Thursday, August 7, 2008

AB 3034 Passes the Senate

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

(Updated as information comes my way - now on Update 3)

The State Senate today finally passed AB 3034. It will now return to the Assembly, which will consider the Senate's amendments and send it on to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite their earlier opposition, several Senate Republicans voted for AB 3034. They include Roy Ashburn and Dave Cogdill, who have previously been less than supportive of HSR. Additionally Jeff Denham, Tom Harman, Bob Margett, and my own Senator Abel Maldonado voted for AB 3034.

What changed? The Senate amended the bill yesterday to provide more oversight, including a "peer review" committee (see the bill text for details) and mandating that a revised business plan be produced by September 1 - not October 1 as previously suggested.

Also, Monday is the new deadline for altering the Prop 1 ballot language, contrary to reports from mid-July that suggested the deadline had already passed.

The Sierra Club, which took some criticism from this blog earlier this week, did play a major role in getting AB 3034 passed. The bill would address many of their concerns and Tim Frank of Sierra Club California had this to say, in a press release put out by Sen. Leland Yee's office:

This bill will ensure that the High Speed Rail Bond on this November’s ballot contains important environmental and fiscal safeguards and accordingly will help assure voters that their money will be wisely invested in a system that can dramatically improve California’s environment while providing mobility options that improve our competitiveness and quality of life.

That's more like it. Good to see the Sierra Club keeping focus on the value of HSR. Let's hope they will endorse Prop 1.

This good news, however, is tempered by remaining obstacles. The Assembly may not be pleased with the changes the Senate made, which include Leland Yee's move to secure the "spine" from SF to LA and Anaheim. But the Assembly is under the gun to approve the changes by the Monday deadline. Time to call your Assemblymembers and let them know that they ought to back AB 3034 as-is, and send it onto Arnold for his signature.

And that part is also tricky. Arnold is throwing a temper tantrum right now, claiming that he'll not sign any new bills the Legislature sends him until a budget deal is done. Funny thing about AB 3034, though - Arnold himself was its driving force, as the bill primarily exists to satisfy many of his demands about the HSR bond. Some Republicans who praised Arnold's silly move - like Jeff Denham, who said most bills "do more harm than good anyway, voted for AB 3034 anyway.

More importantly, AB 3034 required a 2/3 vote to pass each house. 2/3 just so happens to be the amount needed to override a governor's veto. So if Arnold continues his hissy fit, AB 3034 can still become law anyway.

All in all, it's a very good result. Props to everyone who helped pass it through the Senate - they understand the need to keep our eye on the ball and get HSR built.

UPDATE Here is what I'm told about how the ballot stuff works. Apparently the Legislature can remove Prop 1 and replace it with AB 3034 - as a new Prop 1 - if they act by August 11, which is Monday. They must both remove the existing Prop 1 AND pass AB 3034 for this work, and AB 3034 would go onto the ballot as Prop 1. If they miss the deadline, then AB 3034 would go onto the ballot as a supplemental prop - Prop 12 or, god forbid, Prop 13. It's been shown that this might cost 5-10% points in support, which could be fatal. Also, having two HSR props on the ballot would be incredibly confusing and might well lead to both failing.

The lesson: This last-minute stuff is really not good policymaking. This needed to have been resolved at least two months ago. If the first scenario cannot be accomplished - removing the current Prop 1 and replacing it with AB 3034 as Prop 1, then AB 3034 should be abandoned and groups should move to support Prop 1.

UPDATE 2 Sen. Dean Florez, longtime HSR supporter, calls on Arnold to support AB 3034 in a press release:

If Assembly Bill 3034 is not signed into law by Monday at 5 p.m., voters will be forced to consider a measure which lacks information considered critical to garnering support.

“The Governor’s childlike pledge has put years of work on the high-speed rail project in danger,” Florez said, chiding, “We need to end the foot stomping and get to work. Given Schwarzenegger’s handling of the budget crisis thus far, I wouldn’t be surprised if his next press conference included a new pledge to hold his breath until he turns bright blue.”

