The California High Speed Rail Authority held its monthly meeting today, and included a project phasing workshop after the regular meeting, part of Chairman Curt Pringle's efforts to provide more opportunities for the public to get involved with providing feedback on the planning process. One of the outcomes of today's meeting was that the Authority is becoming more assertive in providing management and oversight:
Under the leadership of newly elected board chairman, Curt Pringle, the Authority created three standing committees:
* Executive Administrative Committee: Chairman Curt Pringle, Judge Quentin Kopp, Director Fran Florez
* Operations Committee: Directors Richard Katz, Rod Diridon, Jr. and Russ Burns
* Finance: Directors Tom Umberg, David Crane and Lynn Schenk...
Additional organizational transparency measures include maintaining and keeping current the California High-Speed Rail Authority Web site, posting all applications and other required documentation....
Discussed proposal for development of new “investment grade” ridership and revenue forecasts to assist in attracting public-private partnerships.
All of which is quite welcome.
The board apparently also discussed fast-tracking certain deadlines to enable more stimulus funding to arrive in California. It's hard to figure out exactly what this refers to - the article from ABC/7 in LA is written at something resembling a 6th grade level and is maddeningly vague. But whatever was discussed and decided, it was enough to provoke some of the usual suspects into their usual outrage:
"The biggest danger is that citizens don't get heard, alternatives don't get considered. They don't want to study any route alternatives. And to me, that's absolutely wrong when you're doing a $40 billion project," said Richard Tolmach, California Rail Foundation....
"You can't short-cut the process on a high-speed train. You end up with a mess," said Tolmach.
Tolmach is not being truthful here - the CHSRA spent 11 years studying route alternatives. He's just unhappy they didn't pick his preferred route.
More significant than Tolmach's desire to study the project until 2049 is his implication that stimulus funds are less important than building the project his way. This is a completely crazy approach, jeopardizing the entire HSR project and the federal funds it needs to be built over a relatively minor spat over a routing choice.
Tolmach is joined in working to undermine the HSR stimulus funds by the Planning and Conversation League, which last month sent this rather extraordinary letter to a bunch of state legislative leaders:
PCL Letter Re Budget Bill
The key section is quoted below:
Lastly, we would like to rebut several false claims made recently by the Authority. First, the Authority has made the claim that forcing them to do a thorough review of the Bay Area segment will cost the state Stimulus funding. This is not true. Work on the San Francisco to San Jose segment, beyond electrification of the existing tracks and work on the Transbay Terminal, will not qualify for stimulus funding since the environmental review is not currently scheduled to be done in time, even without a complete review of alternate alignments.
But that's not a widely shared point of view, particularly about the Transbay Terminal's eligibility for stimulus funds. However it is designed, the train box needs to be part of the TBT project from the start, and stimulus funds are part of how that will occur. PCL is willing to jeopardize that because of their desire to place a small piece of the project - the Altamont alignment - over the project as a whole.
PCL is also willing to make threats and pass it off as self-fulfilling prophecy, writing in the letter that unless the CHSRA does exactly what PCL wants, there will be more lawsuits, costing the state money. PCL claims that if CHSRA caves to their demands, the state will "save money in the long run" but it's unclear how a lawsuit would match the multibillion dollar HSR stimulus PCL is willing to risk here.
I've often stated my thoughts on Altamont vs. Pacheco: each has their pros and cons, but the decision has been made to route the long-distance trains over Pacheco, the high speed commuter trains over Altamont, and that it's time to accept it and move on for the sake of the entire HSR project.
By threatening HSR stimulus funds, groups like the PCL are showing that the HSR project as a whole isn't relevant to their work. There's no reason the CHSRA, the state legislature, the governor, or the people California should listen to such financially reckless thinking.