Saturday, September 27, 2008

Prop 1A and HSR's Role in Fighting Sprawl

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

In the comments to Thursday's post we saw an old claim get revived - that somehow Prop 1A and HSR would induce sprawl. The entire argument is absurd.

If you were concerned about sprawl in the first place, you're likely to also understand the need to reduce carbon emissions, reduce pollution, and wean California off of oil. So why on earth would you argue against a project that will cut 12 billion pounds of carbon emissions per year or save 12.7 million barrels of oil every year? The Sierra Club endorsed Prop 1A after a very thorough and detailed discussion. They were satisfied that Prop 1A will not add to sprawl, and understand that we would be crazy to miss this vital opportunity to build sustainable mass transit.

This opportunity is not likely to return anytime soon if we miss it. High speed rail will help bring millions more Californians on ALL our passenger rail systems, from bullet trains to Amtrak California to commuter and urban rail. Prop 1A will provide Amtrak California and Metrolink with badly needed additional funding. Voting against Prop 1A means voting against improving alternatives to oil.

But we can go further. Sprawl is NOT a force of nature. It is a product of three factors: cheap oil, cheap credit and favorable land use laws. Cheap oil is a thing of the past. Cheap credit is, as we all know from this last week, gone as well. Even with a bailout, we are highly unlikely to see a return to the lax lending practices, fueled by cheap credit, that enabled the most recent binge of Central Valley sprawl.

As to the last point, land use rules are going to have to change regardless of Prop 1A's fate. Defeating Prop 1A isn't going to eliminate sprawl, far from it. But to eliminate sprawl, you need to provide opportunities for urban density and transit-oriented development. Portland, Oregon provides the model. Portland has strict anti-sprawl rules, but these were only successful because Portland promoted urban density. Providing passenger rail has been the key to that. In short, if you want to stop sprawl, you need to give people another option.

HSR is that other option. Without HSR Central Valley cities will have less incentive to channel development to city centers and will lack the infrastructure to make it happen even if they chose to do so.

That's not all. The state legislature is also planning to link land use, sprawl, and global warming via Sen. Darrell Steinberg's SB 375. Prop 1A contains a provision forbidding construction of a station at Los Banos, a key demand of anti-sprawl advocates. Some HSR deniers claim that doesn't mean much since the Legislature could reverse it - but the Legislature can reverse virtually anything, including CEQA, including the AB 32 global warming reduction bill. That doesn't stop us from rightly pursuing strong legislative action and defending it once we get it.

Environmental justice activist Van Jones recently explained the need to move from opposition to proposition. If you want to stop sprawl, you need to propose something better. HSR is that "something better." Folks who hate sprawl will love Prop 1A and high speed rail, one of the most revolutionary anti-sprawl measures in California history.


Anonymous said...


The Sierra club was against Prop 1. They only agreed to support Prop 1A after the Los Banos station was removed.

The planning and conservation league is opposing the project and in fact has joined the lawsuit against the EIR.

Apparently you haven't read or don't care to read the Reason report analysis on CO2 and how much is going to be reduced. You only try to wrap the project into a GREEN wonderful, the State can't do without it project.

As presented in that report, the cost per pound of CO2 reduction is out of sight of being reasonable.

Look, its your blog; say what you want. There are alternative arguments.

I understand that the CHSRA has a new poll under wraps. It sure would be nice to see the results of that one, but they don't seem to want to release it.

Finally it is really hard to understand, but there is an associated press news article floating around, it was referenced on the derailhsr site, that has a quote from Schwarzenegger's spokesman saying the Governor has not taken an position on Prop 1A.

That may be poor reporting, but it is from the Associated Press. Why would he not be endorsing the project after making it the only exception to get his signature during the budget crisis. Very Funny.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I find funny are your posts anon.

Sierra Club never even declared that they were against Prop 1 before AB3034. They just had an unfavorable attitude towards it. That they did not outright oppose it only shows that they understood the benefits that HSR would bring.

