should fail to materialize. He has always been very skeptical of the PPP funding model and would prefer that the whole thing be treated as a regular - if very large - public works project because that's a game he knows how to play.

In particular, Lowenthal wants the grade separations of the BNSF Transcon line between Redondo Beach and Fullerton in OC implemented early on, since CHSRA is banking on getting part of that ROW for its own use. In LA county, UPRR is getting grade crossing improvements courtesy of the CA taxpayer in the context of the Alameda Corridor East project.

No such commitment of public money has been made for competitor BNSF - that's a big part of why Anaheim was included in phase I of the HSR project late in the game.

---

Simitian is also focusing on process because CHSRA got off on the wrong foot with his constituents. In particular, there was poor communication about why an embankment solution had been used for cost estimation purposes and the extent to which that was subject to negotiation.

Palo Altans are used to being consulted on every little thing from the outset, most especially about anything to do with the schools that add $100k or more to the value of every home in that particular town.

Rod Diridon in particular apparently came across as imperious in the initial public meetings that kicked off the EIR/EIS process, even if he basically just articulated the consequences of this being a state rather than a local project. A poor understanding of the planning process had led townspeople to believe that absolutely everything, including route changes, was still on the table. Needless to say, the realization that they had far less control than they are used to went down like a lead balloon.

Another issue was the lack of proper drawings of cross-sections and elevations of the situation both during and after construction, which added to the confusion. CHSRA never provided a good reason for failing to produce those in an easily accessible format, nor did they demonstrate that they had already considered and rejected other implementation options and their reasons for doing so. They kicked off their outreach based on a timetable, not according to how well they had prepared for it.

If someone like Richard Mlynarik can crank out - in his copious spare time, mind you - a Google Sketchup model of the new Caltrain San Bruno station after easing the curve radius there, it's not obvious why CHSRA's paid consultants could not provide similar 3D models embedded in Google Earth. The tools are provided free of charge, why not use them?


In addition, zero resources were produced to provide a rational basis for discussions regarding noise and vibrations at various train speeds, track elevations and distances from the tracks. Result: HSR opponents used the information vacuum to whip those merely concerned into emotional hysteria regarding eminent domain takings/the need to sue for reverse condemnation (i.e. forcing CHSRA to exercise eminent domain if they refuse to).

Lesson CHSRA should learn from PA:

Voluminous tomes of text are for bureaucrats and train geeks, regular folk want drawings, sound recordings and computer animations they can interact with because they lack the time to imagine what it all means in their particular neck of the woods.

And no, I don't mean NC3D's eye candy videos, whose usefulness essentially ended with the Nov 4 vote. Different phases of the project require different assets. In the EIR/EIS phase, it's actually detrimental to provide assets that look really polished, because that implies that the discussion regarding alternatives is effectively over before it even begins. Outreach is supposed to be an exercise in obtaining buy-in from the communities affected, not just going through the motions to comply with the letter of the law.

---

Of course it hasn't helped that the Authority has been on a starvation budget. Lawmakers want it to do the kinds of things that are commensurate with a project of such import but they're not prepared to acknowledge their own failure to appropriate the requisite funds in a timely fashion.

However, CHSRA hasn't yet done enough to articulate how they would address right of way acquisition if they did have the requisite funding. In particular, they've not been able to establish a good working relationship with UPRR.

It's pretty hard to negotiate in good faith with communities regarding implementation details well before the ROW has been secured. It also puts CHSRA in a bind regarding the price of that ROW.

On the other hand, once the ROW is essentially secured, the discussion really does narrow to the nuts and bolts of implementation.

Alon Levy said...

Anon at 1:50: if you read Clem's blog, you'll see that far from NIMBY, he's actually argued that the Caltrain ROW could accommodate HSR with minimal impact on residents. He just doesn't trust the process especially with TBT, which is an entirely different subject.

Adirondacker said...

it's not obvious why CHSRA's paid consultants could not provide similar 3D models embedded in Google Earth.

Probably because it wasn't in the specs. They are capable of it, no one asked them to...

Anonymous said...

And no one asked them to... because no one was managing them.

Morris Brown said...

Robert states:
I will be blunt here - Vice Mayor Jack Morton lied to the committee, if his words as quoted by Gennady Sheyner are accurate. "Insensitive to the community" is Morton's own distorted spin on events, since there is no evidence whatsoever of such insensitivity.
Well Robert I don't know why you haven't been reading or remembering anything that doesn't suit your agenda but as an example Diridon in an interview when asked what would happen if an agency objected to the Authority's plans, simple replied

" They will be overridden"Its in print; I have posted this statement here before. Diridon further incensed the PA council, which wanted to make sure there would be a meaningful negotiations between the City and the Authority, and his reply was the City would only have its comments reviewed, just like any other respondent to the scoping of the project level EIR.

@Rafael:

Simitian was just re-elected; he will be termed out, so he can't be accused of taking this position as an avenue for re-election.

Your reflections in your post here, are excellent and fair.

@Clem

You really hit the nail on the head here with your financial observations and contractors.

I was away last week and am still catching up. I hope, I'll be able to get the CalChannel to bring up the meeting as an archive for viewing.

Clem said...

To say they are motivated by size of profit... or pushing the most costly capital project for the sake of making a larger profit... that is wrong and disingenuous .

I am not calling into question their professional integrity. I am merely pointing out that executive staff of the engineering consultants work for their shareholders, not the taxpayer. Their job is to make money, and they're very good at it. That's a compliment.

Spokker said...

I hope that whoever achieves the monumental goal of bringing high speed rail to California profits handsomely.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I should make clear that, as some of the earliest posts on this blog explained, I am emphatically NOT a fan of privatizing the functions of government. I believe that the CHSRA ought to be doing a lot of the key design work and outreach work in-house.

