Thursday, June 25, 2009

Questions for Senator Alan Lowenthal

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

I have to admit that after reading Senator Alan Lowenthal´s op-ed I am unconvinced that he has actually answered the charges leveled in the original ModBee editorial. And I remain convinced that the evidence shows Sen. Lowenthal does not support the HSR project that a majority of Californians approved in November 2008.

If he wants to ensure transparency and responsibility in how the funds are used, he can do that without messing with how the funds are allocated - including but not limited to the Central Valley maintenance hub.

These are separate matters. But Sen. Lowenthal has chosen to conflate the two, using concerns about "fiscal responsibility" as his cover to gut the system as he has always intended to do.

Since June 2008 this blog has tracked Sen. Lowenthal´s desire to gut the HSR system by turning it into a method to fund merely incremental commuter rail improvements in the Bay Area and SoCal. Nothing in Sen. Lowenthal´s apologia disproves that conclusion about his intentions.

Sen. Lowenthal has shown himself to be quite willing to distort the situation and leave out relevant facts to make the CHSRA look bad. This includes his refusal to mention in the op-ed that the 2008 Business Plan was delayed because of the 2008 state budget crisis, which left the CHSRA without the funds to pay for the business plan.

The report from the Legislative Analysts Office that Sen. Lowenthal requested earlier this year provides further evidence of his desire to cut the Central Valley out from the overall project.

Using "fiscal responsibility" to attack HSR is an old game, as we have also tracked at this blog for quite some time. It is distressing to see Sen. Lowenthal playing that game in order to undermine the HSR project. If Sen. Lowenthal wanted to truly and effectively defend himself, he would answer the following questions (I will give him space on this blog to do so, and will post his replies unedited):

1. Does he support the HSR project as approved by voters in November 2008 - which specified a 220mph train to connect SF to Anaheim via the Central Valley?

2. Will he refuse to be a party to any efforts to tear the HSR system into pieces?

3. Will he admit that the 2008 Business Plan would have been produced on-time had he and his fellow Senators approved the state budget by the constitutionally mandated deadline of June 30?

4. Will he apply his "fiscal responsibility" goals to the Peninsula portion of the project, namely the efforts by a small group of NIMBYs to force the CHSRA to build an tunnel that will cost many more billions of dollars than the business plans currently anticipate for both the Peninsula section and the project as a whole?

5. Will he promise the people of California that his efforts to ensure "fiscal responsiblity" will not jeopardize the state´s chances at winning billions in federal stimulus funding this year for the HSR project?

6. Will he commit to lobbying Congress to pass a Transportation Bill that fully funds the HSR Strategic Plan, and will he acknowledge that this would be sufficient to fully fund the HSR project as laid out in Prop 1A?

We await the Senator´s response.


Anonymous said...

Why any self respecting Senator would care to answer Robert, who earlier told him to F___ off, is beyond reason.

looking on said...

Robert says:

3. Will he admit that the 2008 Business Plan would have been produced on-time had he and his fellow Senators approved the state budget by the constitutionally mandated deadline of June 30?

The Authority seemed to have tons of money to promote prop 1A, paying for videos and travel etc., while claiming poor mouth with regards to producing a business plan.

But even more to the point, here 8 months later, what the Authority calls a new business plan is a joke. It is un-acceptable and Simitian's committee has held back on funding 1/2 of their Authorities requests for this next fiscal year, until they finally produce a legitimate plan.

Come on Robert, you are not going to get your train until or unless a legitimate process is finally in place.

BTW, I'm sue telling Lowenthal to FU__ is sure to get you a reply.

Anonymous said...

What a joke you are Robert. - will he admit ...??!

Someone else's fault (but not CHSRA's) that the business plan came out after the election, and that when it did come out, it wasa shoddy joke. That its full garbage - and that's his fault?

Will he promise that enforcing fiscal responsibility on CHSRA won't prevent state of california from getting billions in HSR funding??! Why in the hell should he promise that - I'd like to ask if the CHSRA will promise to put forth a fiscally responsible HSR program, that can legitimately attract the federal stimulus funds - right now, that's absolutely not happening, and its NOT lowenthals problem.

You're all about kill the messenger - Lowenthal's delivering a message - which is CHSRA and CHSR is going to be held accountable. Get used to it, you got a good 20 years of it ahead of you if CHSR makes it past the next three months.

Robert - your whole rant is about how someone ELSE is responsible for the fiscal mismanagement and lack of accountable and sensible decision making behind the HSR. If anyone should be making any promises it should be YOU making promises to Californian's that you are going to be a champion for sensible, transparent, accountable decisions related to CHSR on behalf of all californian's. Robert you've put yourself in the self-appointed position of spokesperson for CHSRA, which mean YOU have taken on responsibility for the crap, the lies the mismanagement, poor communications, the whole thing. Time you step up to the plate to get this fixed instead about whining about other people promising to make sure CHSR gets its $$$ and cover the CHSRA's asses for them.