You must bare in mind there is a difference between building a station in the middle of nowhere, and building it in the middle of a city. I agree that a station in the middle of nowhere would produce (albeit very limited) sprawl. But putting a station in the middle of Palmdale is a fundamentally different scenario. The station is being placed in an already populated area giving it a different environment. Therefore, the result would be more centralized development.

The PCL has opposed HSR on the grounds that it would go through a wildlife habitat. I doubt HSR would have any impact on that but the point is that PCL did not join the movement because they were afraid of sprawl.

I'm not going to bother with your CO2 crap because its something that really 'begs the question'. Basically, you're just making up an argument that doesn't have any scientifically or rationally base to it.

I don't see why he would even bother signing AB3034 if he didn't plan on supporting Prop 1A. If he didn't want it to succeed, he would have left it be since Prop 1 was less likely to succeed than Prop 1A. My opinion is that he chose not to take a side on it yet because of the precarious position he is in, and he doesn't want to rock the boat anymore than he has already done.

As for the "conspiracy theory", did you know that the Americans never actually landed on the moon? We actually just set up a fancy studio with props somewhere in Hollywood and made up all sounds and preparations.

Anonymous said...

Spokker said...

Speaking of Palmdale, I do hope that the HSR system is priced at a level where it's reasonable to commute on it on a regular basis. Getting to Downtown Los Angeles from Palmdale (or Riverside/Ontario/Orange County) might be a breeze on HSR and might even take some traffic off of the freeways heading into downtown.

Palmdale has Metrolink but commuting on it has to be a pain since it takes ~2 hours to get to LA. The Antelope Valley line suffers from a twisty routing where it putts along at about 40 MPH.

What sounds like a reasonable price for a monthly commuter pass on HSR from say, Palmdale to LA? Metrolink wants $311.

According to Google driving from Palmdale to Downtown LA takes 1 hour (2 in traffic), and assuming $3.64/gallon gas in a car that gets 30 MPG it would cost $296 in gas based on 20 work days a month (not to mention maintenance from such an intense drive).

According to the CHSRA's web site it's projected to take ~30 mins from Palmdale to LA. I wonder how much people will be willing to pay to do that 5 days a week.

Anonymous said...

nikko pigman

You know it is really obnoxious to have someone state a fact in rebuttal, when they don't know what they are talking about.

The statement you made

Sierra Club never even declared that they were against Prop 1 before AB3034. They just had an unfavorable attitude towards it. is just simply untrue.

I direct you to this link, from the Calif legislature history on AB-3034, and note on page
6 on that link the following:


Sierra Club California
Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (oppose
unless amended)
Gerald Cauthen & Associates (an individual)

That pigman is registered opposition to AB-3034 in black and white.

Now you many find my post to be anything you please, but they are factual.

Finally you post a link in your next message that is not complete, since the software cut it off. Here is the correct link, referencing propaganda from the CHSRA about job creating in San Diego.

Why anyone in San Diego thinks this project is going to benefit their area is beyond me. It is never going to make it to San Diego. Maybe a second bond measure, but not this one. San Diego , Oakland and Sacramento are basically be shut out.

You can thank me later for fixing yourpost.

Brandon in California said...

Robert, I respectfully request that you enable the function only allowing persons with user names to post.

Anonymous said...

So anno .Where do you live? Even in California? Your mouth speaks like a Republican Parrot or A Menlo
Park Whiner..Guess what Prop 1 is going to win..people have had enough of you T-rex brains...

Rafael said...

@ cal -

think what you will of anon's position, but please refrain from puerile ad hominem attacks on this blog. They add nothing to the debate and quite possibly, reduce the blog's readership.

Focus on the arguments, not on the people making them.

Spokker said...

"They add nothing to the debate and quite possibly, reduce the blog's readership."

He adds to the argument that those who oppose high speed rail may lack intelligence.

