High Speed Rail Will be Vindicated

We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge last weekend. There is a great new area that explains the history of the bridge and how it came into existence.

The bridge had over 20,000 lawsuits against it—local NIMBYS said it was a boondoggle. They further insisted it would be an eye-sore that reduces property values, was too expensive and the financing too complicated (i.e. built on bonds) .Generally, every negative NIMBY blasted it.

Today, the statue at the bridge honors Joseph Strauss–the engineer who designed and built the bridge. A.P. Giannini, of Bank of America, is given credit for buying the bonds—in the middle of a depression—to fund it, and every elected official who presided over the bridge’s construction is lauded somewhere along the structure.

The idea of San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge is, today, unthinkable.

But like the Golden Gate Bridge, California High Speed Rail faces the same type of opposition. Initial construction was courageously approved by the legislature last week, by one vote. The specious arguments against the project catered to the loud, noisy NIMBYs, whose ignorance is only matched by their tenacity to subvert progress. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and the project is moving forward.

The public officials arguing against the future was disappointing. They utilized the false premises of High Speed Rail opponents, yet they knew the real consequences of not approving the first phase of the project. Their pandering to curry political favor with the NIMBY crowd was unseemly.

The facts are straightforward. The money set aside for High Speed Rail can only be used for that purpose. If the legislature had turned down the project, the money would not go to education—as opponents suggest—or anything else. The federal government would simply give the money to another state. The state portion is the bond money voters approved specifically for high speed rail. The state either has to use it or lose it.

Second, this is only phase one and it is not a train to nowhere. The initial $6 billion in funding will allow for 2-5 years of construction and over 100,000 jobs in the blighted Central Valley. While it is true future federal funding will not be forthcoming in the near term, when Congress becomes democratic again in the future, money will again begin to flow. Republicans won’t be in charge of the house forever. And California, already in the midst of construction, will be first in line for new funds.

The interstate highway system began in Kansas in 1957. It was not completed until 1992. No project of this size is funded all at once. But if we do not begin construction now, we will lose the opportunity in the foreseeable future.

Thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown, who put board member Dan Richard in charge to make the plan politically palatable. Richard was also key in hiring Jeff Morales, the former head of Caltrans and a person who understands California politics to head the project Roleff Van Ark, the previous executive, was a brilliant engineer whose private sector experience clashed with the California body politic.  Morales will provide adroit leadership with sufficient political knowledge to keep the project on track.

In addition, Assembly Speaker John Perez, and Senate ProTem Darrel Steinberg deserve credit for cobbling together enough votes while enduring the shallow arguments and catcalls of those who choose politics over good public policy. That is leadership.

When California High Speed Rail is a reality, all of these public officials will be remembered for their courage and vision. And they might even get their names on a bronze plaque.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley who has worked under contract with the High Speed Rail Authority.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley.

43 Comments

  1. Total waste of our money, when there are more important issues.  Most of us will never see this train in the bay area in our life time!  If I didn’t know better our city council must be on the state board.  Since they waste crazy money as well!

  2. Rich Robinson shilling for a former client again (at least that’s how The Daily Fetch put it the last time Rich wrote an article about a former client and didn’t disclose that he had previously been paid by the 49ers.  Google Rich Robinson and see his client list.  Uh huh, high speed rail is on the list.

    San Jose Inside needs to require its contributors to disclose to readers when the contributor has previously or is currently on the payroll of the client/subject of the article.

    Note that 20% of voters who previously said they’d vote yes on Gov Brown’s tax initiative said that they’d vote ‘no’ if HSR passed.  Legislators may have just given a financial death sentence to our public schools and our public universities. Today, the UCs announced that tuition will rise by 20% if the Gov’s tax initiative doesn’t pass.  Many public school districts are teetering on the brink of insolvency and can’t handle any further cuts in state funding.

    • Please see the part that says: “Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley who has worked under contract with the High Speed Rail Authority.”

