Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 7, 2010

Candidates pledge to shake up high-speed rail

Gordon, Kishimoto and Becker seek more transparency, community involvement in controversial project

by Gennady Sheyner

Rich Gordon has a simple solution for improving the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the $43 billion system between San Francisco and Los Angeles: Sack its board of directors.

Gordon, one of three Democratic candidates running for Ira Ruskin's seat in the state Assembly, said the current board has neither the transparency nor the expertise to guide the enormous undertaking to a successful conclusion. And while he has other ideas for improving the controversial project, in his opinion the board is a good place to start.

"I think the current membership of the rail authority needs to be tossed out and that the Legislature needs to take action to reformulate the authority and its governance," Gordon told the Weekly in a recent interview.

The winner of the Democratic primary is highly favored to replace Ruskin, who will be termed out, in the heavily Democratic district.

Though all three candidates have told the Weekly they have major concerns about the high-speed-rail project, each has different ideas for improving the process. Yoriko Kishimoto, a founder of the Peninsula Cities Consortium, said she would push for more credible ridership numbers and a better peer-review process of the rail authority documents. Josh Becker, a clean-tech venture capitalist, said he would demand a more robust business plan for the colossal project.

In Gordon's view, the rail authority's board of directors should include members who represent local communities and who have technical expertise about major transportation projects. In his view, the current board, which was appointed by the state Legislature and by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, doesn't meet these criteria.

"The board needs to function as a true government body, and it needs to have the transparency in a way that it currently does not," Gordon said.

Gordon said he would be in favor of giving local jurisdictions more power over the construction of the high-speed rail, a position he shares with Kishimoto. Last year, Kishimoto founded the Peninsula Cities Consortium, a coalition of elected officials who meet twice a month to discuss the controversial project. The consortium is comprised of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame and Belmont.

As a council member, Kishimoto helped pass a resolution in October 2008 urging voters to support Proposition 1A, which approved $9.95 billion in state funding for the high-speed-rail project. Though she said she still supports the project, she now regrets her earlier endorsement of Proposition 1A.

"I'm a fan of rail, but this was a flawed structure and it gave power to the wrong board," Kishimoto told the Weekly. "It wasn't set up correctly."

One of the problems with the current system is that the peer-review committee established by Proposition 1A never materialized. More than a year after the legislation passed, only five of the committee's eight members have been appointed. Kishimoto said the state Legislature needs to clarify the committee's role and make sure there is adequate oversight over the rail authority.

Kishimoto said she favors the approach taken by state Sen. Joe Simitian, who has been using his budget-oversight powers to demand more information, accountability and transparency from the rail authority.

She has been a staunch advocate of local involvement in the controversial state project. She takes some of the credit for the rail authority's recent decision to drop the hotly contested "berm" alternative from their design options in Palo Alto a decision the agency said was based largely on community opposition.

Kishimoto was also an early proponent of applying the Context Sensitive Solutions approach to high-speed-rail design a mechanism that relies heavily on local participation in planning for the project. The rail authority recently agreed to adopt the approach for the Bay Area-to-Central Valley segment of the line.

Becker also said he favors giving local residents a greater say on the rail project. A legislator, he said, should be responsive to the citizens, and Becker is still in the process of gathering feedback from the constituents in the 21st Assembly District. When it comes to the rail project, Becker so far has more questions than answers.

His biggest questions surround the rail authority's business plan a document that has drawn a barrage of criticism from state legislators, rail watchdogs, the Legislative Analyst's Office and, most recently, State Auditor Elaine Howle's office. Critics have persistently challenged the business plan's projections for how many riders will use the rail, its reliance on federal grants and its discussion of risk management.

Becker criticized the rail authority for not being as responsive to community concerns as they should be. He also said the rail authority has been reluctant to release the types of information residents and state officials need, including a plan to pay for the system.

