You’ve got to love Sacramento’s sense of humor.
They have set in motion a process that allows the full weight of the state bureaucracy to come crashing down on dairy farmers because their cows pass flatulence but when it comes to high speed rail altering the environment it gets a free pass.
Back in 2004, the high speed rail authority convinced the federal Surface Transportation Board that they did not have to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
A state appellate court subsequently disagreed. The state — which is led the last time I checked by Gov. Jerry Brown — is arguing before the Ninth District Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court that the appellate court got it wrong. The state’s argument is CEQA is pre-empted by federal environmental review.
So who on Friday sends a letter to President Trump — a man whose policies he has penciled in $6.5 million in the upcoming state budget to fight in the courts — asking him to use the National Environmental Policy act to “delegate to state authority” the environmental review of high speed rail? It was Brown himself. The same Brown whose administration is arguing in court that the federal government, and not the state, should have final say when it comes to environmental review.
If Brown succeeds, the bureaucracy charged with implementing the single biggest infrastructure project in California history costing more than $98.5 billion will answer to no one but itself when it comes to determining if high speed rail is creating impacts and whether they need to be mitigated.
The $98.5 billion figure, by the way, is what the California High Speed Rail Authority said in 2011 would be the cost to build the segment just from Anaheim to San Francisco. That was three years after getting voters to approve $9.95 billion in bonds by saying it would only cost $43 billion. They also said it would take 20 years to complete.
This is where the latest gambit rolled out in 2016 comes into play with a plan aimed at reducing costs and getting rail service up and running sometime this century. In a nutshell, the state would initially build high speed rail from Bakersfield to Shafter and into San Jose via Pacheco Pass for roughly $64 billion with a target to have it up and running by 2025.
But will you be able to catch a high speed train in Merced in 2025 as you were led to believe by the CHSRA? Probably not because a temporary station is envisioned under the new plan to be built 50 miles to the south of Merced in Shafter.
If a developer had such major changes to an original proposal they’d have to do a second full-scale CEQA review. But the state doesn’t believe the rules they adopted apply to them. If they don’t need to do a full-scale CEQA review in the first place, they definitely wouldn’t need one every time they roll out the high speed rail plan du jour.
The biggest lies in government today can be traced back to the people who believe it is their calling — and source of big, fact six-figure government paychecks — to get high speed rail up and running regardless of the cost, any collateral environmental damage it may cause or how many times they have to change their story.
The now defunct Southern Pacific in its corrupt heyday, when they controlled a majority of the politicians in Sacramento in the early decades of the 20th century, comes off as rank amateurs in playing with the public’s trust compared to the CHSRA.
It’s ironic that the very safeguards government has put in place to prevent corporations from running roughshod over the public and misleading them when they do developments are now being tossed aside at every turn with indignant CHSRA apologists saying everyone should simply trust them.
You mean trust the people who in 2008 said investors would be kicking in the door in a mad scramble to invest in high speed rail if voters approved the bond measure?
If high speed rail is a sure deal in terms of ridership and profitability as well as the cutting edge answer, why not make a pitch to Tim Cook to take over the project? Apple is sitting on $240 billion in cash reserves. If high speed rail is such a sure thing that will take the economy to the moon as its backers contend, why aren’t the likes of Elon Musk snooping around? A reason could be that he knows even with massive tax credits or government funding high speed rail is a multi-billion dollar white elephant in the making simply updating 19th century transportation technology.
As for it being an environmentally effective way of spending $65 billion to reduce air pollution, cars pollute significantly more in stop and go traffic. We would have much cleaner air after spending $65 billion if it went into extending light rail in the Bay Area and Los Angeles as well as systems like BART and ACE to get cars off congested commute corridors.
Of course, if an environmental impact report had been done it would have required an analysis of alternative projects.
It is something that CHSRA proponents can ill afford since an exhaustive CEQA examination would likely prove every one of their premises false, from unsubsidized one-way tickets costing less than $100 to how it will have a positive long-term impact on the San Joaquin Valley economy.