But I am unconvinced that the Authority has had the financial wherewithal to actually accomplish this. Yes, they have chosen to use consultants so far - doesn't that make some sort of sense given that their budgets have been uneven and until November 5th, 2008, they weren't sure if the HSR project was even going to occur?

If Lowenthal and Simitian want the CHSRA to "staff up" and start behaving like, say, Caltrans, they will find no stronger ally in that effort than myself.

Unfortunately I'm not convinced that's what's going on here. Peninsula NIMBYs are trying to use the staffing choices and a few offhanded statements to impugn the credibility of the entire project and get the route changed. We all know this is what is happening. And as far as I can tell, Simitian and Lowenthal are enabling it.

If their goal is better project management, then they need to be more careful to separate that laudable goal from the disreputable goal of killing the HSR project.

Straight_Report said...

I watched the live webcast and took notes. Unfortunately, I've searched the site but can't find the video.

I've made a request that all hearings related to HSR should be taped and made available on the "on demand" part of the site. This project is big and there is lots of interest.

Perhaps if they are flooded with requests, we can get them to do this.

Email: request@calchannel.com

Let's see if they'll listen.

I'd also like them to tape the HSR board meetings. There is supposed to be one this Thursday - perhaps we can request that too?

Brandon in San Diego said...

"I am not calling into question their professional integrity."

I feel you are. You're over-looking the fact that the consultants work for their client first.. in this case the CHSRA or BART or other local jurisdiction in which they have a contract. You're under-estimating this relationship. You're possibly also incorrectly estimating the tight-rope these consultants walk with their contracts and future ability to win work.

The key for these consulting firms to remain in business and achieve profitable earnings, especially the planning and engineering ones.. is being responsive to their client and having integrity. They loose one or the other and they loose future work.

A shareholder, large or small, has extremely little influence on the business model.

Anonymous said...

from:

http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=12196


Posted by Jay Tulock, a resident of another community, on May 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm

The Senate Budget Subcommittee and the Senate Transportation Subcommittee both understand the truth: the High Speed Rail Authority is corrupt, incompetent, arrogant, has wasted nearly $80 million in taxpayer dollars, and has a board staffed by persons who are hypocritical liars, have conflicts of interst that will net them personal gain with the Pacheco route, and have acted on their own at public meetings making statements they were not authorized to make on behalf of the High Speed Rail Authority.

If you doubt what I am saying, listen to an archive of the hearing of the Senate Budget Subcommittee. (If I find a link I'll post it later.)

In testimony after testimony in the public hearing, the same thing was said over and over again: 'Mr. Diridon came to our town in Fall 2008 and told us one thing, then came in 2009 and told us another.' In other words, multiple residents from several towns all testified that Rod Diridon had lied to them. Some residents testified similar sentiments of Mr. Kopp.

Most telling, the Rail Authority's Executive Director, who serves at the pleasure of his board, said after the testimonies that if members of his Board made these statements, they made them as individuals, not as persons officially representing the policies of the Rail Authority! This is a damning accusation for a senior staff member to make, and in fact he stated: "I may be fired tomorrow for saying these things." For those not familiar with laws governing boards, the Authority is held responsible for statements made publicly by members of its board -- and if you haven not seen, the hypocritical lies of Mr. Diridon at Palo Alto Council Meetings are documented on You Tube.

I am a railroad man. I built railroads in this country and overseas. I believe in high speed rail for California. But those of you who want this project so badly that it hurts are allowing yourselves to be blinded to the obvious corruption of members of the High Speed Rail Authority board and the leaky tap of taxpayer money being funneled without proper oversight to outside consultants. The quickest way to grow a healthy high speed rail system is to first cut out the cancer and then let it grow.

Diridon and Kopp must be jettisoned from any further involvement with the project. The entire route selection must be revisited from the ground up looking at high speed rail as part of the total system. Do not mention the Bay Area Regional Rail Plan, that was a multi-million dollar joke and everyone in the industry knows it. The Authority must be restructured or eliminated. Intercity rail planning must be folded into current Caltrans programs or a new Department of Railroads, both seeming political impossibilities. However, it must be done because running intercity and high speed rail as separate functions is a travesty to the people of California. The two functions must be under one roof to avoid duplicative or even competing planning processes.

Barring all of the above happening by the end of the summer, all of you fighting this project as it is must sever the jugular vein and organize to repeal Proposition 1A. Florida did it when they saw their high speed rail project spiral out of control, and the sooner the better for California to either clean house with a flamethrower or terminate this project.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville
Report Objectionable Content

Brandon in San Diego said...

^^^ Of course, a local jurisdiction, or CHSRA, must have appropriate and effecient management with their contractors... making sure they are working on scope of work that is in the respective contracts and meeting deadlines and such.

Anonymous said...

The CHSRA is the epitome of outsourced government.

They requested $139.9 million for next yer.

$1.9 million is for state staff and operations and $138.0 million is for contract work.

They have an RFP for $8million to manage their consultants, which includes a requrement that the consultant have someone working full-time at HSRA offices.

Brandon in San Diego said...

I am not drinking any lemonade from folks claiming corruption and incompetencies of this person or that.

To me, such claims are indications of people unwilling or unable to work within an established framework to discuss and seek solutions to a set of problems.

It's also standard attack language for folks on one-side or the other of an issue... usually the loosing side.

----

The challenge faced by the CHSRA organization originates from the budget. It's been historically and intentionally been kept very small to minimize staff... and in other cases the scope of their work plan with consultants or advancing the HSR project.