"I think they've been lax in coming up with details and that's critical in my mind," Becker said. "My focus is the business plan. Let's find a business plan that works."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by M.C., a resident of another community
on May 7, 2010 at 11:01 am

Go Gordon! Time to boot out Diridon and Kopp!


Posted by Jay Tulock, a resident of another community
on May 7, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Yeah, nice campaign pledge, and I'm sure you mean it. However, none of you have the P-O-W-E-R. Simititian needs to be the one to gather political support in Sac to sac Diridon, Kopp & Pringle.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


Posted by Joe C, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2010 at 7:27 am

With Kopp and Diridon running the show for the past decade-plus, it is no wonder HSR so-called forecasts are wildly off. This is not the first start-up to try to raise money using bogus numbers, just one of the biggest.

Buy a clue, California.

Until a forecast (business plan) is agreed upon that can survive a reasonable credibility test, all HSR plans are being conceived and built on a roadbed of quicksand.

My rule when considering a venture like this, "When in doubt, stay out."

Series A money was allocated by Measure 1A in 2008. But there are sidings and unbuilt bridges on this incomplete HSR track before most of the $9B authorized can be spent. Because of earlier incompetence, it is looking ever more likely that one of the early sidings will have to be taken by HSR. At a minimum, that will delay the project.

What you are witnessing now is a Keystone Cops HSR staff trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The Series B and C rounds are looking DOA.

Most likely, HSR is racing through the night toward a big abyss.







Posted by Gloria, a resident of Green Acres
on May 8, 2010 at 7:41 am

Rich Gordon has constructive plans for HSR that I agree with.

About Rich Gordon, the Weekly article says:

'"I think the current membership of the rail authority needs to be tossed out and that the Legislature needs to take action to reformulate the authority and its governance," Gordon told the Weekly in a recent interview.

'In Gordon's view, the rail authority's board of directors should include members who represent local communities and who have technical expertise about major transportation projects. In his view, the current board, which was appointed by the state Legislature and by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, doesn't meet these criteria.

'"The board needs to function as a true government body, and it needs to have the transparency in a way that it currently does not," Gordon said.

'Gordon said he would be in favor of giving local jurisdictions more power over the construction of the high-speed rail,' end quote, the Weekly.

Rich Gordon makes good sense to me.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2010 at 8:02 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

What an absolute disaster! I was said a camel is a horse designed by a committee. What are we going to do, allow each city to determine track gauge and operating voltage? New color schemes at every city limits?
The tracks are already there and will not go away.


Posted by Lou, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 8, 2010 at 9:03 am

HSR staff is playing their track location shell game with you. Good theater.

What's in it for them?

The HSR staff and board are building a giant HSR wish list and ultimately will be tasked to raise the money to cover every item on the list. Funding HSR is looking bleaker by the day.

I grew up in the east. I know how every shell game ends up... favoring the manipulator of the shells.

HSR Staff: "You got your elevated HSR track on steel towers or on earth berms. Or you got your HSR underground in a 100-foot-wide open trench or in an underground tunnel. Plus you got your Caltrains and SP freights always running at ground level.

"Now watch the four shells, our little red ball, and the four squares on our board marked 'elevated berm,' 'elevated steel towers,' 'open trench,' and 'underground tunnel.' Whatever square the ball ends up on, that's how we'll run HSR through your town.

"Now follow the little ball.

"But wait. let's make the game even easier for you. Let's take away the 'elevated berm' square. Now just 3 squares and 3 shells remain, are you ready?

"Round and round they go. Take a quick peek, look, there's the ball on the more costly tunnel square. Round and round they go. Get your money down.

"Where do you bet the HSR ball ends up?"


Posted by Daniel, a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

In the end, I'll bet the HSR ball falls off the table.

Think about it.

Prop 1A was passed predicated on a pack of lies. $9B was earmarked, but only $300M was advanced so HSR could build their case for the whole nine yards.

The HSR case is coming apart at the seams. HSR has so many points of failure, any one of which may prove fatal.

