Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Should CHSRA Be Abolished - Or Improved?

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

by Robert Cruickshank

Leaving no doubt as to where he stands on high speed rail (he hateses it!) Palo Alto Vice Mayor Jack Morton, who misrepresented reality to the Senate Budget Subcommittee last week in Sacramento is now demanding that the CHSRA be abolished:

Vice Mayor Jack Morton of Palo Alto caught City Council colleagues by surprise with a suggestion Monday night that perhaps California's High Speed Rail Authority ought to be dissolved.

He said the $40 billion rail project could be turned over to some other entity with staff that has experience handling large planning/construction projects -- possibly including even Caltrain.

Morton made the suggestion Monday night when he was reporting to the council and public on a trip he, Councilman Pat Burt, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie and citizens and officials from other Peninsula communities made to Sacramento last Thursday to convey a key message: Don't allow the rail authority to override local concerns.

Morton said authority staff members at the subcommittee hearing revealed a general lack of experience in putting together a large-scale project, and there was a feeling that the planned $40 billion rail project needs a staff highly experienced with large-scale projects.

Unfortunately, as I have reported here before, Senator Joe Simitian seems to have fallen hook, line and sinker for this nonsense, agreeing to delay the CHSRA's $130 million bond money request.

Let me ask everyone this - if you believe an agency needs to "staff up" with people who have experience implementing a big project, why would you deny them the funding they need to accomplish this? It's like telling someone to repair their roof and then garnishing their wages.

Jack Morton and his fellow HSR deniers are hoping that if they kill the CHSRA, then they might be able to either destroy the project outright by neutering it along Sen. Alan Lowenthal's preferred lines (taking the money away from an SF-LA train and instead building glorified commuter rail) - or put it in the hands of a more pliable agency.

The CHSRA's strength is in its independence. It is an agency charged with the task of building a high speed train to connect SF to LA. Putting that power under a single agency is a smart move as it allows the agency to focus solely on building the train. Staff aren't being pulled away to look after the Pacific Surfliners as they might under a Department of Rail, or focus on a roads project as they might under Caltrans.

Further, "governance reform" has often been used as a trojan horse by those who want to kill a passenger rail project - as our friends up in Seattle discovered. Using claims that the Sound Transit agency was somehow flawed or in need of reform, various state legislators floated proposals that would have gutted the agency's ability to implement the light rail project voters had repeatedly supported. Sound Transit's supporters were able to fend off governance reform, although various forms of it still crop up from time to time.

That all being said, this blog's focus is, has always been, and will always be to support the best implementation of the SF-LA high speed rail plan. We want it built, but we want it built right. If there are legitimate ways to improve the CHSRA to help build HSR, we're more than open to it. What we rightly and strongly reject are calls for "reform" by known HSR opponents.

Which takes us to the state legislature, which already has several bills floating around that would impact the work of the CHSRA and the HSR project itself. Some of them are worth supporting, others are not. They include:

SB 455 (Lowenthal): Despite its author, this one actually looks workable. It would provide the CHSRA with more eminent domain power, which it needs to quickly, affordably, and efficiently build the system. It also provides for Senate confirmation of CHSRA board members, which might politicize the agency's work but is something I could probably live with. The bill would also mandate the creation of a project schedule, which I'm all for.

AB 289 (Galgiani): This would make clear that existing CEQA exemptions for building grade separations for existing tracks would be extended to the CHSRA as well. I am all for this, as it could prove an invaluable asset to ensure that the project gets underway in a timely fashion.

In fact, I believe we should go further and exempt the entire CHSRA project from CEQA entirely. Instead we should set up an alternative method to evaluate the project's environmental benefits, one that includes carbon emissions, impact on pollutants, impact on traffic and sprawl, and renewable energy and gasoline savings, while making absolutely clear that non-environmental issues, like aesthetics and "community values" are excluded from the evaluation process. NIMBYs have found ways to abuse the CEQA process, and a project like HSR is too important to allow to be held up like that.

Two other bills are less welcome:

SB 783 (Ashburn): Would mandate yet another business plan, this time by September 1, 2009. I do not believe this bill is being offered in good faith, since Senator Ashburn surely knows that September 1 is not enough time for an agency whose funds are once again the subject of political wrangling to produce this plan. This bill should be rejected out of hand.

SB 409 (Ducheny): This is the 2009 version of Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny's Department of Railroads bill. It would transfer the CHSRA to the new DOR as a specific division within that department, and move all other passenger rail projects to the DOR as well. I've always said I'm open to this concept, and I'm not going to close the door on it entirely - but it doesn't strike me as a necessary move, and brings with it the risk that passenger rail funding could be ghettoized.

Ultimately the key issue here is that there is no real or strong pro-HSR leadership in Sacramento. And that enables the Peninsula NIMBYs to fill a vacuum. Why aren't Central Valley, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco and San Jose legislators firing back against Palo Alto's effort to dictate terms to the rest of the state? Those regions have an enormous stake in this project and their representatives should not tolerate their colleagues' effort to kill HSR or to give fuel to a small and unrepresentative group of people who are trying to reverse the will of the people and destroy one of this country's cornerstone projects for the 21st century.

And just so we have a sense of perspective, two people have been killed in recent days along the Caltrain tracks. That is what the Peninsula NIMBYs are so determined to defend. Makes me sick.

60 comments:

Resident said...

Robert. You're a liar. Those were suicides, not accidents. And you know it. But go ahead and use private tragedy for your own political purposes - it suits you.

Resident who live along the tracks can work for grade separations and other improvements - WITHOUT the devasting effects of widening the tracks to 4 wide, without tripling of volume and speed of pass trains. Withoug HSR.

And Californian's can build and enjoy the benefits of HSR without putting it through 50 miles of backyards, schoolyards, parks and small town businesses.