Prop 1A passed in November 2008, not even 6 months ago. That is insufficient time to bring onboard new staff. The hiring process is also driven by an approved budget... of which, has the CHSRA's budget been adjusted since November to reflect the bond and advance their work plan?

Clem said...

The key for these consulting firms to remain in business ... is being responsive to their client and having integrity. They loose one or the other and they loose future work .

I just about choked on my pretzel!

Spokker said...

The contractor might overbuild the high speed rail because of earthquakes and stuff.

But if they didn't overbuild the high speed rail because of earthquakes and stuff NIMBYs will respond with fears that the high speed rail will derail into their backyards because of earthquakes and stuff.

Cross a fault line? Not in my nature preserve.

Anonymous said...

Brandon in San Diego writes:

The key for these consulting firms to remain in business and achieve profitable earnings, especially the planning and engineering ones.. is being responsive to their client and having integrity. They loose one or the other and they loose future work.

WOW!!! That's why Parsons Brinkerhoff is the prime contractor?

Brandon in San Diego said...

"I just about choked on my pretzel!I hope that was not your dinner. If it were, you need to change your diet, har har. ;)

Anonymous said...

If Robert is correct and they've been underfunded - I can understand it would be difficult to hire the necessary people.

But surely someone, somewhere, must have some sort of Organizational Chart showing how they would be structured once they got funding?! Even if it was a wish list rather than an actual chart of people currently employed.

A business plan, at a minimum, shows how the various functions of a project will be managed and by which departments. Given the enormous complexity of this project and the vast amount of money AND all the contractors, this seems vital.

The Board has to at least be able to cobble something together so someone can hand them some money. Without so much as an accountant, no wonder the Senators are hesitant. There can't be accountability if no one knows who reports to whom and what their duties are - that is the point of the Org Chart.

Spokker said...

You never know what someone's agenda is. I don't trust anyone here, from Cruickshank to Rafael to Clem to Morris Brown to Brandon in San Diego. I don't trust the High Speed Rail Authority, the state of California, or any politician associated with this project. I'm not even sure I trust myself.

So, working within that framework where everybody and their mother is corrupt and/or pushing some agenda, I cross my fingers and hope that a high speed rail line connects California's cities before I drop dead.

Trust no one. Keep watching the skies.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Anon at 10:32p,

I don't know if PB is the prime or not. It also depends on the segment. Right?

However, I should think that if PB or another constractor were hired it was because they demonstrated in their proposal and interviews that throug their past work an ability to respond and meet the needs of their client. I would think the interviewing team also checked their references... whether it was PB or another contractor... plannign, engineering, 3d work, or public outreach.

---

After reading these posts it comes to mind a common thing that humans do... we assume cynical or negative thoughts in the absence of first-hand knowledge... and pre-judge. It's what we do to wrap our minds around things and enable us to move on to the next thing.

Anonymous said...

PB is THE head honcho. Each segment has a project manager but PB is supervising.s

Spokker said...

It seems that it takes one or two things to turn a high speed rail supporter into the biggest whiny crybaby bitch in the world.

Pacheco was chosen, so I'm going to relentlessly complain about water fowl and their habitats. There's a diversion out to Palmdale, therefore someone was paid off. Visalia *might* get a station, therefore high speed rail will induce sprawl.

Fuck Pacheco. Fuck water fowl. Fuck Palmdale. Fuck the entire Central Meth Addicted Valley while you're at it.

I don't like these things any more than you do. I would like to see a straight shot between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. I would like to see spurs to Sacramento, Oakland, Vegas, and the moon. I'm sick of hearing about Caltrain being electrified. I want to hear more about how Metrolink can be electrified. But listen, we can't get everything that we want.

The Palmdale diversion happened because Palmdale wanted it and it was thought that the airport could be served. So the airport is a ghost town now and Palmdale is going to die of thirst. But then again in an era where everybody hates passenger rail, I don't knock the corrupt politicians at the High Speed Rail Authority for reaching out to the one or two cities that actually want them to roll their bullet trains though.

Pacheco happened because the only people willing to put their careers on the line for high speed rail are fucking morons. Perhaps the geniuses on these blogs should go found their own high speed rail authorities with hookers and blackjack. You know, on second thought, forget the high speed rail authority. Never mind, screw the whole thing.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is an organization on a shoe-string budget full of bureaucrats and politicians who have no idea what they are doing and have to work within the regulatory framework of the United States and are beholden to consultants and outside contractors who tell them God knows what. Reminds me of Metrolink.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is a guy who wants to build a home theater in his house and doesn't know the first thing about home theaters. He pays a guy to tell him what to do and the home theater guy sells him a bunch of shit he needs and a bunch of shit he doesn't need. In the end he has a great time watching movies, but he could have done it for less.

I think we'll have a decent high speed rail system even if Pacheco was chosen, even if Visalia gets a station, even if an earthquake knocks a bullet train into Martin Engel's house. We'll still have a great time riding trains.

jim said...

Why are we paying for this agency or whatever it is, anyway? These guys are making a ton of money to accomplish nothing aside from pissing everyone off. This is a state transportation project period and the whole thing should be planned, designed and built by caltrans, as they have a caltrans division of rail. There isn't any need to waste increasing amounts of money that evaporates into thin air while political hacks and their cronies spend it on martini lunches while the rest of sit and wait for train that never comes. Fire them all and get rid of the authority. Give it to caltrans, just like ever other project and tell em to get it built and be done with it. Caltrans has a division or rail. Caltrans has contractors, engineers, equipment, managers, a budget, etc etc. The current set up is a perfect example of what pisses californian taxpayers off to no end. Layers and layers of over paid do nothing bureaucracies where ex politicians and their friends sit around and suck up money.

Spokker said...

