The $68 billion train wreck in the making – California High Speed Rail – continues rumbling down the tracks with all of the subtlety of General Sherman’s march to the sea.
The folks who never saw a cost overrun they didn’t like have used an obscure state law to blanket sue you, me, and every soul on earth — and presumably the space station too.
It is a bid to gain immunity from future liability and lawsuits. If you fail to respond to the suit and the court sides with the rail authority, you can’t sue them ever for a whole list of possible transgressions.
One current suit that particularly irks the high speed spending folks is the Proposition 1A lawsuit brought by Kings County. The suit contends the obvious – the rail commission is not doing what it told the voters it would do in the ballot language that was approved. One key point is they are not building the first leg of the high speed rail route that voters authorized.
Proposition 1A just happened to have been co-authored by former legislator Quentin Kopp who went on to become the high speed rail authority chairman for a spell. Apparently bait-and-switch tactics and not following the law doesn’t bother Kopp who also happens to be a retired judge.
Folks in the San Joaquin Valley have good reasons not to trust monopolistic railroads – especially ones with government backing.
The old Southern Pacific Railroad of the late 19th century was responsible for the Mussel Slough slaughter of wheat farmers in Tulare County. It sent its agents to quell a rebellion of wheat farmers who were upset about exorbitant monopoly shipping costs as well as the railroad reneging on contracts with growers regarding their lease/purchase of land from the railroad.
The railroad had bought up almost every conceivable form of transportation from ferry boats to barges so they could set shipping costs at well. They did this with state politicians they had in their back pocket. It was the railroad’s wanton abuse of Californians that led to the election of reformist Hiram Johnson as governor and the formation of the State Railroad Commission, the forerunner to the California Public Utilities Commission.
The high speed rail commission has taken it one step further. Instead of a railroad with the government in its back pocket, it is the government and therefore feels no need to even pretend they have to follow the will of the people.
After deliberately underestimating the cost of the system to hoodwink voters, the high speed rail folks faced growing opposition in some powerful places namely the Bay Area and Los Angeles. They are the two areas that will benefit the most from high speed rail.
So the state agency followed in the footsteps of the old Southern Pacific and decided to prey on the politically weakest and most impoverished area of the state – the San Joaquin Valley.
They are building a high speed segment that initially only connects two major metro areas — Bakersfield and Fresno. Trains will shoot through the Valley at 220 miles per hour plus.
Then, due to opposition in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, they will switch to existing rail corridors and slow down considerably. That means train times won’t come anywhere near what they claimed they would in ballot language.
The bullet trains will disrupt agriculture – the Valley’s prime livelihood – and cost jobs.
Sure, you’ve heard the claims it will generate jobs for the valley. But ask yourself this: How many unemployed specialized construction workers live in Fresno or Delano? Perhaps they were referencing the food truck jobs that will be generated temporarily to help feed the high paid construction workers who will probably be brought in from across the country. As for permanent jobs at the handful of high speed stations, how does that compare with all of the jobs lost if people actually get out of their cars to travel to and from LA and the Bay Area? There are a lot of people employed at restaurants, fast food places, gas stations, and such that cater to highway travelers.
Yes, all jobs evolve. We no longer have a blacksmith on every corner.
But the project was sold as a net job generator for the San Joaquin Valley when in fact it is a net job killer.
The high speed rail lobby egged on by firms that will get contracts in excess of $68 billion doesn’t have time to bother with little details such as where all of the electricity will come from to power the trains? It’s not a minor detail given the fact experts are predicting California will soon choke on its power grid and face the prospect once again of rolling brownouts.
Little wonder why the rail commission is blanket suing me and you, and a dog named Boo. They are just trying to beat us to the punch.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or249-3519.