You'd like to abolish every and protectinon that environmental clearance laws provide to the communities that will be devasted by HSR - and YOU are sick? Laughable post Robert - it shows your grip on reality slipping away. the CHSRA is a befuddled mess and no one in their right mind is going to hand them tax payer dollars to piss away. This thing needs to get cleaned up and straightened out before it turns in to a REAL mess.

mike said...

He said the $40 billion rail project could be turned over to some other entity with staff that has experience handling large planning/construction projects -- possibly including even Caltrain.
LOL. I'm far from a fan of CHSRA's heavy reliance on contractors, but that quote goes to show just how completely out of touch with reality Morton is. Caltrain operates a 48 mile commuter railroad - the idea that the Caltrain staff have the experience, skills, resources, and authority to build a 700 mile HSR system is totally absurd. Morton will be very shocked to learn that we are building the California High Speed Rail System, not the Palo Alto High Speed Rail System or the Santa Clara County High Speed Rail System.

And just so we have a sense of perspective, two people have been killed in recent days along the Caltrain tracks.
In fairness, the first death was a suicide, and would not necessarily have been prevented by a safer grade separated system.

arcady said...

The CHSRA's strength is in its independence. It is an agency charged with the task of building a high speed train to connect SF to LA.In my view, this is a HUGE weakness. Just look at BART, an agency charged with the single task of operating a transbay rail transit system, and look at how poorly it connects both with other regional rail and with local transit, including the giant mess of different fare systems, completely uncoordinated schedules, inter-agency cooperation problems, and so on. What we need is not a fast train form LA to SF, or a fast train across the bay. What we need is a functioning transportation system that can get you where you need to go, whether it's from home to the store down the street or to LA. And that requires some system-level thinking and coordination, a task not served well by powerful single-purpose entities like CHSRA, or for that matter BART. Perhaps transferring CHSRA to be under Caltrans would help, though I really wish they'd thought of this two (or ten) years ago, rather than now. I do think that Caltrain should be responsible for their own corridor, though maybe they're letting CHSRA take the lead so that they get all the blame from the NIMBYs.

Also, I don't think it's entirely fair to compare Sound Transit to CHSRA. Sound Transit already has a running service: a relatively successful commuter rail, a regional express bus network, and a streetcar in Tacoma. They're just about done with the first light rail line, which, after a troubled start, is coming in on almost on time and on budget (which were admittedly revised after said troubled start). CHSRA on the other hand has... a bunch of pretty pictures, a lot of documentation, a program-level EIR, and not much else: no design, not even EIRs for the actual tracks that they want to build. It's not a huge loss to throw it out and start over, at least compared to the loss of building the wrong thing because of poor planning and the poor institutional structure that allowed it.

arcady said...

And to compare to global best practice: AVE is a RENFE project, the TGV is an SNCF project, the ICE is a DB project, the KTX is a Korail project, the Shinkansen is a JR project. The only counterexample I can think of is the Taiwan HSR, which is a completely separate entity from the Taiwan Railways Administration, but then again, THSR is also a physically completely separate network from the existing TRA lines due to the different track gauge, something that will clearly not be the case for CAHSR.

Martin Engel said...

"This would make clear that existing CEQA exemptions for building grade separations for existing tracks would be extended to the CHSRA as well. I am all for this, as it could prove an invaluable asset to ensure that the project gets underway in a timely fashion.

In fact, I believe we should go further and exempt the entire CHSRA project from CEQA entirely. Instead we should set up an alternative method to evaluate the project's environmental benefits, one that includes carbon emissions, impact on pollutants, impact on traffic and sprawl, and renewable energy and gasoline savings, while making absolutely clear that non-environmental issues, like aesthetics and "community values" are excluded from the evaluation process. NIMBYs have found ways to abuse the CEQA process, and a project like HSR is too important to allow to be held up like that."

Got it, Robert. Your religious, fanatical, fundamentalist singlemindedness has been no more than irritating. Until now. But, your comments on the latest Galgiani bill makes it clear that you are a Fascist in Democratic clothing. Or at the very least, a Dick Cheney Republican Royalist. What you are saying is clear enough: Do away with any and all legal protections of the people and the public. Get this train built, regardless of consequences. Anyone, anyone, dare to challenge anything, anything, or disagree with you -- shoot them. Silence them. Off with their heads. Am I exaggerating? Just read your own stuff with the trained critical, objective eye of a graduate student working on his Ph.D.

There can be no, no disagreements with you or you will call them blasphemers, heretics, apostates. This train is the truth, the only truth and the whole truth. Only the language of the CHSRA is authentic, accurate and acceptable. There can be no contradictions since all contradictions are, by definition, lies, all lies. Tell me how you are any different than Rod Diridon? or Quentin Kopp?
Are these guys your saints and prophets?

Amen, Robert

bossyman15 said...

Yes I also agree that CHSRA shuld be exempt from CEQA.

Screw the NIMBY. Just what Robert said... CAHSR is too important to pass up.

However, as for Kopp and his team. If they don't get something done soon maybe by around end of summer. then I guess I agree they should be replaced with better people but still independence.

r. motorist said...

I am inclined to agree with Martin to an extent. Blog posts seem to have taken on semi-fanatical tone. Any criticism of any aspect of the project is now equivalent to being and "Nimby HSR denier". Any topic, whether it is contractors or oversight, can be traced back to a plot masterminded by upper class white Nimbys. The aforementioned suicide is the most recent example. This has almost nothing to do with the HSR project, but the post might as well have read something like Nimby HSR deniers trick innocent people into commiting suicide by opposing HSR grade separation!!

JimS said...

Seriously, do people in Japan hem and haw about how rail destroys their communities? Good lord.

Property near rail lines goes *UP* in value, not down, because people want to live near the tracks so they can have easy access to the train. This is why my apartment is so fricking expensive (I'm by three different rail lines). I pay 1.5X the going rate for someplace away from the rail lines because I WANT to be near them. It's convenient.

