Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Orange County Knows Better on Prop 1A

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

In 2005 the far-right editorial board at the Orange County Register joined conservative Republicans in a deranged attack on Measure D, which would have diverted existing public safety monies to the Orange County Fire Authority to help pay for necessary fire equipment. It didn't create any new taxes, and met a need that nearly anyone who has lived in OC for any length of time agrees is real. But the Register got its way and Measure D went down to defeat. Afterward the Register and their allies, like Jon Fleischmann, celebrated its defeat.

Almost a year ago Southern California went up in flames. As the fires worsened around the region, the OCFA was left without the adequate resources to respond when the Santiago Fire broke out. Equipment that Measure D would have paid for was not available and the fire spread. My hometown of Tustin was threatened, and the fires were within blocks of where my family lives. A sudden wind change saved that community, but doomed Portola Hills. Dozens of families lost everything they had.

I wrote about this a year ago at Calitics in order to show the madness of conservative philosophy, the staggering costs of being cheap. In response to my article the Register devoted their lead editorial page to attacking me. I didn't mind, it was a nice sort of validation from the hometown paper. I was kind of shocked by how they defended their position on Measure D, which had led to the predicted and tragic results in October 2007 - by advocating against public firefighters:

A broader goal would be more privatization efforts and more private ownership of land. Private firefighting firms would have a financial interest to promote prevention, and more private ownership of land would mean better-maintained property. Private owners are far better at protecting their property than public owners, who follow an entirely different set of objectives.

That should help you understand what we're dealing with when the Register editorializes against Prop 1A. Their editorialists represent the farthest fringe of the California right-wing. They are inherently opposed to any new government spending on principle and believe that even effective services like the fire department are bad. They are quite willing to play recklessly with public safety and ignore basic social needs in order to pursue their strange agenda.

So it was a foregone conclusion that they would oppose Prop 1A. And like all the other HSR deniers in our state, their arguments are built on a lack of evidence or a complete misunderstanding of reality. The bulk of their editorial is drawn from the throughly discredited Cox-Vranich study. They go on to make a clearly false claim:

If a high-speed train were economically feasible – that is, if revenue from anticipated operations were projected to be higher than capital and operating costs – private investors would be lining up to put money into it.

Of course, as readers of this blog know, they ARE lining up to put money into it, as shown at the June CHSRA board meeting. What the ostensibly pro-business Register doesn't understand is that private investors are not going to put down money until the state does so first. Californians must make the first move by approving Prop 1A - which as amended by AB 3034 provides firm safeguards to ensure that if federal and private money somehow doesn't materialize, California voters won't be on the hook.

The editorial repeats other common flaws, such as the notion that without a strong train network we can't attract many HSR riders. Matt Melzer discredited that claim as well by showing how California compares favorably to Spain, where HSR is a stunning success. The Register claims California lacks a "train culture" which the editorialists can easily disprove if they walked about two blocks west from their offices on Grand Avenue to the Santa Ana Train Depot, where Metrolink and Pacific Surfliners do a booming business.

The irony is that Orange County voters have already rejected the Register's bizarre anti-government rantings. In 2006 voters renewed a 1/2 cent sales tax which included massive new investment in Metrolink and other passenger rail, as well as improving public transportation links to train stations. Most Orange County Republicans wholeheartedly endorse Prop 1A, including Anaheim mayor Curt Pringle, who sits on the CHSRA board.

Orange County residents will reap significant benefits from HSR. The Anaheim station, part of the first phase, will provide commuters faster trips to Los Angeles and other parts of the region via the many connecting services at Union Station. It will enable OC residents to visit family and friends in the Central Valley, the Bay Area, and yes the Monterey Bay region more easily (and vice versa). It will help sustain the Disney resort as a viable tourist destination especially as air travel becomes unaffordable for most families over the coming years (whether Disneyland tickets become affordable is unfortunately out of our hands). HSR will create good local jobs, save OC residents money, and spur long-term economic development.