While the Governor may be loathe to reverse himself so quickly, Florez – who is sure Schwarzenegger could not have been aware of every possible ramification when he made his latest pronouncement – encouraged him to look to his own words on the issue.

“The Governor himself told a national television audience that flip-flopping is a great thing; that it is a wonderful thing when someone has made a mistake and is able to be honest about it and change his mind,” Florez said. “Keeping a viable high-speed rail bond off the ballot at this critical juncture -- after decades of laying the groundwork for a system that will move this state forward -- would be a huge mistake. The only thing remaining to be seen is whether the Governor will recognize and acknowledge that fact before it is too late to correct.”

Sounds like the ball's in Arnold's court now.

Update 3 Missed this the first time I read through the amended AB 3034 - if Arnold signs it by Monday at 5, Prop 1 is dead and will be replaced with Prop 1A:

This bill would require the bond measure to appear first on the November 4, 2008, general election ballot and to be designated as Proposition 1 1A. The bill would specify the ballot label and title and summary to be used for the measure.

Apparently the revisions also have more flexibility on funding minimum operable segments, but as I read it the "spine" from SF-LA-Anaheim is still prioritized. Anyone have a better reading? Put it in the comments.


Robert Cruickshank said...

And yes, this is two posts in a single day - in a single hour, even. Consider yourselves lucky!

Anonymous said...

I love it..Asburn and the rest passed this because they want to force Arnold to to the dirty work..

Robert Cruickshank said...

Yeah, that's definitely one way of looking at it. I felt like being charitable, but we're still going to have to watch this closely to ensure everything goes right.

Brandon in California said...

There is other big news today too.

Senator Feinstein, age 77, is being talked about running for California State Govenor in 2010, when Schwarzenneger is termed out.

An LA Times article largely speaks to her showing greater interest in State issues of late, and polling numbers comparing her to other potential candidates.

The numbers look over-whelmingly good for her.

Among the points of interest is her the States infrastructure conditions.

And this nugget of a quote:

""Think back, there's been no major water infrastructure built since Pat Brown was governor. Everything's drying up. . . . California sort of rests on its laurels. . . . You've got to move people, you've got to move goods. . . . I'd love to be the governor who builds the high-speed rail.""

Robert Cruickshank said...

Heh. I had a post on that over at Calitics. I disagree that the numbers look good, but here's my thoughts on her HSR stuff:

"To take one example, high speed rail. Feinstein doesn't have to wait to be governor to help build it. One of the persistent criticisms of the HSR project is that federal funding isn't guaranteed, so we're taking a risk by passing the Prop 1 bond. Feinstein could have helped deliver federal money to the HSR project, even a small amount as a sign of future commitments, to defuse that argument. Harry Reid got $45 million to study a maglev train that will probably never be built - surely Feinstein could have done the same. Feinstein could also exercise leadership right now in resolving disputes between some environmentalists and the HSR project."

There's nothing at all stopping her from being the Senator that got HSR built...

Brandon in California said...

Perhaps she has eyed the governorship for quite awhile and forecasted possible conflict if she supported HSR as a Senator...

...Allocated/earmarking, or what-not billions of dollars for a State system may appear to some as a buyoff for votes.

I thik the politically safe thing to do in such an instance would be to treat it would be respectful, but don't go near it.

On a related matter... Scwarzenegger has expressed interest in being a State Senator. And, we know he supports public infrastructure too. Perhaps Feinstein and he have a strategy to essentially swap positions...

Anonymous said...

Of course Feinstein wants to build HSR. Her husband's company (URS) is going to make a fortune off it.

Feinstein could also exercise leadership right now in resolving disputes between some environmentalists and the HSR project."

And what would she gain from that? Picking the more environmentally benign route would hurt URS bottom line.

Robert Cruickshank said...