Property values only go down near rail lines if people can't use them -- i.e. they are freight only.

Peter said...

Robert. You're a liar. Those were suicides, not accidents. And you know it. But go ahead and use private tragedy for your own political purposes - it suits you.How is Robert a liar? He stated that 2 people have been killed, and that the NIMBYs are fighting to keep the current configuration of the tracks. That's completely factual.

The fact that they were suicides doesn't change that the deaths likely would have been prevented by full grade separation. Has anyone every committed suicide-by-BART? It's so easy to commit suicide-by-Caltrain because there are long stretches of track with no protection and no one around. Full grade separation with fencing means that the only place someone could get onto the tracks would be at a station (like BART), where a bystander can likely rescue them.

Rafael said...

Not everyone critical of CHSRA is fundamentally opposed to HSR and advancing a hidden agenda to kill it. Some are simply trying to rein in Quentin Kopp, Rod Diridon and Mehdi Morshed.

Independence is all well and good but it creates a powerful fiefdom with little or no incentive to integrate statewide planning efforts with those already in place at the local level. A few prime examples: Caltrans' I-15 managed lanes project, SF's Transbay Terminal, Palmdale airport.

Right now, withholding funds is the only lever lawmakers have at their disposal to hold CHSRA's feet to the fire. Afaik, they cannot dismiss the CHSRA board or individual members, e.g. via impeachment. Voters have had very little say - direct or indirect - on who is on the board of an organization outside the regular government and tasked with spending $9 billion + interest in taxpayer money to turn much of the state into a construction zone.

That said, it would probably be useful if lawmakers simply set up a checklist of what CHSRA needs to deliver and by when in order to get the funding it has asked for. Delay means cost escalations down the road, so there need to be some ground rules on milestones and schedule.

AB3034 defines the requirements for releasing construction funds but fails do so for project-level planning and preliminary engineering. That inappropriate because the seeds of future cost escalations due to lawsuits and/or expensive engineering change orders are sown in this critical phase between approval of prop 1A(2008) and turning dirt.

One area that urgently requires a political decision is who is allowed to apply for federal HSR dollars. If CHSRA asks the state for funding to construct a particular segment, then the scope of the request must include the full HSR portion of any stations that were not already mapped into an earlier request for another segment. Since CHSRA must obtain matching non-state funds to qualify for prop 1A(2008) bond appropriations, it should be the only agency seeking federal HSR dollars.

Caveat: the state legislature should excise prop 1A(2008) bond appropriations from the regular annual budget fracas. It should require CHSRA to submit all the information required for that appropriation before it is allowed to apply for federal and other non-state funds. That information needs to include contracts with individual cities and/or counties defining the scope and cost of the HSR portion of stations.

If the state legislature approves the Authority's proposal, that means prop 1A(2008) bond appropriations are contingent only on securing non-state matching funds by a certain deadline.

However, if the proposal changes or the deadline passes, appropriation is subject to a second approval in the context of totally broken state budget process.

This gives CHSRA a huge incentive to get its ducks in a row early. It stands a much better chance of securing federal, local government and/or private investment if it argue that state funding is already appropriated, contingent only on securing matching funds by a certain date.

yesonHSR said...

Devasted by High Speed Rail? GESS you over-senstive nimnn..You MOVED next to railroad tracks!!! for the 10 millionth TIME!! NO its going to be built no matter what the YOU your God like Vice Mayor or the rest of you arrogant self imporant types demand..And thats the problem
your demanding it not be built.because WAAAA I dont like it!!Your kind dont want to work to make it better ..you just want your way..sorry not this time babies..

Rafael said...

Regarding deaths at grade crossings: some are accidental and would be prevented by grade separation.

Others are suicides. However, full grade separation relates to pedestrians as well as motor vehicles. For example, it means tall fences not just along the ROW but also at overpasses. Making it very difficult to commit suicide on the tracks may or may not prompt individuals to seek mental health care rather than off themselves in some other way.

However, regardless of the root cause of grade crossing incidents today, full grade separation will eliminate both the associated disruption of railway operations and the risk of psychological trauma for train drivers.

Anonymous said...

Get fucked Martin, and take your glib smart-ass commentary with you. Go fire-up derail.com again and see how much traffic you get now. Go to your Palo Alto meetings and lie and stir-up some more shit for these uninformed people and stop trolling a site for people who want to have a constructive conversation.

I'm so sick of having to read your shit here for months and months and months while Roberto the "facist" as you call him in a quite unlettered fasion, puts up with it and even engages your tired bullshit. I'm sure the goodman will delete this but until then

You sir are a demagogue. Willing to lie and mislead anyone who will hear it.

-JD

MenloParkArrogance said...

HERE HERE JD !!!!

Rob Dawg said...

In fact, I believe we should go further and exempt the entire CHSRA project from CEQA entirely.Perhaps abolish labor and safety laws while we are at it? What would your reaction be if Caltrans asked for freeways to be exempted from CEQA?

CAHSR has definite environmental impacts. It is no more acceptable to ignore them than it would to ignore passenger safety.

Morris Brown said...

I am wondering how many of those posting here, including Cruickshank, attended, viewed or listened to the meeting of April 30th. (I did post an audio link yesterday)

It is un-believable that Morshed should state that comments made by the Authority's board members, don't necessarily reflect the position of the Authority. Morshed went on to state he might get fired for saying this.

Senatore Simitian picked up on this immediately, and told Morshed to take back to his board he expected public comments made by board members must reflect the Authority's position, or they must be prefaced with a statement to the effect that what is being said or written is only a personal opinion.

Morshed went on to say, the campaign for Prop 1A, was not the a campaign run by the Authority, again indicating statements made by board members during the campaign might well not be reflecting positions of the Authority.

I guess this means the public should have just ignored all comments by Kopp and Diridon, since they may well be only personal opinions. Did Kopp's testimony before the Senate committees reflect only his opinions, or are they positions of the Authority.