Big money is beginning to smell an odor coming from HSR plans, and is running from this investment opportunity. Big money remembers the Chunnel.

Like any start-up, the founders Kopp and Diridon continue to believe and tell their story to anyone who will listen. Until elements of the story begin to be proved wrong.

Then one of two things happens:

1. Management changes, poor performers are fired, new leadership is brought aboard, a re-start is attempted. OR...

2. The doors close, Chapter 11.

The huge problem this HSR start-up faces is financial credibility. In the real world, it is virtually impossible to overcome financial forecasts that are wildly off.

The inevitable result: project failure.


Posted by Caroline, a resident of Community Center
on May 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm

The High-Speed Rail Authority (HSR) continues to be fast and loose with numbers. While HSR fiddles, HSR credibility is being burned to a crisp.

Question: on the peninsula, what is the minimum width in feet required for the HSR/Caltrain right-of-way?
1. 85 feet
2. 95 feet
3. 110 feet
4. 135 feet
5. none of the above
6. all of the above

Answer: according to a (HSR) April 2009 Technical Memorandum, the minimum right-of-way width is 110 feet (3) with the desired width being 135 feet (4).

But wait, the same HSR in April 2010 said 95 feet (2).

In March 2010, Jeff Barker, deputy director of the rail authority, told the Daily Post 100 feet (5) would be 'more than adequate, and ...4 tracks could be squeezed down to 85 feet (1)."

HSR self-inflicted credibility wounds, particularly around their numbers, continue to pile up.

Is it any wonder the press, the legislature, state representatives, the state auditor, county governments, city governments plus thousands of citizens throughout the state are asking HSR more and more questions?

Answer: clarity and credibility.

Question: what two things HSR desperately needs but can't seem to find?


Posted by the truth, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 10, 2010 at 12:14 am

recession? steps like this prevent them


Posted by Rob, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 10, 2010 at 8:51 am

Ohh My god, won't somebody please think about the children! The Children people, THE CHILDREN! (lol)


Posted by Joel, a resident of Barron Park
on May 10, 2010 at 11:12 am

Could someone please tell me why we need to get there (L.A., S.F.) faster or even at all? I'm from Boston and I remember the "Big Dig"! Here California goes trying to keep up with the boondoggle of Massachusetts.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Ventura
on May 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Joel, If you're from Boston no doubt you've at least heard about the Acela. the east coast HSR which allows folks from Boston to travel to New York, Washington DC.

While you may have never tried it I have and it was full. It was a nice train although it was older technology only going some 120mph.

Still it goes Boston to NYC as fast as flying (the New York Times did an article about that).


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

One can only surmise how much further all levels of transit would have been if such monsters as the Big Dig, BART to SFO, and a 7 billion dollar suspension span over a mudflat, including a bike bridge to nowhere, had not sucked up all the transit money available. Reasonable goals like grade crossing elimination and electrification fell victim to the edifice complex.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Here's an even simpler solution:

Kill the project.


Posted by Thetruth, a resident of another community
on May 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Even more simpler solution if you dont like it ...MOVE


Posted by For HSR, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Let's not fall even further behind other countries, and let's get moving with HSR.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm

HSR is dead in the water-- let us not throw good money after bad

No VC would fund a business model based upon false data about the potential market-- that is why HSR would have never attracted private money.

HSR in CA as proposed is history-- the lessons --
1/be honest about the market,
2/the costs,
3/the risks,
4/the relevance,
5the competition and
6/the emerging technology that will make HSR obsolete in 18 months.

The HSR proposal was not honest about any of these 6 factors-- the vote should therefore be invalidated.


Posted by James, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Rich Gordon is a politician that dances the Texas two step. HSR is neither economically nor environmentally viable. Gordon wants gullible voters to believe that new generals can make an army armed with pitchforks prevail against an army with Tiger tanks and machine guns.

This HSR turkey needs to get a fork stuck in it and tossed out the window.