Corruption is a very serious charge and I'm surprised at the ease in which it is levied at anything and everything these days.

Everybody is corrupt it seems! If you give it to Caltrans, watch the slew of accusations roll in about how Caltrans is corrupt. It's a never ending cycle of mistrust and that's the way we like it.

jim said...

I'd like to see Kopp and all the others have to do a press conference and get really grilled on the details. Make 'em give real answers and tell the truth. Make 'em sweat a little and enough with the platitudes and double talk.

jim said...

well at least with caltrans we get your basic garden variety corruption from an agency we are all used to. the usual cost over runs, and construction that screws up traffic, but at least we are familiar with it.

jim said...

Aside from Kopp, this hsr authority is just a bunch of people no one has ever even heard of. They've been at it for what, a decade? And the most basic of problems haven't even been hashed out? They did present this project as being all warpped up with a bow on top and now it seems no one has any real idea even what they are gonna build first, whether they can use the tbt, what route they'll use up the valley, whether the host railroads are going to cooperate or not. I mean is anything ready to go? do we have a definate answer about any part of this project?

jim said...

apparently not. Maybe they should have asked the people who know how to run a railroad to do this thing. couldn't have turned out any worse.

GLEN said...

Please tell me all you East bay backers once again how we are going to ram thru a HSR line over the Altamont pass then thru the Livermoore Valley then over another low range hill and of course the grand finally.. and new bridge or tunnel thru the lower bay
to reach SF or SJ or bolth?..not that any of that will help the SOB nimbys in PA/Melo..ect ect

Spokker said...

"well at least with caltrans we get your basic garden variety corruption from an agency we are all used to. the usual cost over runs, and construction that screws up traffic, but at least we are familiar with it."

But see, you're living in the past. With the CHSRA you get new, more efficient brand of corruption for this modern day era.

jim said...

@spokker- well call me old fashioned but I like my old familiar corruption, I don't need this fancy newfangled kind. In my day we had corruption you could count on and the job got done.

jim said...

California's award winning freeways didn't design themselves, now let's get those orange cones out there and start building a railroad.

BruceMcF said...

jim said... "Why are we paying for this agency or whatever it is, anyway?"

But the point is, you are getting what you have ... or more to the point, haven't ... paid for. A few years back, your governor decided he wanted it to rely more heavily on contractors, and when 2008-Prop1A passed, your massively broken budget process prevented the sale of bonds so they could budget for ramping up activity.

During the budget crisis, if they had hired a big staff, they would have had to sack or furlough them.

So regarding the community consultation process being done on the "I'll pay you on Friday for a hamburger today" basis, if they were doing that in-house, they would've had to shut down anyway.

Waddya expect when an effort is being made to build a bullet train system in the state with one of the most unworkable state governments in the nation?

arcady said...

running intercity and high speed rail as separate functions is a travesty to the people of California. The two functions must be under one roof to avoid duplicative or even competing planning processes.In all the angry ranting, that guy from Vacaville managed to hit on an important point. There are separate planning efforts going on for intercity and high speed rail, not to mention commuter rail. We need better coordination and a more sane organizational division, and some clear delineation of responsibilities, or else you end up with three separate and mutually incompatible plans for the Santa Clara station. Or, as actually happened, a Third Street Light Rail that fails to connect to Caltrain. We already have a state agency that is responsible for intercity rail and has some proven ability to manage funding for construction projects: Caltrans Division of Rail. Do we really need another brand new Authority to learn about the pitfalls of contracting the hard way?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks to Spokker for providing some badly needed perspective on this - and to Brandon as well for challenging the baseless truthiness that is behind the "omg the consultants are corrupt!"

The consultants are designing the project as they've been told to by CHSRA. There has been a decade-long process of devising the route and the design components and that process will continue for a couple more years. I'm not wild about relying so heavily on consultants, but I am not seeing any evidence to suggest that the consultants are screwing with the design or route choice or otherwise compromising the system.

Instead that honor goes to the Peninsula NIMBYs, whose whining about Kopp and Diridon is not credible. Those two haven't been speaking out of both sides of their mouth; instead Peninsula NIMBYs are trying to make them look bad and look duplicitous in order to undermine an above-grade implementation, and to ultimately revisit the route choice.

Let's keep perspective here. This whole discussion isn't about consultants, it's not about Rod Diridon or Quentin Kopp or even about Joe Simitian or Alan Lowenthal.

It's about a small group of people who believe they can reverse the outcome of Prop 1A and kill the high speed rail project for their own narrow and parochial reasons.

jim said...

@Bruce,
well I do have to admit, (and I've held out for a long time on ideological grounds, and in defense of my State) that this state government has become impossible to manage. It ill be nothing short of a miracle if thing gets built.
we need to: cap welfare and social spending (with the exception of seniors and disabled)
get a handle on immigration once and for all. get rid of prop 13 and tax local districts to pay for their own school with that money, convert all state highways and interstates to toll roads. get rid of the initiative process, ( you can't have the average californian making those kinds of decisions, I mean really, look at that moron sitting next to you in traffic picking his nose on the 405- do you really want that guy making legal decisions?) Raise fees for car registration, driver's lic. etc, and put a hefty "relocation impact tax" on all new residents wishing to move in and require them to have sponsorship ( employer or family) -reduce the education budget to levels that only assist higher education. ( all k-12 funded by local taxes only) Get rid of the county infrastructure. reserve prisons for serious and violent crime only, sell and tax majijuana. and institute harsh restitution for property crimes. ( those graffiti kids need to have their sorry little disrespectful punk asses whooped in the public square too) Cap population growth at 50 million period.

arcady said...