Talk about a messed up organization, how much more messed up can you get. And these guys are to be trusted with a multi-billion dollar project.

No, Robert, Simitian and Lowenthal have not been hood winked. They are doing their job.

Furthermore, there really was no talk about CalTrain taking over the project; the talk was that CalTrans with help might indeed be a proper agency, since they certainly have worked with very large projects, although not HSR.

This was a budget sub-committee, and thank heavens they indeed seem to be willing to exert oversight over what should now be obvious is a maverick, out of control Agency.

arcady said...

Isn't Martin Engel some kind of NIMBY troll? Yet, somehow I find myself agreeing with him. There's a fine line between enthusiasm and fanaticism, and some of the HSR proponents are edging over that line to join the NIMBYs. "build it, no matter the cost" is just as foolish a position as "don't build it, no matter the benefit". It's an engineering project. There are tradeoffs everywhere. And it's our job to make sure the CAHSRA is getting the most benefit for the least cost.

Robert Cruickshank said...

arcady, I'm hard pressed to see how anything I have written here can be reasonably construed as "build it no matter the cost." If that was my attitude I'd be saying "tunnels for everybody! screw anyone who complains!"

The problem is that Martin Engel and his allies are playing a clever game here. They know they can't kill HSR by opposing the project concept; November 2008 proved that quite clearly.

So instead they're trying to argue that if there's something wrong with the CHSRA, then anything it says or proposes is suspect, so maybe the agency should be broken up and given over to folks who would be more pliable to the NIMBY agenda.

Their claims about the CHSRA's supposed shortcomings are found wanting. Again, I'm not averse to improving that agency where needed, but if board members are saying something that doesn't accurately reflect the agency position (which is itself subject to debate; the claim stems from Peninsula NIMBYs trying to trip up CHSRA over the tunnel), then I fail to see how that's a reflection of a flawed agency or a flawed process - instead it's a screw-up by an individual board member.

If the criticisms of CHSRA were explicitly separated from the criticisms of the HSR project, then this whole thing would be more credible.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Morris at 7:36p,
I did not listen to the vid-cast; however, I am also one that does not hold a lot of credibility in that committee. I think they have no power and are a paper tiger.

----
Suggesting that CHSRA be exempt from CEQA is not palatable in any sense. I'd support certain categorical exemptions to study specific aspects of the project, but not circumnavigate CEQA altogether. That's DOA.

I'd possibly lower the bar on necessary mitigation measures... b/c after-all, HSR is an environmental benefit for the whole of the state.

Let's also not forget NEPA. You cannot circumnavigate that study-effort; however NEPA does only provide disclosure on environmental impacts.

----
That said, I don't feel supporters of HSR are 'fanatics' because they support the project. The same is true for NIMBY's on the flip side of the coin. The same holds true for visitors and posters to this site.

Spokker said...

I would like to see the CHSRA folded into some kind of statewide division of rail that does everything right and never makes a mistake. But then again, if the current powers-that-be that develop California's state rail network were as gung-ho about high speed rail as the CHSRA is, wouldn't they have already done it? They do an incredible job with the Surfliner and the San Joaquins and the Capitol Corridor, but their plans are anything but ambitious.

The CHSRA is what it is simply because nobody else has gotten off their asses to do this project.

Pat Moore said...

Robert has discovered the one true God. And like any fanatic you only can worship at the altar in the approved manner. To love HIM in any other way make you a heretic.

It is rather amusing to watch Robert to transition from a some what reasoned voice to that of the fundamentalist preacher who hasn't read the bible, barely understands it, and is determine to inflict his interpretation on the rest of it.

This is my Buzzword bingo time Prediction for the next rant ( "post") with translation.

"denier" (heretic) three times,
"fellow deniers" (confused souls being lead to hell),
NIMBY (aka Satan minion) at least two times,
I am still waiting for "jihad" but I put the line at June 20th. (I am taking bets).

Probing deeper into the mythos and Robert's one true religion is a little harder but this is my best guess:
Kopp is Archangel Michael,
Diridon is Archangel Gabriel.
Medhi Morshed is Moses.

I am still trying to figure out the Jesus figure but this could be because Robert is channeling Orthodox Judaism rather than Christian fundamentalism. I am still working this out. I think we will know the answer if/when the Apostles make their appearance.

Perhaps Robert can clear this up with a link to his canon.

arcady said...

Robert: I meant cost in the sense of impact to the people living around the line, and in terms of opportunity cost for other projects and other, potentially better, alternatives. Both of those are real costs and need to be taken into account. And believe me, I don't like the idea of being on the NIMBY side either, but there really are some serious problems with the authority, its board members, its governance, and the results of its work, especially in terms of inter-agency cooperation and public outreach. If board members are saying things that don't reflect the agency position and as a result stirring up NIMBY ire, then maybe those board members need to be told to stop doing that or face removal. I don't think there's any simple solution to any of this, or even that the solution requires changing anything about HSRA, but I think it's important to at least acknowledge that there's a problem, at least in the department of NIMBY management.

Spokker said...

I think that some supporters would take an abolition of the CHSRA to mean that the project would be delayed indefinitely. I think most of us want to take a ride on this thing before we drop dead. We might even see Martin and Morris taking a spin in first class, if only to see first-hand what the hell they were fighting about.

Anyway, my question is this, when people call for the CHSRA to be abolished and the project given over to another agency, what are they expecting to happen? Are they expecting delays? Are they expecting that agency to cancel the project?

Is there any good that can come from it? Is there a chance the project timeline might even be sped up?

In any case, Bay Area politics make me want to jump in front of a damn train.

Anonymous said...

