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Governor receives bipartisan support for first state address
high speed rail
While Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he would end the state’s high-speed rail project, he said the state would finish construction that's already under way on a segment of the train from Bakersfield to Merced (Photo contributed).

Gov. Gavin Newsom received applause from Valley legislators on both sides of the aisle after he gave his first State of the State speech on Tuesday, which saw the newly-elected Democratic leader of California appoint a new chair of the state water board and promise to scale back the state’s high-speed rail project.

The former mayor of San Francisco was understandably met with some distrust from lawmakers of the state’s more rural areas upon first being elected, but following Newsom’s address, Democratic Assemblyman Adam C. Gray of Merced said the Governor’s plans will boost the economy and quality of life in the San Joaquin Valley.

It was very encouraging to hear the long overdue recognition for Fresno and the Central Valley. While we may have philosophical differences on some issues, there is ample common ground for us to build upon and serve the people of California.
State Senator Andreas Borgeas

“After today, I think a lot of folks are rethinking their skepticism,” Gray said. “We don’t need to agree on the solution to every problem, but it is refreshing that Governor Newsom’s vision for the state actually includes the San Joaquin Valley.”

In his first address to a Joint Convention of the California State Legislature, Newsome detailed his plans to create a more affordable housing market, improve the health and welfare of underserved communities and make significant investments in the most impoverished areas of the state. He also highlighted numerous ongoing fights over water and announced he would not reappoint Felicia Marcus to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Marcus earned the frustration of farmers throughout the Valley as well as the city of San Francisco over the board’s plan to reallocate water from farms and cities to aid struggling fish populations. With new chair Joaquin Esquivel taking over, farmers are hopeful that the board will be more likely to approve water-sharing agreements overseen by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration late last year.

Those compromises were endorsed by Newsom, but rather than act on the settlements in December, Marcus instead directed the board to move ahead with reallocating more water to fish. The decision has resulted in multiple lawsuits from farming and water agencies, including Turlock Irrigation District.

“If there was one message Governor Newsom heard loud and clear during his frequent visits to the San Joaquin Valley, it was that Felicia Marcus had to go,” Gray said, adding that he and many others believed Marcus was unable to put aside the beliefs of her former employer, the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I sincerely thank Governor Newsom for his bold leadership on water, and I look forward to the start of fresh conversations with the new chair of the State Water Board.”

Republican Senator Andreas Borgeas of Fresno, who represents Turlock, also applauded Newsom’s approach to water in the Valley.

“It was very encouraging to hear the long overdue recognition for Fresno and the Central Valley. While we may have philosophical differences on some issues, there is ample common ground for us to build upon and serve the people of California,” he said. “Governor Newsom also pledged to update and fix massive infrastructure projects like access to clean drinking water, water supply and conveyance. I am optimistic for the commitments he’s made to the Central Valley, and happy to work with him and his administration to make lasting, positive change to our region.”

Another Republican, Assemblyman Heath Flora of Ripon, said it was a “pleasant surprise” to hear Newsom talk about the Valley so much.

“The Valley deserves an equal seat at the table with the Bay Area and Southern California,” Flora said. “The Governor and I agree on the need to cut red tape that holds up housing development, increase Medi-Cal reimbursement rates and ramp up the fights against homelessness and mental illness.”

Newsom also announced on Tuesday the creation of the new Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing to address what he said is a moral issue that has become a public health crisis. His administration recently sued the Orange County city of Huntington Beach, accusing it of not meeting its affordable housing goals.

He also said he’s abandoning the $77 billion plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and will focus instead on completing a 119-mile segment already under construction through the Central Valley.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

He rejected the idea critics have raised that it will be a “train to nowhere,” and said it would help revitalize the economically depressed region. In the meantime, Newsom said the state will conduct environmental reviews on the entire Los Angeles to San Francisco route and push for more federal and private money to connect the Valley to the state’s economic powerhouses.

Gray thanked the Governor for refusing to overlook the importance of the Valley.

“Governor Newsom clearly sees how vital an opportunity high-speed rail is for the Valley and has recommitted that the Merced rail line will be included up front and not pushed off to later phases,” Gray said.