By the way - what strategic plan?

I'd like to see Senator Lowenthal promise actually, to call for state and federal senate hearings investigating the safety of trains systems, and scrubbing the safety and security features that the CHSRA is promising or failing to promise to the populuation of California. How's that for a promise.

(perhaps self-appointed - who knows)

Robert Cruickshank said...

"HSR Strategic Plan" refers to the USDOT´s HSR planning document that was released a couple months ago and received extensive coverage on this site.

The CHSRA did very little promotion of Prop 1A. Travel and videos were done as part of the normal project work. Most of the Yes on 1A funding came from engineering companies and construction trades unions interested in the business of building HSR.

As other posts here have shown, I am no mouthpiece for the CHSRA, and have criticized them often. But I am a defender of the HSR project, and I see Sen. Lowenthal´s proposals as designed to undermine that project.

Anonymous said...

The senator is just playing politics to get his district served at the expense of the central valley. he still has to do business with the politicians from the central valley and he won't get away with whatever he is trying to pull. The project is moving forward and no amount of nimby game playing and posturing is going to stop it. The president wants, it, boxer feinstein and pelosi want it, the big construction players want it, the unions want it, and the voters want it. Even three out of six of those would get it done. But with all those players working toward the same goal, yet another small group "no" party pains in the ass are going to stop it.

Anonymous said...

What the nimby's don't realize is that they are being used and dicked around. no one is actually on their side here its just some temporary placating and false hope.

Anonymous said...

Robert, the mid-Peninsula NIMBYs don't really want a tunnel at all. What they really want is to use the tunnel-or-nothing demand as a jsut another vehicle to help KILL the entire HSR project. Sure, and if HSR still manages to somehow survive their barrage, despite all their veiled and overt efforts at every level and angle to undermine and kill it ... well, then, sure, then they think they prefer the tunnel. Of course it will be a "booby prize" for them, taxpayers and all concerned. Because, as Clem's Caltrain HSR compatibility blog has shown in detail, tunnel construction will, in many cases, be as much -- or more -- disruptive to properties abutting the right of way -- but it will cost billions more to make for it! Yay!

Anonymous said...

You don't need any expensive tunnels - just move the hsr to the 101 corridor. Raise the overpasses - they will mostly have to be earthquake-redone in time anyway.

Forget Caltrain. Separate operations are preferred anyway. With a monopoly(shared tracks come close) you ensure a BART strike scenario wherein a few unions can threaten to shut down the whole region's transport. Best to keep separate alternatives even if means a little extra bureaucracy.

Spokker said...

Why would a Caltrain strike prevent high speed trains from operating if they shared track?

Alon Levy said...

Why any self respecting Senator would care to answer Robert, who earlier told him to F___ off, is beyond reason.

Politicians who put self-respect above persuading others are lucky if they win elections for dogcatcher. If Obama can listen to Paul Krugman, who basically called him a phony in the primaries, then Lowenthal can listen to Robert.

Anonymous said...

They won't cross the picket lines.

Especially true if they are in the same union. And/if their contracts come up at the same time, which would not be just a coincidence.

Lack of alternatives encourages the unions to make non-negotiable demands. The reaction is hostility towards public transport and support for automobiles and freeways. In short Reaganism. Consolidation sounds good in theory but sadly you end up with the evils of monopoly. BART is already too big.

Anonymous said...

@Alon Levy

Boy if you can't distinguish between the language used by basically a unknown personality like Robert and a respected author and columnist, and understand why Robert deserves not a second of Lowenthal's time, you are pretty sad.

Brandon in California said...

I don't understand why anon's are permitted to post. Several of the posts are from the same user... sometimes responding off a previous post.

Brandon in California said...

What fiscal irresponsibility by the Authority?

Can someone please daylight where and how the Authority spent money unwisely, or not consistent with their mission or direction from their Board of Directors?

Did the 8 member staff go on a retreat to Vegas and spend lavishly on steaks, strippers and bubbly?

Tell me, I am all ears.

I see the greatest irresponsibility has been on the State side... postponing Prop 1A twice, not fully funding their planning and environmental review efforts, or purchasing critical right-of-way.

And while those things did not happen... project costs inch up and up due to inflation and land speculators allowed to pitch tent and go camping. Additionally, local governments, out of willful ignorance, also approved other plans that were inconsistent with HSR.

I'd like to know how much the delays will cost the public and private sector... that's where the financial irresponsibility is located.

By the way, which State Senators supported delaying teh HSR bond measure to go before voters? Is there a list somewhere?

Matt said...

@Brandon 9.10


looking on said...

Lowenthal is being attacked by Robert and others on the premise that he is:

1. either anti HSR all together or

2. just trying to get as much of the money to his district as he can accomplish.

I don't buy into either of these arguments but, if you believe the latter is his motivation, then the end result might well be a major benefit to the State.