Very simple: a family of four headed out to dinner for some fine Italian food. The youngest, a five year old, whines and cries that he wants McDonalds instead of Italian. The other three family members quietly ignore the five year old, knowing full well where they will eat.
I think it speaks volumes that we aren't hearing from the "Big Boys and Gals" of SF, SJ, SVLG, and even LA in response to the nonsense/nimbyism of tiny PA. Again Robert, take a chill pill. In the end we'll all be enjoying some good pasta, regardless of what the whiny five year old wants.

Pat Moore said...

Thought about this for a little bit more. Would like your opinion:

Maybe Robert isn't having a religious experience but a Joe McCarthy one.

"Palo Alto NIMBYs" (robert)
"communists" (Joe McCarthy)

"fellow deniers" (robert)
"fellow travelers" (Joe McCarthy)

Jack Morton (robert)
Alger Hiss (Joe McCarthy)


But through it all just remember, the end justifies the means

Spokker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spokker said...

"Very simple: a family of four headed out to dinner for some fine Italian food. The youngest, a five year old, whines and cries that he wants McDonalds instead of Italian. The other three family members quietly ignore the five year old, knowing full well where they will eat."

But the CHSRA is going to Olive Garden.

Sorry, I had to.

Morris Brown said...

I don't understand why the issue of CHSRA board members making public comments which do not reflect the policies or positions of the Authority should be viewed as only raising the ire of NIMBY's, those opposed to the project etc.

These comments should be equally objected to by supporters of the project.

Kopp's letter to Feinstein, omitting any mention of the Trans Bay Terminal and the Station in Anaheim for possible stimulus funding, should infuriate supporters of the project.

Kopp and Diridon have presented themselves as the spokesmen for the Authority and now Morshed, the executive director, says their public statements don't necessarily reflect positions of the Authority. Just what are the positions of the Authority?

Morshed states, positions of the Authority are only those on which a vote of the board has been taken and at least 5 votes of board members approved. (nine member board)

I gather that not going all the way to the SF Trans Bay Terminal is a personal position of Kopp, and not a position of the Authority.

Morshed indicates the Authority would give true consideration to concerns raised by cities along the CalTrain route. Diridon and Kopp in an article published today in the local paper "Daily Post", say state law mandates study of " unlikely" possibilities like tunneling. Their statements hardly sounds like true consideration.

Clem said...

@mike, I think that was just a misprint. Caltrain and Caltrans get confused all the time.

@Robert, CEQA is there for a good reason. That the process gets abused does not remove the need for the process... exempting HSR from environmental laws is absurd and unthinkable. Better find ways to prevent abuse of the process.

A big part of that question may be clarified later this month when the CEQA lawsuit is heard... can Kopp flick this one off his sleeve like he claims he will?

mike said...

I'm hard pressed to see how anything I have written here can be reasonably construed as "build it no matter the cost."Come on, the suggestion that the entire project be exempt from CEQA was pretty absurd. Yes, HSR is a very important project, but we have many important infrastructure projects. What precedent is there for any infrastructure project ever being entirely exempt from CEQA? Even the military has to file environmental impact reviews for many projects.

Robert Cruickshank said...

The sad thing is that it's actually not unthinkable at all to exempt HSR from CEQA. Whether one likes it or not, the precedent is actually there, whether it's the CEQA exemption for grade separations or the CEQA exemptions for Prop 1B projects that were rammed through as part of the recent budget deal. It is most certainly possible to totally exempt this project from CEQA. Not from NEPA, although that law may prove to be more malleable than folks realize.

That's what happens when NIMBYs abuse the process. They undermine public faith in and political support for an environmental review process that is absolutely necessary.

One should also note I didn't say "to hell with environmental review" - but instead that we need to change CEQA to ensure it doesn't empower NIMBYs, and that if we exempted HSR from CEQA, we instead study it with respect to other environmental standards. An AB 32 review process, for example.

The problem is that these NIMBYs believe that any objection they raise is legitimate merely because they raised it. And they're very good at playing on people's inherent fears of flawed government, flawed management, playing on the reputations of Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon, all in an effort to undermine the project. Their goal isn't reform, their goal is to kill the project.

I believe we can and we should separate the issue of how to improve the administration of the HSR project from the NIMBY claims. In fact, we must be the ones to do so, otherwise they will succeed in killing this project.

I am troubled by how easily folks are willing to buy the NIMBY claims about supposed misdeeds. Again, that's not to say that CHSRA and its board are perfect, they are not. But folks seem much too willing to give credit to these NIMBY claims when there is no reason to do so.

It's getting to the point that if Morris and Martin and Jack Morton say that Rod Diridon showed up and lied, then people are just taking that claim at face value. But as far as I can tell that isn't the case. The NIMBYs want people to believe that Diridon promised them something he never promised, because they know that's the only way they can ever generate any sympathy for their unworkable, impractical, and ultimately indefensible demand for a tunnel.

I don't expect anyone else to share my own attitudes about how to deal with this, I know I'm being obstinate here. But I think it's reasonable to expect that those interested in serious HSR conversation would not be so quick to fall for the tricks and misstatements coming from the same people who worked their ass off to kill Prop 1A and the HSR project itself.

Clem said...

folks seem much too willing to give credit to these NIMBY claims when there is no reason to do so .

In my opinion, you may be giving too much credit to the NIMBYs by buying into their "this project is doomed" trash talk. There may be some over-reaction on your part.

I liked Anon's take on the situation: we're not going to McDonald's, no matter how loud the tantrum!

jim said...