You mean he wants to be a US Senator, brandon? I've heard those rumors too, but a switch would require DiFi to put the knife in Barbara Boxer's back. DiFi has few scruples but even I can't imagine her doing that.

bikerider, I am no defender of DiFi or of her husband's military contracting. But do you have any evidence that Richard Blum and/or URS are in a position to benefit financially?

Brandon in California said...

^^^ Yes, my bad.

Perhaps I was subconsciously thinking he was not qualified for being a US Senator and State Senator was closer to his 'skill set' ...sitting around and doing nothing as the Republican ones have been doing! Har har.

Well, no, I don't think I was thinking that. It was mistake.

Robert Cruickshank said...

You might be right, brandon. After all I don't think the US Capitol has a smoking tent...

Rafael said...

Winston Churchill once put it succinctly:

"You can always rely on Americans to do the right thing - after they have exhausted all other options."

Tactically, Arnold is actually playing a clever game. He did want AB3034 passed, especially to get the funding section beefed up. Thanks to the 2/3 rule, he knows full well that it will not matter if he signs it or not: the Assembly will - grudgingly, of course - go along with the Senate's changes and the Senators are now committed. He's giving them a chance to look all senatorial and responsible by overriding his "temper tantrum".

The governor can still claim to support the spirit of AB3034, even pledge to campaign for it. After all, he's only refusing to sign it because he's being all gubernatorial and responsible about herding cats to get a budget passed. All shall have prizes!

They should serve popcorn with this.

Spokker said...

"They should serve popcorn with this."

Really. This is as exciting as transportation issues get, folks.

It's like watching a TV drama, except only six other greasy dudes are watching. WILL THEY OR WON'T THEY?! TUNE IN NEXT WEEK, NERDS!

Ahhh... rail drama. I love it.

Brandon in California said...

Florez's comments cited in Update #2 are incorrect. If the deadline passes without a signature, the original Prop 1 remains.

It takes a 2/3rds vote by the legislature to ammend it, or remove it, or replace it. Schwarzenegger would need to sign any measure to any of those affects.

Brandon in California said...

It really does not look good tho.... how can Schwarzenegger sign the legislation authorizing an ammendment to the bond measure when an argument about the budget mess is in part due to too much spending?

Many voters, and the press, could play that up big time and it could unfold as a PR mess-up.

Schwarzenegger's only argument could be that the measure is already slotted to go before voters and an ammendment, as passed in AB 3034, introduces improved mechanisms for better oversight. .. and trump private partnership as a way to minimize or reduce public tax dollars needed for the project.

And, leverage Federal funds for it too. yada yada yada.

If he does sign it... there is no turning back for him on a PR perspective... it would seem.

Spokker said...

What's the rebuttal to the fact that Parsons Brinckerhoff are involved in this project? If I were the opposition I would hammer the shit out of that point and compare HSR to the Big Dig all day long.

So what's the deal?

Anonymous said...


you say:

More importantly, AB 3034 required a 2/3 vote to pass each house. 2/3 just so happens to be the amount needed to override a governor's veto. So if Arnold continues his hissy fit, AB 3034 can still become law anyway.

He can sit on it until the deadline passes and then veto it. It never becomes law no Prop 1A

Robert Cruickshank said...

The opposition already is making that point, spokker. I'm not inherently pro or anti-PB, but it is worth noting that HSR and the Big Dig are so totally different as to not be comparable.

To some people any big project is like the Big Dig, but that ignores the numerous successful HSR projects around the world. In fact, that's the key point - the Big Dig was a kind of project unprecedented not just in the US, but in Europe.

HSR, by contrast, is actually routine and pretty simple. It's not difficult to engineer grade crossings, or build track in rural areas, or drill rail tunnels.

I doubt that the public is going to make up its mind on Prop 1 or 1A or whatever it winds up being based on PB's involvement.

Spokker said...

Well I hope a ceiling tile doesn't fall on me at 220 mph.

Anonymous said...