Orange County knows better on Proposition 1A. I would not be surprised to see OC vote for Prop 1A come November 4. The Register can write a good rant. But increasingly OC residents are seeing the high cost of far-right dogma.


Anonymous said...

Robert, check your messages on facebook.

Rob Dawg said...

...and giants like Alstom, Parsons, and Goldman Sachs responded.


Robert Cruickshank said...


Alstom and Parsons are still going strong. Goldman isn't going anywhere, not with Warren Buffett's money, soon to include yours and mine as well.

As both rafael and I have argued, HSR will present a safe and attractive investment for companies that will now have a desperate need of them. This would be the perfect thing for a chastened GS to put its money into.

Instead of treating the housing bubble collapse and the bailout as the end of private enterprise as we know it, we need to think realistically about what it means for investment. Sustainable infrastructure still has a bright future.

Besides, by June 2008, these companies all understood where the credit crunch and mortgage-backed securities mess was going to lead them. GS and Lehman Brothers were looking to HSR as a way out. Lehman couldn't hang on long enough, but the underlying value is still quite obvious to global investors.

Rafael said...

Perhaps the OC Register could suspend its editorials to focus on privatising Wall Street.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who you try to sell the notion that High Speed Rail is a

HSR will present a safe and attractive investment for companies that will now have a desperate need of them. This would be the perfect thing for a chastened GS to put its money into.

knows nothing about finance.

Carfree in San Diego said...

Anyone who actually trusts the opinion of the OC Register probably eats baby seals for breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of lies...My voter guide arrived. The argument against Prop 1A is ..of course by the Jarvis deniers/derail. Its so full of made up opinions and facts that as a taxpayer funded document how are these people able to have this printed? If this where a private matter this people would be sued!

Full of 100million dollar cost prices and Xenophobiea comment..the French and New york city are going to build it!! waht a bunch lies.

Anonymous said...

From the Marysville, CA Appeal Democrat (

Our View: Putting state on fast track to bankruptcy
September 23, 2008 - 11:40PM
Proposition 1A on the November ballot would authorize the issuance of $9.95 billion in general-obligation bonds as a small down payment for a high-speed passenger train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. To call this project a boondoggle would be an understatement. At a time when California state government is operating at a substantial deficit — despite the Band-aids recently applied that may or may not reduce it much — it would be irresponsible to take on a debt of this magnitude, especially given that the total cost of the train would be many tens of billions of dollars more.

It is not difficult to understand the romantic appeal of a high-speed train that would make traveling up and down the state easy and fast. But a remotely realistic set of projections for this project indicates that California taxpayers would be on the hook for decades to come, for benefits that would be much less than advertised.

If a high-speed train were economically feasible — that is, if revenue from anticipated operations were projected to be higher than capital and operating costs — private investors would be lining up to put money into it. The fact that our legislators want taxpayers to pony up means that even the project's supporters know it is an economic dog. General-obligation bonds are backed by the willingness to tax rather than anticipated revenue.

The Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation ( has issued what it calls a due diligence report on the California High Speed Rail Authority projections of cost, ridership and other factors. The report's authors are far from being anti-train diehards. Wendell Cox served on the L.A. County Transportation Commission, where he authored a proposition that established funding for the light rail and Metro lines. Joseph Vranich, former president of the California High Speed Rail Association (CHSRA), has long advocated public-private partnerships to build high-speed rail systems. But they agree that this proposal fails the laugh test on almost every measure.

Costs? In 1999 the CHSRA estimated that it would cost $30.3 billion to build a much more extensive high-speed system — serving San Diego, Orange County, the East Bay and Sacramento. By 2008 the cost projection just for a Los Angeles-San Francisco train had risen to $45.4 billion. Since construction costs almost always increase after construction begins, Messrs. Cox and Vranich project that a realistic cost would be upward of $80 billion.

The CHSRA report anticipates another $9 billion from the federal government, though there is no current federal program to provide such funding, and the federal government is operating at deep deficits that are likely to increase as taxpayers bail out the U.S. financial system. Hopes for private investment of $7.5 billion are probably pie-in-the-sky, and even if all the state, federal and private investments materialized, they are short of CHSRA's low-ball cost estimates for construction.