Spokker said...
I would like to see the CHSRA folded into some kind of statewide division of rail that does everything right and never makes a mistake. But then again, if the current powers-that-be that develop California's state rail network were as gung-ho about high speed rail as the CHSRA is, wouldn't they have already done it? They do an incredible job with the Surfliner and the San Joaquins and the Capitol Corridor, but their plans are anything but ambitious.
Well I agree with that. and I would never say it out loud, but quite frankly the california division of rail in conjunction with amtrak, and the freight railroads working together have formed the most successful rail system outside the NEC. The (catrans) div. of rail has a proven working relationship with amtrak california, bnsf and uprr. and nations passenger rail corp has more experience with building, maintaining, and operating a railroad, including electric and higher speed versions, than anyone in america. of course I expect these comments to be entirely poo poo'd here but from what I've seen in the improvement in quality and accountability in our corporate structure, we are palying for real and for keeps in the pasenger rail business. Put the project in the hands of amtrak and the division of rail, let actualy railroad people who know what they're doing, build it. and wehn its done, let them operate it and bring a built in nationwide loyal passenger base with them. Oh I know know one here believes it could be done but I have zero confidence in the dipshits who are in charge right now who are too busy deciding who's going to wipe whos ass instead of getting down to railroad business. We can do it but nobody bothered to ask. Thats what I say in my head but I'd never say out loud here.

Anonymous said...

The current plan for the HSR is sub-optimal, to put it kindly, and needs to be redone. It is not too late to rethink and if the abolition of the CHSRA can accomplish that end so be it.

If the HSR caves to Palmdale politics then it will have to cave to Peninsula politics. Demands for and demands against still equate to demands. Palmdale is as much a bawling brat as the Peninsula.

Aaron said...

I'm with Clem here. We seem to be creating a problem and then believing in its insurmountability. A few trolls on a blog or a few whiny brats in the peninsula are not insurmountable problems. They will give CAHSR enough headaches such that they should probably include aspirin as an employee benefit, but this is too much.

I am not amused with the concept of exempting anything from CEQA, even CAHSR. I'm not an environmental lawyer, but my feeling is that if there are problems with CEQA that render it susceptible to abuse, fix CEQA. CEQA isn't the penal code, all new projects, including CAHSR, would be submitted according to the fixed CEQA, there's no ex post facto problem.

TomW said...

I quite agree thath in its current form, the CHSRA does not the ability and staff to oversee construction of the line. That's because up until now, it's job was to plan and provide outline design - so it employed peopel who do those things. It would be very silly if they had employed engineers and mega-project managers, because there woudl have been nothing for them to do.

So, the solution is to provide it with the means to employ the right people with right skills - which requires funding.

Why do politicans make things seem so complicated?

BruceMcF said...

The key benefit of the Department of Rail proposal is that it avoids the risk that the CHSRA will be folded into Caltrans. Putting a HSR project inside the reach of bureaucratic empire builders with their power base in roadworks will be the kiss of death.

As far as positive benefit, it may be a case of closing the barn door after the horse has fled ... that is, if it had been done in 2006, it seems likely that the CHSRA would not have been hammered so badly by the delay in bonded funding at the beginning of this year. But the defensive benefit is well worth it.

Anonymous said...

I think this says all that needs to be said about Quentin Kopp and his sponsors, the Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Tutor-Saliba, HNTB, etc.

Anonymous said...

The issue the lawmakers is more fundamental.

They have been asking for a proposed org chart for almost a year and CHSRA has been unable to provide that which even the smallest startup in Silicon Valley must provide.

Not only have they failed to scale up, they have failed to even develop a basic plan to scale up.

It is time for the grownups to take over this process.

Anonymous said...

What a surprise. Wealthy people on the Peninsula hate anything with rails. They killed BART 40 years ago (only to demand it later and at great cost) and now they're doing it again.

It is amazing that a pack of self-styled entitled "activists" from a rich community somehow have this vast knowledge of how to run an HSR system. Why, oh why are they limiting themselves to yelling at city council meetings? Why aren't they forming a private company to build the perfect HSR system and save us from the misery that is the status quo? Why aren't we seeing them roll out Big Plans instead of just whining like little kids and trying to overturn the will of the voters and the Administration?

Oh, that's right. They don't have a plan. They don't really know. All they know is how to use this situation for short term political gain in the local elections. Well Played, nimble NIMBYs. Well played. I hear many a politician in Burlingame, Palo Alto, et al got their start like this 40 years go. Because what the state needs more of is selfish, entitled baby boomers demanding their needs met now, and who don't care about the future. It's worked so well in the past

Alon Levy said...

God. Let me say this as someone who's never cared much for terminology like "Denier": if you really think Robert is a fascist, then you're ignorant about what fascism actually is. It's not about giving a single authority power to build things regardless of opposition - on the contrary, fascist regimes have generally been very responsive to business and high-income communities, leading many Western investors to idealize them. It's about shooting people who agitate for too much labor rights or democracy or peace or minority self-expression. The English-only crowd has a lot more to do with historical fascist practice than HSR boosters ever will.

Ditto invocations of The Prince. What Robert's pushing for is a more streamlined role for authorities, on the model of SNCF or Narita Airport. Some of the people living on the grounds that were slated to become Narita promised to firebomb the new home of every resident who voluntarily agreed to relocate. The Peninsula people are nothing compared to that. The Japanese/French model is more centralized and less participatory than the US one, but let's not pretend it's in any way authoritarian.

mike said...

The sad thing is that it's actually not unthinkable at all to exempt HSR from CEQA. Whether one likes it or not, the precedent is actually there, whether it's the CEQA exemption for grade separations or the CEQA exemptions for Prop 1B projects that were rammed through as part of the recent budget deal.
Fair enough. But virtually all of those projects are widening/enhancements of existing transportation corridors. The analog would be exempting CHSRA from CEQA on the Caltrain corridor for all sections that do not require more than X sq feet for eminent domain (which I believe would be more reasonable, the Palo Alto folks paranoia notwithstanding). As AB 289 makes clear, the grade separations are almost surely already exempt anyway. That's a far cry from exempting the entire project, including entirely new sections on entirely new ROW, from CEQA, however.