Robert, so you're basically saying "either you're with us or against us", is that it? Is there no room in your worldview for people who support the idea of HSR, support the routing, including the Peninsula route, and yet have serious concerns about the way HSRA is being run and their ability to manage the project effectively? That's unfortunate if true, because I personally love the idea of HSR, but have some significant concerns about the way HSRA is being run and some of their decisions. And if you want to talk about Kopp and Diridon, well, in my mind they are associated with SFO BART and VTA light rail respectively, both of which, at least to me, are examples of politics getting in the way of building transit that's actually useful. At the same time, the Palo Alto NIMBYs should quit their whining. There are bigger problems than your little town here.

And about the contractor issue: it's a globally accepted practice to have outside parties do the design and construction work, but it's also considered very helpful to have in-house experts who can make sure the contractors are doing the right thing. Construction projects, especially on the scale of an HSR line, are big complicated things, and it's pretty much guaranteed that not everything will go exactly as planned because there are always things you don't know about the local conditions. So what happens when, for example, the mountain tunneling runs into difficulties because of unexpected geology? Do they push on regardless and use the reserve funds? Do they try to cut costs somewhere else? If it's big enough, do they try to cut back the scope of the project? And if so, where? These decisions need to be made at the Authority level, because they're the ones ultimately responsible for the financial viability of the project, but making the right decisions requires a significant amount of expertise, which HSRA simply doesn't have. This is also why I'm rather uncomfortable with the "Big Bang" approach of building the whole line all at once. I think it would be much better to build it incrementally, to allow the authority to gain some experience, and be able to learn from their mistakes. I also think the place to start is NOT LA-Anaheim or SF-SJ, partly because those corridors already have decent rail, and partly because construction in urban or suburban areas has a tendency to run into difficulties, both technical and political.

jim said...

Caltrans should be the agency using existing talent. Ther eis no reason to be paying these yahoos at the "authority" good money that could be spent on better things. ITs a waste of money period.

Spokker said...

If highways can have a Big Dig fiasco, then why can't rail? We need to sacrifice a commuter to the rail Gods or he'll smite us with low ridership.

Robert Cruickshank said...

arcady, I do not intend to be saying "with us or against us" and I apologize if my comments came off that way - that's not my intention.

In my other comments here I have agreed that we should seek the best practices from the CHSRA that we can obtain. There is almost certainly room for that agency to improve and we are right to demand that it happen.

That being said, a lot of the charges made against the agency are based on dissatisfaction with the decisions that were made (Pacheco over Altamont, above-grade over tunnel). Instead of debating the issue on its merits, there has for a long time now, going back to early 2008 at least, been a tendency to ascribe those choices to flawed or dishonest motives by the CHSRA board, their contractors, or both. These charges are almost always made without evidence, and are intended to undermine confidence in the HSR route or engineering choice by undermining confidence in the people who made those choices. I find that kind of thought process to be very troubling.

I'm not wild about relying so much on contractors. I don't always agree with Kopp and Diridon but it seems pretty clear to me that the Peninsula NIMBYs are twisting their words to make them look dishonest.

I believe that we can and we should support improvements to the CHSRA. That's in everyone's best interest. But I also think it's right that we insist that discussion happen with respect to evidence. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Anonymous said...

A press conference? How about US Senate hearings? Once they start accepting FEDERAL funds - these guys and California High Speed Rail in general , will become the poster child for government waste and blown stimulus $, tax payer rip off, and more. If I were the Obama administration, I wouldn't touch CHSR with a 10 foot pole, until the State could show it had its act together on this. This is EXACTLY the kind of debacle that would take the whole Federal Stimulus package down.

jim said...

robert and anon both have good points - while some may be using this as an excuse to dismiss HSR oiut of nimbyism or dissatisfaction over route choice, the real problems is that from the average voters perspective this is turning in to exactty what the deniers said it would and that jeopardizes this project and casts a bad light over stimulus projects in general.

Spokker said...

In many parts of the country, freeways just happen. You wake up and perform your routine, and a freeway is there to help you get where ever you need to go. There's none of this cost-benefit analysis and cries of government waste from taxpayers. It just happens.

In the midst of a recession freeways continue to be widened in Orange County, CA while bus service is slated to be cut 25% by September.

Contractors must love freeways. There's no reason to beef up the project, it's already as beefed up as it can be. The entire thing is already grade separated. No one fights grade separation on a freeway project!

All I am asking for rail is the same consideration that highways and freeways receive. When those who would be impacted by the Century Freeway in Los Angeles spoke up, they were "overridden" and it was easy because they were poor and black. In the spirit of equality, I would like to see the the residents of the Bay Area Peninsula overridden.

jim said...

So CAHSR, Which segment is going to built first? How will the trains get up the valley? Which cities are going to get a station? When will construction begin? ARe you or aren't you going to use TBT? What's the back up plan if the freight railroads don't cooperate? As a voter who is 100 percent supportive of this project, and 100% supportive of the pacheco route, and supportive of tbt or 4th, in spite of the ruinous growth it will bring to my neighborhood, I would like to have at least a couple of those answers considering the whole thing was presented in the election as practically shovel ready. Answers please, do they even know what they're doing? It doesn't look like it to me, even by california's schizophrenic standards

jim said...

@spokker - I beleive that if they had desgned hsr to remain 100 percent within freeway row throughout the state. There wouldn't have been a peep out of any one. We'd wake up one day and there it would be. Its true. No one would fuss. In fact. people would probably be more enthusiastic about it because it would look so familiar. They wouldn't even flinch. But you have to know how californians tick to get those decisions right. We are now working against californias natural way of doing thing and trying to engineer a new future for them, rather than give them more of what they know. "trust us you'll see" not a judgement about the project, just saying how it is.

Anonymous said...