Putting on a amicable front is one thing, but you know deep down inside Cruickshank, Dirdrion, Kopp, whoever supports this train, probably thinks anyone opposing this thing is quite daft (to put it lightly), and probably utter obscenities under their breath when they read ludicrous arguments against HSR.

I know I do. I think sort of thing is a very real and valid reaction. If only we could speak freely here!

I would argue that ad hominem attacks make these blogs more exciting and if there's an intense argument going on, it will probably drive ridership and participation.

See also: the success of radio "shock jocks".

Anonymous said...

"As presented in that report, the cost per pound of CO2 reduction is out of sight of being reasonable."

Nikko, I assume you realize that HSR is more fuel effecient than cars or airplanes. Do you simply believe that the CO2 numbers are being inflated? I'm not familiar with other report regarding the CO2 benefit, maybe derailhsr or the Jarvis foundation have some data? If so, could you provide links please.

Anonymous said...


Sunday Sep 28

High-speed rail message falls off tracks

The Phantom

WITH CONSULTANTS LIKE THESE: Backers of high-speed rail might want to think about editing their promotional video in light of recent developments on Wall Street.

Wednesday night, California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Member Rod Diridon cued up a video about plans for the 220-mph, Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line at a study session in Atherton. He was trying to convince a skeptical crowd and city council that the project would be fiscally sound.

The audience watched intently as various dignitaries appeared on camera to endorse the plans. But they broke into guffaws at a hearty video endorsement from one of the project's financial advisors: now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Bad .These People with there constant drum beat lies anywhere and everwhere they can do piss me off. Well the sfgate comments were far more combative.. and there were 420 of them..this sight is great for the HSR cause. I will keep it on low volume

Anonymous said...

From the Long Beach Press Telegram:

A pittance to avoid

Article Launched: 09/27/2008 09:54:00 PM PDT

It's hard to find more enthusiasm for high-speed trains than among our editorial board members. But we're voting no on Proposition 1A.

That's the measure that would borrow $10 billion and spend it on promoting, not building, a high-speed train system. This is a colossal ripoff with no promises of any results except that the money would get spent.

Worse, it would get spent with no oversight, and participation on the campaign's "finance committee" by nobody other than politicians and bureaucrats. Supporters brag that the $10 billion would not require a tax increase, but what they don't say is the obvious, which is that the money, $20 billion including interest, would come straight from the state's deficit-ridden general fund.

If the project ever actually got built, supporters say the cost would be $40 billion, but skeptics say it would be more like $100 billion. The expectation (which seems more like a fantasy) is that the rest of the money would come from the federal government and the private sector, neither of which is standing in line with checkbook in hand.

High-speed trains are wonderful assets in Europe and Asia, where they whisk travelers to their destinations at speeds of 180 miles an hour or faster without the misery of airport security lines. It's a concept that works well between Washington and New York, or between Paris and the chateau country. But those aren't 400-mile trips. The ideal travel distance for a high-speed train
is a couple of hundred miles or less, or, as in Tokyo, less than 50 miles or so from an airport to an urban center. Trying to connect San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Jose, Sacramento and San Francisco is a far more daunting task, and not likely to put any airlines out of business.
Worse, the promoters of this scheme are pushing bad information, such as $50 fares for a 2.5-hour trip from L.A. to San Francisco, when the more likely numbers would be $175 and 3.5 hours. They also claim a potential of 100 million passengers, when the popular Washington-New York-Boston high-speed trains get fewer than 3 million in a bigger market.

Nothing about this plan makes sense except to the promoters, many of whom would profit from it if voters were foolish enough to commit the billions of dollars.

The timing of Proposition 1A is truly awful. California already has a structural deficit as well as $135 billion worth of debt, and the federal government is struggling with a spectacular meltdown of the nation's financial system.

By those standards, $10 billion may seem a pittance. But it is a pittance to be avoided at all cost.

BruceMcF said...

I'll note that the public campaigning "so and so organization supports/opposes and therefore its good/bad" presumes that the organization has indeed thought the issue through correctly.