That being said, I suspect the "bypass CEQA" strategy, except where clearly allowed by established law, is not a smart one in the long term anyway. Once again, the purpose of EIR is not to ensure that there are zero environmental impacts along any dimension. If the NIMBYs think that this is how EIR works - that all they have to do is show the judge that there is some environmental harm along some dimension and that will stop the project - they are going to be sorely disappointed. Rather, the purpose is to document all of the possible environmental impacts, choose the economically feasible alternative that minimizes the total impacts, and make good-faith efforts to mitigate the resulting impacts from the chosen alternative (e.g., install sound walls, plant trees, whatever). That's it. Lawsuits can delay the process, but they are unlikely to ultimately stop it (or move it somewhere where it's infeasible anyway, like the 280 corridor).

Where you run into problems - i.e., where the NIMBYs can actually win in court - is if you fail to do your due diligence in the EIR. That is to say, you fail to catalog some environmental impacts, or perhaps you skip the EIR altogether (as Robert suggests). Then they can sue you for failing to fulfill your obligations under CEQA, and they might actually win because they'll be right. The real sin as far as the law is concerned is not failing to eliminate all impacts cataloged in the EIR, but rather failing to catalog the impacts to begin with.

BruceMcF said...

Anony-mouse: "The issue the lawmakers is more fundamental.

They have been asking for a proposed org chart for almost a year and CHSRA has been unable to provide that which even the smallest startup in Silicon Valley must provide.

Not only have they failed to scale up, they have failed to even develop a basic plan to scale up.

It is time for the grownups to take over this process.
"

Yes, legislators have been asking the CHSRA to do things while failing to perform their basic legislative responsibility of getting a budget done on time and keeping the state finances from blowing up ... both on an ongoing basis, as well as with two acute budget crises, one interfering with the funding for the business plan they were demanding, and most recently delaying the sale of bonds by months at precisely the time Anony-mouse is criticizing the CHSRA for not staffing up while they had no funds to use to hire any large amount of new staff.

Putting forward the people who so completely and regularly fail to perform their primary jobs in putting together a state budget are the "grown ups" in the room ... as a serious argument? No wonder the person putting it up was not even willing to come up with a pseudonym to go with the argument.

jet said...

The french would like to do it for us. I say hand it over to them then, lock stock and barrel and wake us up when its done. On its current path of progress we aren't going to have revenue service before 2025 if that. Think about it. We ned to build what, 10 hsr stations, some whoes locations haven't even been chosen. Row hasn't been chose, nor permission aquired. tbt issues still left unresloved. hundreds of miles of track, concrete, and catenary, and several major tunneling projects. There is no way on gods green earth that these trains ill run in 2020. Especially when the whole thing is being overseen by people with no railroad experience whatsoever. Five years from now, we will still be in court with PA etc.

Pat Moore said...

@Robert (Apostle)--

"NIMBYs abuse the process"

Ex-squeeze me???

CEQA exists to make sure government follows a process and makes sure there is a real need and that the real need is being served by a proposed project.

Because you have clearly forgotten, CEQA/NEPA exist because in the 50s/60s there was no way that communities could object to having a freeway rammed through their city. If you ever want to know why Detroit is such a mess -- start with the communities that were destroyed by the roadbuilders.

When CEQA/NEPA came in, the highwaymen started bleating about the "process" being abused, same as Robert is now.

CEQA/NEPA as it exists is relatively toothless. If CHSRA cannot survive that lawsuit then that says pretty significant things about the flawed "process" up in Sacramento.

All kneel before the one TRUE god.

Pat Moore said...

@mike -- mostly right.

What you are missing about CEQA is that it also demands that the "need/purpose" statements not presume the proposed project.

For example, a project's purpose cannot be "build HSR to LA". (presumes conclusion). But it can be "improve travel times between LA and SF"

(Unless you are Robert)

theo said...

You could make a case that the existing highway system and airport system are significantly advantaged relative to HSR by having been built before CEQA.

I don't see that as enough of a reason to abandon the environmental review process. It would take a while to set up an acceptable alternative, in any case, so it's not clear that that would get the system built any faster.

If there should arise any insurmountable CEQA problems, the state representatives can override them. You only need 50% for those votes, so it'll get done.

p.s. Robert, project confidence, not desperation. Don't let the Peninsula jerkoffs get to you.

BruceMcF said...

jet said... "The french would like to do it for us. I say hand it over to them then, lock stock and barrel and wake us up when its done."

This is likely confusing an expression of interest in operating an HSR service on the corridor with an interest in taking over the construction of the corridor.

"On its current path of progress we aren't going to have revenue service before 2025 if that."

If its current path of progress means that there will be a state financial crisis so that bonds will not be able to be sold for over 50% of the time between now and then, certainly ... the repeated inability of the California legislature to do its job (in large part due to anti-democratic requirements for super-majorities that allow a minority to block action without having the majority and therefore with no responsibility to proceed with engaging in any action), if it continues as in the past twelve months, will hobble the project.

But since nobody will take it over for the state without being paid, that goes for whoever is doing it.

Anonymous said...

At what point does the cost of tunneling under Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton exceed the cost of re-locating to the 101 freeway corridor?

Moreover by having its own ROW the HSR will be spared any collateral damage from Caltrain snafus. Any incident that would stop Caltrain would likely stop the HSR as well. And problems can be expected to occur: witness the three hour disruption 2 days ago of BART service in the Transbay Tube caused by simple debris arcing the thrid rail.

Clem said...

@Anon: you seem to be assuming that HSR would be forced into tunnels. Our friend FONSI may well conclude otherwise!

Pat Moore said...

@Alon Levy said...

if you really think Robert is a fascist, then you're ignorant about what fascism actually is.I know exactly what fascism is. And I never called Robert a fascist so the rest of your lecture is silly.

Ditto invocations of The Prince.

Except that this is exactly what Robert is pushing... the ends justifies the means. I would challenge Robert to point out one place where he has taken a more balanced attitude.

Anyhow got better things to do with the week.

Alon Levy said...

Martin Engel called Robert a fascist further upthread.