This project has at least two serious controversies which have been prematurely written off as "decided"

One is the rejection of the I-5 Grapevine corridor. It seems obvious to me that if there were something serious and inherently wrong with the Grapevine and something overwhemingly right with the Tehachapis route then I-5 would be going thru the Tehachapis. The technical arguments are being torqued to appease developers.

Second is the need for such a massive upgrade of the Peninsula corridor. Slow down the top speed, dump the Palo Alto HSR station and four tracks on the surface should be adequate.

Clem said...

four tracks on the surface should be adequate.The CPUC will not allow new 4-track grade crossings, at any speed.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I don't see how either of those are "controversies", anon. Palmdale/Lancaster is a major population center and will boost ridership. It seems worth the diversion.

As to speed on the Peninsula - what part of high speed rail don't people realize?

This is about the refusal of some on the Peninsula to admit the need to change in order to adapt to and solve the crises of the 21st century. I have no strong opinion on whether a mid-Peninsula station is necessary or not, but the high speed is indeed necessary.

Only if a sound operational argument against higher speeds on the Peninsula can be made should we even consider it. If NIMBYs there don't like upgrading the corridor to accommodate higher speeds, tough shit. They have no right or place to compromise the project in that way.

jim said...

actually they do have a right to do what they are doing. We dont like it , but they do have the right to do it.They may not get what they want, but they do have the right to try. I'm pretty sure that what is going to happen is some tunneling, at great cost to the project.

Anonymous said...

4 surface tracks with no grade crossings on the Peninsula - cross streets are either closed or grade separated. 100mph is good enough there.

Upgrade the diesel service to Palmdale. All the developers deserve.

Alon Levy said...

Anon: freeways can have steeper gradients and tighter curves than HSR. Hence, I-5 can run at grade, while HSR would need a long tunnel, which would cross a major seismic fault line. Both the tunnel's length and the fact that it crosses a fault line would create geological complications that would increase both the expected cost and the risk of a major cost overrun.

Spokker said...

So while we are copying and pasting what Jay Tulock, King of All Railroads, has to say from other web sites, a couple months ago I asked an employee of PB to tell me what they think about some of the issues discussed here. His responses:

"There is nothing whatsoever to be gained by trying to respond to this sort of stuff, at least by me. The general tone is that they are not going to believe anything that I would have to say, anyway.

Like a lot of things, there is just barely enough truth here to make the charges plausible. In my own opinion, we would have to go a long ways to be worse than Caltrans is in their highway designs. I do not think I have ever seen anywhere else the level of stuff I see here.

I will say this: As a company, Parsons Brinckerhoff is not a construction company. It has absolutely nothing to gain by gold plating the project or doing anything else that would make it more expensive than absolutely necessary to do the job. We are a planning, design, and to a lesser extent construction management company.

If you were to look at the details of the settlement on the Boston "Big Dig" (a boondoggle project that in my own opinion we should have never gotten near, but I had nothing to do with it at any point) there was no blame for the deficiencies in quality that came our way.

If you looked behind the face of these people coming up with these issues, you will probably find someone who wants to kill the rail line and this excuse or any other will do.

Note the "the peninsula" in the above. Makes me think this quotation comes from someone in Atherton or thereabouts that simply wants to kill the whole thing.

Someone has funded a very slick and reasonable sounding 300 plus page report mostly written by Wendell Cox and cohorts that frankly is full of downright false information on such things as run times, necessary average speed, just to name a couple of the obvious ones."

"Overdesign does nothing for our profit as a company. There may be "overdesigns" forced on us by the cities and counties that we run through plus the very real fear in this business that if you do not consider every possible problem, even the very far-fetched ones, you will be crucified in court if anything goes wrong.

As to "earthquake proofing", there is a set of Seismic design standards and codes that will be followed, which would apply to any structure. The Taiwan Seismic Code, which I lived with for the project there is very close to the California Code, and it is no accident. These people talk to each other. We will, if I have anything to do with it, have a concrete based track form similar to the Japanese standard becuase it can be more quickly put back in service after earthquake movements. Yes, that will be a little more expensive than the transit-type concrete based track used by BART, but you do get what you pay for. That a Japanese Shinkansen train derailed in an earthquake and slid to a stop from a speed of over 100 mph with minimal injuries to only some of the passengers says a lot about the why their style of track is a good idea in an earthquake zone. Also, concrete based track is about 15% to 25% more expensive than ballasted track, but ballasted track is not a good idea at high speeds. Yes, I know the French use it, but they put a lot of work into keeping in place which is not needed in concrete based track."

Just another viewpoint to consider.

mike said...

The key for these consulting firms to remain in business and achieve profitable earnings, especially the planning and engineering ones.. is being responsive to their client and having integrity. They loose one or the other and they loose future work.
We can see how well that type of "self-regulation" worked out in the financial sector...

Anonymous said...

CHSRA spent $70 million on consultants before Prop 1A. For any project, that's a huge amount of money just to study and plan, so this lame excuse that CHSRA has been starved of funds is ludicrous and makes useful idiots out of those who perpetuate this lie.

CHSRA intentionally has chosen to have a tiny staff with weak oversight, freeing most of the spending to go unquestioned to politically-connected consultants.

Brandon from San Diego, fess up, are you a private consultant on the CHSRA gravy train?

Morris Brown said...

Here is an audio only link to the April 30th, committee meeting, chaired by Senator Simitian.

Audio LinkStill hoping to get a video link

Morris Brown said...

Sorry -- should have added the High Speed Rail topic starts 1 hr and 40 minutes into this link and goes until the end.

Audio Link

arcady said...