      JK

    • Taxpayer, what are your conflicts of interest?  I never post anonymously and am happy to defend my integrity regarding my opinions—whether I have an interest or not.

      And who the hell is the Daily Fetch?  Never heard of them—

      • Rich when you get paid to make an opinion public, when you own a profit interest in making sure that public opinion is regarded as gospel, it erodes the integrity of the message.

        There’s a huge difference between someone who’s a political journalist getting paid to write articles, and a lobbyist getting paid to write to their own agenda.

        One does it because it’s their job to be objective.

        One does it because they’ve been paid to galvanize their own opinions.

        You fall into the latter.

        • That’s just bogus.  While I agree those facts should be public, the opinion of the person should not simply be disqualified because they have some knowledge of the subject.

          Most Lobbyists know more about the issue involved than the general public.  It is what makes them effective.  Do they have a view, certainly and the reader can take that into account.  But the idea that people in the arena should not opine or have their views published is crazy and adds to the ignorance of the public.

          What does bother me is that almost everyone in society has an “interest” in the issue.  If you are a taxpayer, neighborhood activist, developer, etc.  Read critically, ask questions—but if the substance of the opinion holds up—don’t reject it just because the person has an interest.

        • There is a difference between journalism ie. news and the opinion pages.  Don’t confuse the two.

          The Editorial pages of the Mercury News are opinion.  They are not news.  Anybody they deem credible can write an editoria.  Those don’t need to be balanced.

          News stories need to be balanced—with both sides.  Opinion does not.

        • Next time the Merc needs a point of view on an issue or candidate you disagree with, we’ll just let their lobbyist write the article.

          We’ll just start letting candidates (those with the most money, or connections to the media) write their own articles as well.

          Good system.  I see how that can work so well.

          The difference between journalism and propaganda is the integrity of the writer.  Real journalism depends on that.  This is why people make so much fun of CNN.

          I see so many parallels between SJI and CNN.  I also see the same parallels between CNN and the Merc.  It makes me a sad Bob.

        • Robert, I don’t think Rich should be barred from writing about HSR because he lobbied for it. I think he decided to support HSR because it’s a cause he believes in, and I can’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be able to talk about why he supports it. I hate to say it, but you’re tossing the word “propaganda” pretty casually.

          Also, what’s wrong with CNN? I can understand attacks against FOX or MSNBC or Current about a lack of fair balance, but you think CNN stands out as not “real journalism”?

        • How is SJI like FOX, specifically? I don’t think this website is one-sided or anything. Rich Robinson consulted Pierluigi’s challenger in the June primary, the fact that they’re both columnists on SJI tells me that SJI isn’t biased towards one side of the argument. Sparky Harlan (Who was just honored by the White House) has written very good articles about San Jose’s runaway and homeless children crisis. A lot of members of SJI’s community have gotten to ask some tough questions of local politicians through SJI’s interviews.

          I’ve known you hate SJI since you defended Anthony Macias against them, but I just don’t see any clear reason why SJI is propaganda.

        • I got confused for a second, yeah, fox news.  Been a fatiguing week, 3 year old son kept waking up during the heat wave screaming, “THERE’S BUGS CRAWLING ON ME!” (really it was just sweat). Season opening of “Breaking Bad” pays homage to Orielly.

          “YAH BITCHES, MAGNETS” was Jesse’s response to O’Rielly’s “Magnets, how do they work?”

          Vince Gilligan is a genius.

          Back to subject though.

          I never said he should be barred from writing.  SJI/Metro is welcome to solicit whoever they want to write, it’s their newspaper, not mine.

          But I’m of the opinion (and maybe 2 others I talk to) that this website is nothing more than SJ’s version of Fox news, and our Mr Rich here is it’s Mr O’Rielly.

          No matter how much you defend him, or how well Rich tries to argue, it won’t change our opinion.

          Especially me, I’m sort of headstrong like that.

