As reported in the SF Business Times on Friday (subscription req'd for whole article) a new pro-HSR group has been formed on the Peninsula. The Alliance for Sustainable Transit and Jobs is comprised of some of the Bay Area's heaviest hitters, including representatives of the largest businesses in the region. They don't yet have a website, but that doesn't really matter right now; these groups have already been very active behind the scenes in lobbying for high speed rail, and their coming together as a formal organization portends much greater public visibility. From the article:
Countering critics of high-speed rail along the Peninsula, business and labor groups have banded together to support the approximately $8 billion section between San Francisco and San Jose.
The Alliance for Sustainable Transit and Jobs “was formed in response to recent community outbursts regarding the high-speed rail route through the Peninsula cities and the forthcoming lawsuits, political posturing and other blocking maneuvers,” according to a flyer promoting the group, which will be based in the Belmont offices of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association.
In addition to SAMCEDA, business groups in the alliance include the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the chambers in San Mateo and Redwood City. Labor groups in San Francisco, Santa Clara County and San Mateo County are members.
“We’re coming from the point of view of what (high-speed rail) might bring to the Peninsula” in terms of jobs and other economic boosts, said Rosanne Foust, a SAMCEDA vice president and Redwood City mayor.
The Bay Area Council is of particular importance here. 60 years ago they came together to promote regional mobility in the wake of the transportation crisis the World War II boom created; out of their early proposals came the system we know as BART. While they didn't design the system itself, they helped get it launched and built, and look to do the same with HSR. Their member list reads like a who's who of Bay Area businesses, including companies like Chevron and Google; their executive committee includes representatives from Wells Fargo, Clorox, Bank of America, even Janet Yellin, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. Similarly, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group includes similar (and even some of the same) companies, as does the SF Chamber of Commerce. Clearly, this is a serious effort to promote high speed rail and counter the distortions and NIMBY attacks on HSR on the Peninsula.
Of course, it's not the case that just because a bunch of large corporations say HSR is a good thing, we should just do as they say. In this case, though, the interests of the Bay Area's largest employers match those of working people and families living in the Bay Area and on the Peninsula, clear majorities of whom showed their own support for HSR by voting for Prop 1A last fall.
Having talked with some BAC staff about HSR, they made it clear that for their member companies, sustainable transportation is a very high priority. California is in a severe economic crisis, part of a global recession. When the global economy recovers, multinational corporations will look for places to invest. And it won't necessarily be California, especially if we are burdened with a transportation system that gets gridlocked during times of growth and is dependent on oil, a commodity whose costs are definitely going rise. Those companies want to invest in the Bay Area, but are saying that high speed rail needs to be part of the equation, part of the recovery, if they are going to make long-term plans for the region.
Again, there's nothing to say that the Bay Area should do something just because their largest employers recommend it. But that does place the burden on HSR deniers and NIMBYs to explain to people - especially people on the Peninsula, many of whom depend on the companies represented by the organizations that have formed this new pro-HSR group - where jobs and economic growth are going to come from without high speed trains. The answer is likely to be an assumption that the conditions of the late 20th century will just somehow magically continue indefinitely into the future, and that answer will likely not mention that the current economic crisis was caused by an overreliance on late 20th century sources of growth (sprawl, oil, finance capitalism).
Most Peninsula NIMBYs are those who were the "winners" of the late 20th century economy, those who own property near the tracks and prefer to maintain that asset value at the expense of the economic prosperity of others. Presumably they don't think they have any need of HSR, such is their economic security, but since HSR might possibly in some alternate universe threaten their property values, they're going to fight it tooth and nail. Even if that causes long-term economic distress for the region.
Even those who might not want California's 21st century economy to be dominated by a handful of large corporations can find value in high speed rail. HSR will create a green dividend that makes capital available for new entrepreneurial ventures by reducing spending on oil-based transportation. The hundreds of thousands of jobs HSR will create will produce more buyers of local businesses' products, more tax money for local governments to improve quality of life, and the trains themselves will enable Peninsula residents to have a broader spectrum of job opportunities and mobility that a 21st century economy requires.
In short, HSR offers opportunities for businesses big and small, for workers young and old, for cities along the tracks and those that aren't. The Alliance for Sustainable Transit and Jobs, along with truly grassroots groups like Californians for High Speed Rail, will help give voice to those on the Peninsula who so far have been drowned out or ignored by the loud but few NIMBYs.