By the way, about Grapevine vs. Palmdale: going via the Grapevine corridor would be difficult and require 3.5% gradients so as to minimize tunneling and cross the fault at grade. But so does the Palmdale route! This is from information from HSRA's own documents, I believe from the EIR itself. Quick distance measurements show that the Grapevine route is about 50 miles shorter, and has a bit less running through what can be called mountains. With the Palmdale route, there's the Tehachapi pass as well as the long stretch paralleling the Metrolink line and SR-14 between Palmdale and Newhall, which is pretty mountainous terrain, and a 30-45 mph zone for the existing track.

Alon Levy said...

Yeah, but each tunnel will be shorter - shorter than 6 miles, the magic number for escape route regulations.

Eric said...

By the way, about Grapevine vs. Palmdale: going via the Grapevine corridor would be difficult and require 3.5% gradients so as to minimize tunneling and cross the fault at grade. But so does the Palmdale route!Then why, pray, does the existing rail line go through the high desert (which was pretty much uninhabited at the time the line was built), and the Tehachapis? The transverse ranges don't look as dramatic as, say, the Sierras, but they are one hell of a civil engineering challenge.

Eric said...

All I am asking for rail is the same consideration that highways and freeways receive. When those who would be impacted by the Century Freeway in Los Angeles spoke up, they were "overridden" and it was easy because they were poor and black. In the spirit of equality, I would like to see the the residents of the Bay Area Peninsula overridden.Hmm, so the way freeway construction is handled is authoritarian, short-sighted, incompetent, and unfair. The resulting system is ugly, inefficient, and overcrowded.

You want to emulate this process when it comes to HSR? Really??

Spokker said...

"You want to emulate this process when it comes to HSR? Really??"

Yeah, because shit gets done.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Anon 5:16-
"Brandon from San Diego, fess up, are you a private consultant on the CHSRA gravy train?"No, I am not a consultant. Although I am flattered that I must sound well-reasoned.

To be honest, I've followed this project on and off for 10+ years and been around the engineering profession to understand. I've also seen and read about the phenomena involving opposing forces going to such lengths as to scrutinize the professional integrity of individuals involved and make inflammatory and libelous accusations. And, people can get away with that stuff because of free speech rights.

The bottom-line is that lack of knowledge on the reviewers part breeds cynicism and the worst and wrong conclusions. Because of that, I support all public agencies going up and beyond and provide as much information they have online and is easily accessible. It's a double edged sword because it opens up information to further scrutiny, but at the end of the day it's probably better than not providing any information at all.

FWIW, it seems the CHSRA provides sufficient information on their site. But that is me.

Fred Martin said...

Re: Grapevine crossing vs. Palmdale's 60-mile diversion

The reason why the old existing rail line goes through the Tehachapi Pass is because this was the old Southern Pacific trans-continental mainline. SP originally wasn't even heading to LA. SP was going from the Central Valley to the eastern US. LA, a small hamlet at the time, basically bribed SP to get a connection to this mainline. LA wanted to be connected to the SP mainline, not the other way around. The rest is LA history. To my knowledge, no one has ever tried to cross the Grapevine with rail, but it would be worth the effort due to the direct path between northern and southern California.

My guess is that the Palmdale diversion is a result of the effort to bring the airlines and airports into the HSR fold. By opening access and development opportunities to remote Palmdale airport, the airlines and LAWA actually get something valuable from the HSR project. The downside is that CHSRA had to sell their soul of a direct north-south route to get this support.

Speaking of social injustice, which is very much in practice on the Peninsula, the low-income residents of the Millbrae Gardens apartment complex were literally "overriden" by the Millbrae station and parking complex, which forced their displacement. It sits on top of their old homes. Sad how it always the poor and the weak that get stomped on, but Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto aren't poor and weak. It's going to be a rumble...

Alon Levy said...

Spokker: shit gets done, but doesn't accomplish much other than turn dirt.

Anonymous said...

It looks to me that the HSR has become hostage to the Palmdale issue. What is essentially a regional service has become a primary concern of a statewide transport project. Unwise.

The detour to Palmdale shifts the entire orientation of the HSR to the east. Perhaps that is the unconscious source of the renewed interest in the Las Vegas connection. Since there is a set-in-concrete mindset to detour 50 miles to the east perhaps the same direction should extend to Northern California. Move the northern terminus to Sacramento and leave the contentious Bay Area out of the picture for the time being.

I suggest that the kernel problem is trying to impose two different and not very compatible objectives on the HSR. One is a very high speed point to point system between SF and LA and the other is to improve basic statewide and regional rail passenger srvice.

Regrettably it may take an exotic technology like maglev to force the issue.

Clem said...

require 3.5% gradients ...

That is not a problem with HSR equipment, although a long sustained grade will limit speed. I doubt the time lost would equate to a 50-mile detour, though.

Anonymous said...

If you took a look at the hills in San Francisco where ordinary heavy streetcars used to operate you would say it was impossible. At least 10% grades on Haight and Union Streets.

For the HSR to claim that current electric rail technology can't negotiate the grades of the grapevine is nonsense. Throwing maglev at them would force them to put up or shut up.

jim said...

No one is going to say that palmdale was chosen for real estate reasons so they are going to give a lot of other legitimate reasons instead but rest assured, LA county has been planning for part of the county to be then large development area and once hsr is there it will be. its the only part of the county left that has tons of room, nice and big and flat and not very far from the urban core. the high desert route is for the benefit of the developers whether or not any one says so. That's fine with me of course, I hope they put all the new californians in the high desert ( on not up here in my face) One can envision another "inland empire" stretching from palmdale to vegas. I love that California City, though. Its like a ghost suburb - I think they should develop the entire high desert there call it california city, and give a "lake las vegas" treatment.

Evan said...