      • I didn’t notice prior to my previous post that the Daily Fetch had another reference to Rich writing about his clients (this article in fact) in today’s online blog.
        http://www.thedailyfetch.com/2012/07/13/daily-fetch-7-12-12-evergreen-penn-state-sorta-maybe-kinda/

        “To the blogs…

        Rich Robinson on San Jose Inside writes about another current/former client… Shocking, we know.  Why doesn’t he just blog one chapter of his new (self-published) book per week?  He could become a serial blogger…”

        • Not a bad idea, The Shadow Candidate—which can be purchesed at Amazon is a well-written fictional novel that follows the campaign of a flawed candidate.

          “A page turner”

          “brilliant and illuminating”

          “Best political Novel of 2012”

          Ok, those are my quotes, but many people who read it seem to have liked it.

          NOTE:  Rich Robinson is the author of the Shadow Candidate and he has a pecuniary interest in every book sold.  Obviously, any conflict of interest in this endeavor must be disclosed publically as to allow the reader to make an informed decision.

      • The Daily Fetch is an online weekday blog that summarizes news articles.  No idea who the writers are:
        Here’s the latest link which mentions Rich Robinson:
        http://www.thedailyfetch.com/2012/06/22/daily-fetch-6-22-12-the-next-civil-grand-jury-investigation/

        “Finally, from the blogs.  If you care to read it, Rich Robinson writes about what a good deal the 49ers Stadium was/is on San Jose Inside.  You guessed it, Robinson writing about clients past, present, and future again…”

        I have no conflicts of interest. I am opposed to what I view as ballot fraud – elected officials allowing ballot materials/promoting ballot materials which do not disclose the truth about costs to voters. The HSR ballot initiative falls under this category. Polls show that voters want a chance to vote again on this issue because the costs/ridership etc. have changed significantly from what they were when we voted before.  Ditto for the 49ers ballot measure, which did not disclose any loans to the voters.  That was done on purpose, because had the loans to the Stadium Authority been disclosed, people would have voted no. 
        Santa Clara’s city attorney argued in court in April 2010 that costs don’t have to be disclosed on the stadium ballot measure because there is no state legislative requirement for cost disclosure on city-wide ballot measures.  Shame on city officials and the 49ers for using a weakness in the state election code to keep financial information off of the ballot and for hoodwinking voters. 
        Elected officials need to tell the truth about what’s in ballot measures, not simply write ballot measures as advertisements to get their pet projects approved by voters.

  3. > When California High Speed Rail is a reality, all of these public officials will be remembered for their courage and vision.

    And what will Lou Scannon be remembered for?

    “loud, noisy NIMBYs, whose ignorance is only matched by their tenacity to subvert progress.”

    Seems judgmental to me.

  4. > The bridge had over 20,000 lawsuits against it—local NIMBYS said it was a boondoggle.

    An interesting, weird, but not terribly relevant factoid. (I also seriously doubt that it’s even true).

    Whether there were 1, 6, 250, 1,000, 20,000, or 256,812 lawsuits against the Golden Gate Bridge, it doesn’t mean diddely squat.  What matters is the ONE lawsuit that STOPS the circus.

    The Goldmann Sachs High Speed Rail circus is on a collision course with the Envionmental Impact Report gangsters, and my money says that the gangsters will find a snail darter, checker spot butterfly, or a furbish lousewort somewhere where the Goldmann Sachs choo choo wants to plant it’s carbon footprint.

    I don’t think the choo choo is anywhere near a “done deal”, and Wall Street Journal analyst John Fund opines that it will never see the light of day.

    “There are only two people on the planet who want the High Speed Rail,” says Fund. “Jerry Brown and Barack Obama”.

    “It will cause Jerry Brown’s tax increase ballot initiative to lose.”

    “It’s a high speed train ride off a tax cliff”.

    • Go to the Bridge, see the history for yoursef.

      Well, I live on the planet—so that makes 3 who want High Speed Rail.  I do believe there are others, as in the majority who voted to bond the project.