The CHSRA report estimates 65.3 million intercity riders by 2030. On a passenger-miles-per route basis, this is dramatically higher than ridership on somewhat similar systems in Europe and Japan, which have higher concentrations of population, decades of experience, and a more established train culture. The Reason report suggests that 31.1 million riders is a more realistic estimate — if such a train were ever built.

The CHSRA may achieve its high ridership estimates by projecting a base fare of $70 for the L.A.-San Francisco route. Fares for similar-length trips in Japan and Europe are in the range of $135-$140. Raising fares to come closer to covering operating costs would probably reduce ridership, in a vicious downward spiral.

A high-speed rail system connecting Northern and Southern California is a nice dream, but the proposed project ventures into fantasyland territory. If the bond measure is approved, however, the in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound mentality is likely to take hold, and more billions will be poured down this rat hole.

Better to nip it in the bud and wait until a project that can attract private investors comes along. Please, vote NO on Prop. 1A.

Anonymous said...

From the San Mateo Daily News (

Thursday Sep 25

Not aboard!

Menlo Park, Atherton want to derail plans for high-speed trains

By Will Oremus / Daily News Staff Writer

In separate resolutions this week, the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton declared their opposition to Proposition 1A, a November state ballot measure that would build a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco and beyond.

The two cities are the only ones in the proposed railroad's path to take a stand against it, state high-speed rail officials said. Regional agencies such as Caltrain and SamTrans have endorsed it, and Millbrae and Palo Alto have expressed interest in having the train stop in their cities.

The Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday voted 3-1 to oppose Proposition 1A, which would raise $10 million to start construction on the 220 mph line. The Atherton City Council followed suit Wednesday with a 4-0 vote on a similar resolution.

Both city councils said they believe the railroad, which would require an expansion of the Caltrain tracks, will blight and divide their communities. But their objections ranged beyond the local impacts. Both cited a deeper concern about the project's financing, arguing it will end up costing far more than projected and drawing far fewer riders.

"In this troubling economic time, we need to see more information about exactly how the funding mechanism's going to work," said Menlo Park City Council Member Richard Cline. "We have virtually nothing on that."

Atherton City Council Member Jim Dobbie said, "I suspect that high-speed rail, as presently planned, has a very high probability of being a financial disaster, which the state of California taxpayers will have to pay for."

The cities are doing all they can to stop the train. The formal resolutions come after both councils voted in closed session to join a lawsuit against the project's environmental documents. The lawsuit is spearheaded by groups that had favored an alignment sending trains through the East Bay rather than up the Peninsula.

The lawsuit will take time, however. Meanwhile, the cities have turned their attention from the railroad's geographic alignment to what they see as fundamental flaws in the high-speed rail concept.

At a study session before Wednesday's vote on the resolution, the Atherton council heard pro-con arguments from high-speed rail architect Rod Diridon and local opponent Jack Ringham.

As he did in a similar study session earlier this month in Menlo Park, Diridon laid out the rail line's benefits. In zipping passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than two-and-a-half hours, he said, it would ease freeway and air congestion, cut pollution and keep California competitive in the global market.

It would do all of that, he said, for about $40 billion, with the state's investment complemented by federal funds and private investment.

Ringham took aim at the projections underpinning those claims. He said there's no way the train will attract 117 million passengers per year by 2030. And he called the $55 estimated ticket cost misleading, noting that the figure is in 2005 dollars.

Atherton's council members, and many residents, appeared swayed by Ringham's comparisons of the project to Boston's "Big Dig" and other infrastructure projects that have run way over budget. Several also said the state should first address other priorities, such as regional transit.

"I just fail to see a hint of reality" in the California High Speed Rail Authority's business plan, said Atherton Vice Mayor Jerry Carlson.

Menlo Park resident Judy Font summarized the objections of many homeowners in saying, "Many of us feel this project is going to cause great damage and no benefit to our town."