Rafael's post certainly brings up the possibility that funds to complete the project might not happen; that is full funding is presently not available; the CHSRA is betting on the come.

As the Reason report discussed this possibility, picturing it as only a skeleton upon running out of funding, it makes sense that a partial completion be done down south.

On the peninsula, CalTrain now is quite effective and can certainly continue to be a major passenger / freight corridor, without HSR.

Down south, the gridlock is horrible and if a HSR line was completed in the LA to Anaheim, it would be of major benefit. Gong a bit further south and or north would also be valuable. Running a line from Anaheim along the coast to San Diego would be of major benefit. Wouldn't Brandon love that?

looking on said...

Hey Brandon:

On the delays --- look right at the top. Schwarzenegger was the primary reason it was delayed the last time, since he felt other borrowing needed to come first. Of course he was right

Brandon in California said...

There is already a plan in place... and the phasing approach seems quite acceptable when considering the potential ridership market and the politics around north-south equity.

Further, San Diego and Sacramento extension seems very well positioned to argue in the Capital at the same time for when and if any additional necessary State funding.

I don't live in a silo thinking San Diego is the center of the state. Further, I think the San Diego extension could benefit from a little more time to reconsider the alignment and terminal station.

But back to the Authority... their mission is to plan and build the system. Planning and construction phasing is dependant on the flow of funding, which is largely out of the hands of the Authority and in the hands of the State. And to another extent, Federal participation.

That said, if Lowenthal says his approach is to assure operable segments are viable in light of possible insufficient funding, and resulting in the need to truncate the system, then he's being disengenous... because the State Senate and legislature, of which he's a member, controls funding for the project.

Ergo, the flow of funding is out of the control of the Authority... they can really only influence the level of private sector funding... which ironically is handicapped when leaders like Lowenthal come out and do what they do. No?

The Authority plan to focus on each end, the peninsula and Los Angeles, and the Valley, is consistent with a plan to build the whole thing. It's their mission... not some truncated system envisioned by a novice transportation planner / parochial thinking State Senator.

Yes, Schwarzenegger played a role in delaying the bond measure. He signed the bill, right. However, legislative cooperation was needed... including a Senator or Representative to author a bill.

Anonymous said...

Senators can say whatever they want, but the voters voted for the project, the whole project, and they are waiting.

Andrew said...

@anon, 3:10:

This 101 corridor horseshit is getting really really OLD.

Spokker said...

Michael Jackson will never see the high speed rail... sniff sniff.

Alon Levy said...

Anon, Paul Krugman is more respected than Robert, in absolute terms. However, I don't buy that he's more respected as an economics columnist than Robert is as a California transportation blogger. Both are exceptionally partisan, and prone to calling the other side names. And both are basically right about how disingenuous the other side is.

lyqwyd said...

Anon said:

"Forget Caltrain. Separate operations are preferred anyway. With a monopoly(shared tracks come close) you ensure a BART strike scenario wherein a few unions can threaten to shut down the whole region's transport. Best to keep separate alternatives even if means a little extra bureaucracy."

sharing tracks is nowhere near a monopoly, there are numerous rail systems that share tracks and nothing else. They will have separate operations and separate unions.

"They won't cross the picket lines."

Caltrain will continue running even if BART strikes, the buses will run if bart strikes, Amtrak will run if BART strikes. Trying to claim that unions are a reason to change the alignment is completely transparent: you are just a peninsula NIMBY who doesn't seem realize you bought a house in an already existing rail corridor and are now shocked that they want to run trains up it.

Clem said...

On the peninsula, CalTrain now is quite effective ...

You should probably get out more!

mike said...

no one is actually on their side here its just some temporary placating and false hope.

Jim is absolutely right on this point. Lowenthal is actually one of the worst senators from the NIMBY perspective, because he wants to prioritize construction of the two ends of the system (for his own political benefit) over the Central Valley. In other words, the Caltrain corridor gets upgraded even sooner. It will be kind of fun to watch all the factions duke it out.

Anonymous said...

It is all a question of how militant the unions decide to be, as to whether they want to cross the picket lines or not. AT times in the past they have honored each other's picket lines.

If BART unions throw up picket lines at its shared stations with Muni we will see what happens. The bad economy and public anger certainly will influence all the unions' strategies.

The San Joaquin Valley is getting more attention from the hsr that it deserves. Go I-5 and just run a branch from north of the Grapevine to Bakersfield and Fresno. Good enough for now - the 99 corridor can be upgraded later.

Forget Palmdale - California needs to stabilize its population at its current size.

Alon Levy said...

Secondary strikes are illegal in the US. If BART goes on strike, Caltrain and Muni are not allowed to go on strike as well in solidarity. Past examples of strikes suggests that not only will they not do that, but also they'll expand service to deal with the surge of commuters. This is what happened in New York when the subway workers went on strike: the LIRR and Metro-North kept running, even though they are represented by the same union.