Here's what I wrote to Sen. Simitian:

Dear Sen. Simitian,

I read this week in the Palo Alto Weekly about your actions re: the California High Speed Rail Authority.

According to the Weekly, you "said the community's message was "loud and clear." The subcommittee agreed to hold off on authorizing the funds and urged rail-authority officials to expand their outreach efforts."

I'm writing to tell you that the opinion you now seem to espouse does not represent the majority view of your constituents. You are serving as the messenger for a vocal minority of residents and interests that don't want to see high-speed rail built. But, senator, the (often quieter) majority of your constituents — and of Palo Alto — wants to see this line built.

High-speed rail might just be the most influential government-led project that California will see for a generation. It will reduce our dependence on greenhouse gases, create thousands of permanent jobs, save billions in highway/airport expansion costs and, most important, transform how we get around our region and state.

Thanks to high-speed rail, Caltrain will finally get the funds to both grade-separate and electrify the railroad. As a daily Caltrain commuter, I can tell you that this will be fantastic for the region and for Palo Alto. Downtowns like Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park that are served by Caltrain will boom as job centers, as commuters can zoom to and from them with ease. And grade separation — though it will cause some pains in construction and a changed built environment — will finally mitigate the regular train fatalities and car crashes.

Please, Sen. Simitian, don't throw a wrench in this fantastic opportunity.

CAHSRA has done a great job of outreach, even in the face of a very small band of opponents who seek to, er, derail the project. The majority of us want this project — and Palo Alto needs it to continue to be the fantastic, forward-looking city is has been for a century.

Thanks,
Evan

BruceMcF said...

jim said...
"@spokker - I beleive that if they had desgned hsr to remain 100 percent within freeway row throughout the state."

I think this is quite right. Indeed. its one example of why so many things are done so blatantly wrong in this country ... because doing it blatantly wrong is normally the politically easy way to do.

Obviously, an HSR rail line is not a freeway. It is far more space efficient in its transport capacity, and at the same time the design enveloped for cars at 70mph and trains at 220mph is substantially different. So only a clueless newbie (which, of course, most of us are wrt most technical things, since there's only a given range of technical details any given person can get acquainted with) would think of an all-freeway-ROW HSR alignment as anything but severely compromising the effectiveness of the system in operation because an effective HSR system is "too hard" for California to do.

Unfortunately for those who persistently and repeatedly sacrifice operational effectiveness to political expedience, the politically expedient thing for quite a while in California was to "do another study" ...

... and so the brain dead highway ROW design that might have been adopted if some governor was trying to rush to breaking ground before their administration was over, it was studied to death and all of its flaws revealed before hand, rather than after the fact.

So you are stuck with trying to get an HSR corridor built that is more or less right from the perspective of operational effectiveness. And of course the political fight is harder. Getting something done more or less right is always harder than crippling operations in the interests of political expedience.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce: sometimes, building HSR in freeway ROW works - that's how it works in France, lowering construction and land acquisition costs at the price of having beet field stations. At any rate, this can't work well in built-up urban areas, where freeways have tighter curves than in open fields.

jim said...

My point was only that there would't have been much opposition and even if the result was less than perfect from an operational/usefulness standpoint - we'd have gotten used to it. The LA freeway system is nothing but a massive hodgepodge of piecemeal projects over decades, and it serves 10 million or more peoploe everyday. could it have been better sure. Does it matter? not really. Taking a stab in the dark and shlepping along and living with the results IS how things are done in america now. Most people are too exhausted trying to pay bills to care about much else anyway.

Alon Levy said...

Sure it matters - just ask anyone in South Central how they like living in a neighborhood that's caged away from the rest of the city.

jim said...

but they still live there and manage to get through the day. Besides they aren't "caged" anywhere. That's like saying midtown sacramentans are "caged in" by the WX. There's no laser beam that saws off their feet if they walk beyond the freeway boundary. Living near a freeway can be unpleasant, but someone is going to be the one to live near it. There are half million dollar homes in santa clara county with freeway sound walls in their back yard. You know its always a trade off.

jim said...

The nice thing about LA's freeways ( and its my favorite place to go driving around) Is how most them them are elevated and LA is mostly flat, and you get this great sense of flying across the region with views in every direction, downtown in the distance and the sunsetting through the smog. And it never gets dark there. When you drive at night, its not even like night. Unlike the bay area, LA freeways aren't dark anywhere. Its a most surreal city that's for sure. Id' never leave SF but I have the strangest attraction/connection to LA. I hope the have rental car counters at the HSR station. and they better have plenty of convertables!

jim said...

I'm excited cuz Im going down there tomorrow. we're renting a car and gonna be all over the place doing the whole la thing. staying on h'wood of course, talk show tickets, brunch in malibu, a disney day,breakfast at canters, venice, getty, dinner at yamishiro - I should be packing not blogging. woo hoo can't wait. I only regret the the southwest flight to burbank. ugh if only we had HSR! This is exactly the reason I voted for it. They've got to hurry up and get it done so I pop down there on a whim. start digging for god's sake lets get this show on the road.

Alon Levy said...

Living near a freeway can be unpleasant, but someone is going to be the one to live near it.

Not necessarily - you don't have to build the freeway at all. SF pioneered the concept of freeway revolts - it even removed the Embarcadero while other cities were destroying neighborhoods to build new freeways.

Adirondacker said...

SF pioneered the concept of freeway revolts.

That's debatable. The LOMEXwas never built. Approved in 1960 it was cancelled in 1962. There's stubby expressways and ramps to nowhere all over metro New York. Tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway is usually trumpeted as the first highway torn down but the West Side Highway had been gone for a long time by the time the Loma Prieta earthquake made the decision about the Embarcadero easier.