Atherton resident William Morgan was one of a few who disagreed. He said high-speed rail would solve a lot of the problems that plague Caltrain.

"It's loud, it wakes people up at night, it's smelly, it kills people, and you have to wait at street crossings for the trains to go by," Morgan said. He said the state project represents a "phenomenal opportunity" because it would include funds to electrify Caltrain and separate it from cross streets, eliminating dangerous crossings.

Atherton council members Charles Marsala and Kathy McKeithen said their biggest problem with the project was the lack of information on exactly how it would affect their town and others on the Peninsula. The rail authority has completed an environmental report for the project as a whole, but it won't study the engineering details and effects on local communities until the bond passes.

Among the unknowns are exactly how many tracks will be needed, whether they'll be elevated on bridges over cross streets or submerged in a trench, and how much local property, if any, might be lost in the Caltrain line's expansion.

Diridon said such details will be worked out in cooperation with the cities. He pleaded with Atherton officials and residents to stop "digging your heels in" and instead focus on how to best make the project work for their city.

"Work with us," he said. "We want to work with you."

Though he disagreed with Diridon on just about everything else, Ringham agreed that the city probably can't stop the rail bond and will need to figure out how best to cope with it.

The Atherton council on Wednesday considered a resolution calling for the train to pass through the city in a trench, but tabled the idea to avoid watering down its stance against the project as a whole.

E-mail Will Oremus at

Rafael said...

@ yes on 1a -

the online version of the supplemental voter guide for proposition 1A is here.

@ anon @ 9:32am & 9:56am -

as a matter of courtesy to other readers of this blog, please hyperlink to entire articles already published elsewhere on the web instead of copy-pasting them verbatim.

It's dead easy, just type in the following HTML snippet, replacing URL and anchor text with the link target and the text you want to use:

<a href="URL">anchor text</a>

What you are doing is a form of blog spamming. If you persist in this abuse, the blog owner may have to restrict anonymous posts and those from named individuals who abuse their commenting privileges. Knowing him, that is something he does not want to do, so please stick with commentary you have composed yourself.

Anonymous said...

When I think of private firefighters, I think of Crassus:

"Most notorious was his acquisition of burning houses: when Crassus received word that a house was on fire, he would arrive and purchase the (apparently lost) property along with surrounding buildings for a modest sum, and then employ his army of 500 clients to put the fire out before much damage had been done."

Carfree in San Diego said...

The San Diego Business Journal just posted a favorable article on the CAHSR. They reference job growth, lower transportation costs, less congestion at Lindbergh Field, benefits to business and safer highways. Im elated to see something progressive out of a San Diego publication!

Tony D. said...

Oh Oh, Marysville, Menlo Park and Atherton are coming out against high-speed rail...RUN FOR THE HILLS! (again LOL)

Rob Dawg said...

HSR will present a safe and attractive investment for companies that will now have a desperate need of them. This would be the perfect thing for a chastened GS to put its money into.

Robert, stick to your excellent and well reasoned advocacy of CAHSR. What you are imagining is exactly what got Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder into so much trouble in "The Producers."

Anonymous said...

Blogger cut off the URL to the Marysville article. here is the correct link

Headline of the editoria being:

Our View: Putting state on fast track to bankruptcy

Selling bonds to fund high-speed rail project gives boondoggles bad name

Anonymous said...

This is a joke, who cares what this costs? This state needs a high price public works project to give some people jobs. They should ban all naysayers from riding the Bullet Train. The year2022: "ALL ABOARD, oh no sir, sorry you can't ride, your short sightedness was so bad that you can't ride." Japan had its first High Speed Train in 1951. Are you kidding me?? What is wrong with California?? "Thats a Country this is a State." Who cares, they had it 60 years ago. The one thing that no one has talked about in this debate including the people for 1A is that Tourist money that will flow from this. Not for Menlo Park though, with its residents that could never afford the high prices of their own houses if they had to buy them with todays money. Old money never wants change cus it might change their "lucky hand." YES ON 1A. WE NEED A BETTER WAY TO TRAVEL for work and play!!!!!