Just to put the issue in its starkest terms, a new HSR station in the middle of nowhere around which springs up a HSR commuter suburb will not necessarily be sprawl as we commonly understand it. A railroad suburb will have a strong bias to be a clustered development instead of sprawl development, with businesses clamoring to be as close to the train station as possible.

Sprawl is not simply any new development, its new development of a particular form.

Certainly it would be necessary to have a zoning easement in the quarter mile walkable zone around the station, to ensure that the strong bias toward clustered development is not frustrated ... but a regulatory easement to allow transit oriented development is easier to get put into practice than a regulatory restriction to mandate TOD.

Mind, it is better not to be trying to have this argument with the Sierra Club in the middle of a proposition fight, so its a good thing that Prop 1A renders the point moot for the time being.

Robert Cruickshank said...

But Bruce, there aren't going to be HSR stations in the middle of nowhere. The Los Banos station was the only one that fit the bill. The Authority rejected it quite some time ago and now Prop 1A explicitly forbids it.

I mentioned the Sierra Club specifically because there was a very detailed and drawn out debate within the organization that went on for several months about whether to back Prop 1A. Those involved in the debate discussed all these different angles and aspects. The Sierra Club definitely thought this issue through. Whether they did so "correctly" really depends on whether you support Prop 1A or not.

The Long Beach paper's editorial is pretty deeply ignorant, but then the state media has not exactly shown a lot of intelligence in assessing HSR this year. They're at a place now where they see a bond and think "omg new spending we can't afford we are DOOMED" without thinking through the details - that the LAO office said we can afford the annual bond costs, that if we don't build it the cost will be MUCH higher.

The "no oversight" and "$100 billion" claims are bullshit. The editorial board clearly doesn't understand what they're talking about. But then that's more a reflection of California journalism today, which is of a mindset very close to that of Morris Brown and the Menlo Park deniers.

Robert Cruickshank said...

As to anon posting - one reason I am planning a move away from blogger after November 4 is that it's not easy to eliminate the "anon" option. To do that in blogger I have also eliminate the Name/URL option and force everyone to register. Seeing as we have several frequent, good commenters who aren't registered at Google/Blogger or OpenID, I don't want to cut out that option as well.

I do wish Morris Brown or Martin Engel would use his real name and not hide behind "anon." Pretty gutless - but then they are the same people who run a website that doesn't allow comments or provide other feedback methods.

Anonymous said...

Good bet that the Anno poster is
are derail friends..went to the Long Beach press website..1st comment was from derail/morris only now he lives in San Jose.

Anonymous said...

The idea of Sen. Steinberg sponsoring anti-sprawl legislation is so sanctimonious, so two-faced, (his Sacramento area is the poster child for unchecked sprawl) that it shows everything that is wrong with CA state government. Why doesn't he sponsor identical legislation in his backyard?

Robert Cruickshank said...

SB 375 would apply everywhere in the state - Sacramento included.

Anonymous said...


I indeed was the poster of the first comment to the Long Beach Press Telegram editorial. Needless to say this article was very appreciated by myself and our group. I did not post it here -- I did post it to

I live in Menlo Park as most of you know. I don't know haw the San Jose location got on there -- I was not asked my location when I posted. The San Jose location for me is in error.

Anonymous said...

Anon, I'll concede that I am somewhat thankful that you post here. Your posts are exemplary of the brilliant illogic of people of that mentality.

I'll admit that I was mistaken as to that particular fact, but obviously they were satisfied with the current bill. What's more important is that the fact that they have thrown in their unanimous support indicates that they are completely assured that this is going to be a solution to sprawl.

But I find it interesting that you attacked a piece of misinformation while ignoring the greater point that I was making -- that HSR in a populated urban core reduces sprawl.

It seems to me that you spent an awful lot of time pulling up those facts but not enough time answering my statements about sprawl, the poll, and the governor's support.