      Anyone who equates the HSR funds with general funds doesn’t understand how government works.  Admittedly, there are many.  But if people want CA to continue being 49th in Education, they will vote against the tax.

        • I’ll have you know when we successfully helped Calpine, we helped engineer the deal that dedicated the hill next to the plant for open space in perpetuity—which, of course, is prime habitat for the endangered butterfly.  wink

          Man and the environment can live in harmony—and HSR is an environmentally sound project.

        • > Man and the environment can live in harmony—and HSR is an environmentally sound project.

          Possibly true.

          However, you have been known to take money from High Speed Rail interests in the past, so we’re hesitant to just take your word for it.

          Just to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, could you please show us the complete, approved independent Environmental Impact Report—BEFORE you start building anything.

        • I’m really glad to see you’ve become an environmentalist, Troglodyte. I hope that you are consistent with your criticism when it comes to the Keystone Pipeline.

        • > I’m really glad to see you’ve become an environmentalist, Troglodyte.

          Right on, Dakota!

          Let’s link arms and march forward to stop the most mammoth, noisiest, environment scarring, habit destroying, dust raising, electromagnetic polluting, ozone spewing, resource wasting, unnecessary construction project since the Great Wall of China.

          It’s not worth the horrific death of one endangered tortoise, crawling across the lethally electified train tracks,  fried, squashed, mangled, and atomized by a thousand tons of hurtling steel just to haul a bunch of narcissistic LA dorks in sequinned sun glasses to a cross-dressing happening on Polk Street.

        • Been there, dont that.  There are several EIR’s for each section of High Speed Rail.  They are online and certified.  There are still some lawsuits pending over the Northern Section—nothing to do with the Peninsula, but having to do with alternatives if UP doesn’t allow HSR to use its right of way.

          Happy reading.  Personally, I’d rather watch paint dry.

        • Lou, your argument is more convincing than your usual arguments, even despite the fact that you brought up cross-dressing, and you deserve a lot of credit for that. But I haven’t heard any very specific accusations of environmental degradation, besides the checker spot butterfly endangerment, which Rich seemed pretty capable of refuting. Not too mention HSR has a sustainable energy plan and will serve as a much more “green” alternative to driving or flying.

          Can you name some other specific examples of how high speed rail harms the environment?

        • > But I haven’t heard any very specific accusations of environmental degradation, besides the checker spot butterfly endangerment, which Rich seemed pretty capable of refuting.

          Rich Robinson is known to be a paid flunky of the giant High Speed Rail special interests.

          Are you going to take his word for anything?

          Of course he’s going to tell you everything is wonderful and hunky dory.  He gets paid for making you believe that.  It’s what he does for a living.

  5. Oddly enough, I partly agree with Rich Robinson on HSR (I disagree with him on the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara). However, I am discouraged with the time frame of the project. It took China only seven years to complete an HSR leg of equal distance to the equivalent mileage of the entire California HSR project(China doesn’t have our litigation issues).
    Now, when completed in its entirety, if HSR does include many of the centralized destination points, I see it as workable. Who from Northern California wouldn’t want to visit Disneyland if they can get there in 2.5 hours instead of having to spend most of the day driving? Who from Southern California wouldn’t want to visit San Francisco without having to deal with going through traffic on the freeways or at the airport?
    I have traveled every imaginable way from both ends of the state. There’s many times when Amtrak and Greyhound stations are swamped with travelers. If their methods of travel were not profitable, those two entities would have ceased doing business in California. Therefore, why not build a more efficient way of getting across the state? In the long run, HSR will benefit our state.

    • As noted, China doesn’t have CEQA, doesn’t have to “listen” to local state governments etc.

      The benefit of a dictatorship is that projects can move swiftly.

      But I agree with you on this issue.  Importantly, it has been my experience that every issue/project is different.  Many of us can reasonably disagree with each other on some and disagree on others, without being disagreeable.  It is the hallmark of a mature democratic republic.