WHO cares aB3003023802843 WHAT ever
PROP 1 wiil win..AS all polls have show..MORE stupid games..I want to see a Bulldozer!!!!!

Anonymous said...

In the long run, it is never good to lie or mislead voters.

This will see "big-dig" cost overruns. It is absolutely guaranteed. We have 40-years precedent of every other PB-managed rail project in California.

Fun fact: the "preliminary" engineering cost for BART-SJ by PB is now $170 million, for all of 22 miles of track along an existing railroad ROW. Anywhere else, $170m is enough to have actually built the friggin thing.

Anonymous said...

Connect the dots.

Rod Diridon draws a 6 figure salary from the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose.

Parsons Brinkerhoff is a major contributor to the institute.

Why was PB chosen as the prime contractor?

You connect the dots.

See pictures of the proposed bi-level Diridon station envisioned for San Jose. Looks like a couple of billions going to be dropped there.

Robert Cruickshank said...

One of the main problems with the Big Dig was that the Massachusetts government ordered PB to cut corners and costs to try and get the project completed without even more cost overruns. That led to bad glue being used in one of the tunnels, which in turn caused the tragic accident you mentioned.

I'm not here to defend PB broadly, I don't really care if they have the contract or not, but they have built many projects that are on budget and safe. People who point to the Big Dig as an example of what WILL happen are guilty of the worst kind of cherrypicking.

Anonymous said...

Robert's right on this one: comparing HSR to the Big Dig is absurd. The Big Dig was really an unprecedented project - what they were trying to do, the environment in which they were trying to do it, the techniques they were using...most of this stuff had never been done before. Just look at the summary below. HSR, in contrast, has already been built in over a dozen countries, and there's really nothing high tech or exotic about it at all (it just seems like it must be exotic/high tech because it goes so fast). It's really just conventional electrified rail built to good standards with no curves below a certain radius and a much higher allowable maximum grade (because HSR trainsets have good power-to-weight ratios). Very standard stuff. Contrast that with the Big Dig:

The downtown area through which the tunnels were to be dug was largely landfill, and included existing subway lines as well as innumerable pipes and utility lines that would have to be replaced or moved...

Reworking such a busy corridor without seriously restricting traffic flow required a number of state-of-the-art construction techniques. Because the old elevated highway (which remained in operation throughout the construction process) rested on pylons located throughout the designated dig area, engineers first utilized slurry wall techniques to create 120 ft.-deep concrete walls upon which the highway could rest. These concrete walls also stabilized the sides of the site, preventing cave-ins during the excavation process.

The multilane interstates also had to pass under South Station's 7 tracks which carried over 40,000 commuters and 400 trains per day....a specially designed jack was constructed in order to support the ground and tracks to allow the excavation to take place below. Ground freezing was also implemented in order to help stabilize the surrounding ground as the tunnel was excavated. This was the largest tunnelling project undertaken beneath railway lines anywhere in the world.

Other challenges included an existing subway tunnel crossing the path of the underground highway. In order to build slurry walls past this tunnel, it was necessary to dig beneath the tunnel and build an underground concrete bridge to support the tunnel's weight....

Spokker said...

I wonder how many Bostonians are complaining about the Big Dig now, considering how much of an effect it had on reducing traffic.

Anonymous said...

spokker - I think you're actually right that even with the enormous cost overruns, the benefit-cost ratio on the Big Dig is not nearly as bad as one might think (though probably still less than 1, especially in comparison to the alternative which would be congestion pricing). The main problem right now, however, is that the Turnpike Authority can't make payments on all the Big Dig debt.

Tony D. said...

anon 9:14,
Did you say a couple of billions is going to be put down at Diridon Station in downtown San Jose? To this I say "GREAT!" Although now a citizen of Gilroy, I'm a San Jose native who's first interest is downtown SJ redevelopment. I know your post was meant to be negative, but hopefully you're right. Can't wait for that grand development down at Diridon/Arena (hopefully it will include a Major League Ballpark as well).