And the point of The Prince isn't that the ends justify the means. It's a primer about how to achieve the ends of seizing and holding power. This is similar to modern political consultants' writings, and contrasts with previous political philosophy, which talks about the purpose of the good and the need for just leadership. Machiavelli doesn't even talk about infrastructure as a means of maintaining power, even though that was done frequently in the Roman Empire. He talks mainly about war and general governance issues.

lyqwyd said...

There is precedent for CEQA exemptions, in the most recent CA budget 8 projects were given exemption (all road projects):

1. Santa Clara County U.S. Highway 101 interchange modification project to add a southbound auxiliary lane and a southbound mixed flow lane from Interstate 280 to Yerba Buena Road.
2. San Diego County Interstate 805 high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) project to construct north and southbound HOV lanes from Interstate 5 to Carroll Canyon Road, and to construct north-facing direct access ramps.
3. Tehama County State Route 99 Los Molinas rehabilitation and traffic calming project from Orange Street to Tehama Vine Road.
4. Fresno County State Route 99 Island Park widening project, which adds one mixed-flow lane in each direction, from Ashlan Avenue to Grantlund Avenue.
5. San Joaquin County State Route 99 median widening project, which adds one mixed-flow lane in each direction, from State Route 120 west to 0.4 miles north of Arch Road, in Manteca.
6. San Joaquin County State Route 12 pavement rehabilitation and shoulder widening project on Bouldin Island.
7. Orange County State Route 91 widening project, which adds one mixed flow lane in each direction, from State Route 55 to Weir Canyon Road.
8. San Luis Obispo County U.S. Highway 101 pavement rehabilitation and shoulder widening project.

(see http://www.rtmmlaw.com/news.php for more info)

lyqwyd said...

The California environmental review process is extremely flawed. The recent 3 year holdup on SF Bike improvements is the most egregious example that I am aware of.

It seems that most of the time it is only used to delay projects by people that don't like them, regardless of what the project's actual impacts are.

I certainly believe that environmental impacts should be taken in to account, but the way we do it today is a travesty. The process is ridiculously time-consuming and expensive, and the regulations are seriously outdated.

lyqwyd said...

Given the above, I still think that HSR should go through the CEQA process, mainly to eliminate the attacks that will come if it does not go through the process. It's just sad that our environmental review is so flawed.

mike said...

@lyqwyd Actually, the SF Bike Plan situation is a perfect example of why I think Robert's "bypass CEQA entirely" strategy is a dangerous one. To quote a nice summary of the SF Bike Plan fiasco from a commenter at SF Bay Guardian:

"Like NEPA, the federal version, California's Environmental Quality Act...is merely a law that requires that a project sponsor disclose potential significant environmental impact to decision makers who are free to ignore them. Of recent, it has served a proxy to oppose projects more so than to protect the environment.....

This is what happened with the 2002 Bike Plan. Advocates and staff agreed to ignore CEQA even though they'd been told that the LOS matter is a potential impact under the current rules. This happened under pressure from advocates backed by supervisors. Thus, issuing a negative declaration fort the Bike Plan which under CEQA says no EIR is needed, landed them in court with the plaintiffs having to make the easy case to the judge that there was a "fair argument" that an EIR was needed. Staff took a risk at the behest of advocates and got bit.

This dynamic is already having an impact on moving the Bike Plan forward, as staff have gone polar on us, from proposing no EIR to insisting that we have a full-blown EIR. Of course, a full-blown EIR will take years to produce and that is where we are now."

mike said...

The safest strategy is to dot the i's and cross the t's when it comes to the EIR. It may take a little longer at the beginning, but in the long run I suspect it will save time by strengthening CHRSA's legal position in court.

There was an interesting SF Chron article a couple days ago on HSR tunneling and what happened with Devil's Slide (Hwy 1). Caltrans originally proposed a surface bypass for Devil's Slide, but San Mateo County lobbied for a tunnel solution. They eventually got the tunnel, and the article implies that perhaps something similar will happen with HSR.

The interesting part is that you can actually find the Devil's Slide EIR online. The tunnel solution was not substantially more expensive than the surface bypass (something like $130 million vs $110 million). No doubt the same decision making process will play out with HSR. If the tunnel is only 20% more expensive than the surface alignment, then I have no doubt that CHSRA would go for the tunnel (perhaps with small contributions from local towns). I also have no doubt that, in this case, the tunnel is going to be far, far more expensive than the surface alignment. The EIR will simply establish it as a non-viable alternative (which pretty much everyone already knows, save a few people on the Peninsula).

flowmotion said...

Wish I'd seen this post earlier.

First of all, without any specifics, your comments on CEQA are depressingly transparent: "Change the process (somehow) until we get the results CAHSR wants".

This admission will color your future comments on planning process issues.

Second, you are discounting the idea that this shoestring outsourced planning process may not have gotten it 100% correct. There will be issues which will come out of the process and be rectified. Even your own "mediterranean viaducts" proposal attests to this.

Finally in many other posts, you have complained that politicians aren't lending their weight to HSR, but here you advocate the agency's independence. I think you should realize these are incompatible goals -- if you want direct political support for HSR, you have to accept the oversight and control that comes with it.

Anonymous said...

@mike

A surface option is not what the CHSRA wants - they are demanding a massive four track elevated. They want an overbuilt blight to make up the time lost by the Tehachapis detour and various podunk stops that have been added.

The upside of the Peninsula resistance is that it will undoubtedly bring attention as well to the whole screwed-up route of the HSR.

jim said...

They want an overbuilt blight to make up the time lost by the Tehachapis detour and various podunk stops that have been added one-They haven't added any "podunk" stops. and two- it wouldn't matter how many stops they add when not every train makes every stop anyway. An express to LA is an express to LA. and three -- the palmdale route serves a huge chunk of La county that will house most of La counties future growth. That growth won't be happening on the grapevine.