      As you can tell, I enjoy the debate.  And many of my closest friends are people who disagree with me. 

      But being wrong doesn’t make you a bad person.  (with tongue firmly in cheek)  wink

  6. Here’s what’s important, this is primarily federal money. A large portion of California’s share is going to infrastructure improvements that will benefit us no matter what. Electrifying Caltrans for instance. Do the math, this is good for California because we are benefiting from federal money. This is money that’s going to a blue state. Better us than Texas.

  7. There are two problems with high speed rail:

    1. We could have invested the money in fixing up the Delta.  I see that as a more immediate problem and one that has a better ROI.

    1. Its nickname, “the train to nowhere”, is going to create headwinds for future funding of all kinds.  Your own comment says as much, While it is true future federal funding will not be forthcoming in the near term, when Congress becomes democratic again in the future, money will again begin to flow. Republicans won’t be in charge of the house forever. And California, already in the midst of construction, will be first in line for new funds.”  People are already saying that the “train to nowhere” is already eroding public support for Brown’s tax measure.  I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, and have never voted for a Republican, or against any school funding measure.  However, I understand completely the “bait and switch” argument of the anti-tax crowd.  If that tax measure doesn’t pass, then the trade off will be spending cuts across the board, for a few construction jobs in the Valley.

  8. There are 1000 different places we could “put” money Everyone could balance the CA budget if they didn’t have to convince 50% of the rest of us—or in some cases 66.6%.

    HSR is a visionary project, the merits and advancement of which are not a diminishment of other public needs. 

    The choice to move forward is based on the current circumstances the available earmarked money and the understanding that this is the best use for the money in the area of transportation.  There will be those who argue otherwise, but $1 for $1 this is the best way to keep our state competitive.

    And the best place to catch HSR, with the hybrid systems in the Peninsula and LA proper will be SJ.

    Of course, if we were China, HSR would be a 4 track system completed in less than 10 years.  But we are not China—see comment above.

    • “Of course, if we were China, HSR would be a 4 track system completed in less than 10 years.  But we are not China—see comment above”

      China’s railway investment in the first half of the year was less than half of the annual target, data from the Ministry of Railways (MOR) showed over the weekend, indicating that the ministry is finding it difficult to attract investment, though the sector is now open to private investors.

      http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90778/7875808.html

  9. California public pension fund earns only 1 percent

    SACRAMENTO—The nation’s largest public pension fund reported a 1 percent return on its investments, a figure far short of projections that will likely add pressure on California’s state and local governments to contribute more, officials said Monday.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21087017/california-public-pension-fund-earns-only-1-percent

    If you’re a true believer I would think you would want to load up on those bonds that we sell to finance those wonderful passenger trains.

  10. “Automobile and air transportation provide perfectly acceptable methods of traveling between Northern and Southern California.”
    I wouldn’t say that those two methods are “unacceptable”, but I think that HSR has a substantial advantage over automobile in terms of speed. HSR isn’t popular in Europe for no reason, it provides a real service. It’s silly to suggest that id doesn’t.

  11. Pat,

    You know better as well as I do that the money isn’t going back to taxpayers. 

    Interstate 5 isn’t getting any better and the highest polluting, lowest profit air traffic are shortterm trips.  If we add all the infrastructure necessary to replace HSR it would be far more than $100 billion we are spending on this alternative.

  12. Would I rather have HSR or an affordable state university system? Most of the money funding HSR is from the federal government, if we don’t elect to spend it on HSR, they’ll just give it to some other state, it’s not going to get spent on education here. I think California should seize on the opportunity to use that money to create jobs.

  13. Pat Waite, you misunderstand the facts. $3.3 billion is the amount of money that the High Speed Rail Authority has on hand from the federal government so far. High Speed Rail Authority expects an additional $38.6 billion to come from the federal government during the construction of High Speed Rail.