Posted by thetruth, a resident of another community
on May 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

No its coming thru right on time..construction will begin in fall 2012
all the bad news bears on here are going to be not happy..And it will be a wonderful addition to the state and PaloAlto..clean and grade seperated rail system is not some nightmare that many teabags here cry about..PA business community will thank the day nimbys and naysayers were show the door


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2010 at 7:10 pm


The HSR issue, which many people believe is a scam, is now in litigation.
This means everyone involved will be potentially under deposition-- and the consequences of perjury, jail, if they lie under oath--

The consequences of perjury are very different from the the consequences of hype and false PR.

These consequences, ie perjury, have put a very different light on HSR-- it is dead in the water and sinking fast.

It is a pariah for all---- except the desperate-- sad but true.


Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on May 11, 2010 at 12:34 am

Sharon,

You keep saying that the project won't be funded and they'll have to kill the project. Yet you post ad-nauseum about it, as if you are really scared it's going to happen.

Under the current plan, the project needs private funding to be constructed. You say no private money will materialize. So why worry? Why waste your time?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2010 at 3:57 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

...and the tracks, with all their warts, will still be there. Perfection is the enemy of good enough.


Posted by train neighbor, a resident of Ventura
on May 11, 2010 at 10:22 am

To Caroline (about right-of-way through the peninsula)-

The SF to SJ Alternative Analysis can be downloaded here: Web Link
Page 4-4:
"... a nominal width was selected from the typical mainline cross sections:
- Aerial Viaduct – 79 feet
- At Grade – 96 feet
- Open Trench – 96 feet
- Covered Trench/Tunnel – 96 feet

In Palo Alto, they'll need to use a lane or more of Alma for temporary CALTRAIN tracks during construction phase.


Posted by Senor Blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 11, 2010 at 10:36 am

There was a very informative and interesting article about hi speed rail around the world in last Sunday's SF Chronicle.

All of you so-called "experts " should read it.


Posted by Thetruth, a resident of another community
on May 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Yes do read it naysayers and nimbys..open your eyes ..future citizens of PaloAlto will thank you..but then again nimbys and teabags have old age thinking patterns


Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm

HSR = Pipe Dream

We're in California dude. Pass the pipe. Ha Ha.

The entire thing is a house of cards financially. If everyone keeps chipping away at their plans it's fall faster.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm


The SF Chronicle article clearly makes the point that the success of HSR in Japan is dependent on

1/ The very high population density in Japan.
2/ The preexisting extensive local transportation structure of subways, rail, trolleys etc which were built up over 100yrs.
3/ In Japan urban, suburban and satellite communities were planned and built around public rail transportation NOT the automobile.

These are 3 good reasons why HSR would never work in California and why the example of Japan is irrelevant to the CA case.


Posted by thetruth, a resident of another community
on May 11, 2010 at 5:48 pm

This is the most populated state in the USA!! Hell yes it can work here..just because you have a slurb/car mindset does not mean the future is frozen like todays mess..Did you not read what they said..JUST BUILD IT..and you will see the benefits..And we WILL!!


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2010 at 6:12 pm



Wrong

Population density is the issue -- in Tokyo-Yokohama urban area has 35M people.

Much of Japan is mountains and it therefore has a very high coastal population density.

In the US California's population density is way down the list.

DC has 9,581 people per square mile
NJ has 1,171 people per square mile

CA has only 234 people per square mile

The HSR advocates, as usual, are in denial and fantasy,-- that worked to fool the voters last time---one time

Under deposition the facts will come out and HSR is dead and those who deceived the voters will face very serious consequences


Posted by Thetruth, a resident of another community
on May 11, 2010 at 6:41 pm

WRONG again...population density of the ENTIRE state is not a factor its the BayArea and LA plus the big valley cites..NOT those same mountains areas that California has as does Japan..once again its for the future and NO people are moving to the big metro cities for jobs and other things that slurbs like PA dont offer... NIMBYS and naysayers are in denial just like NOV 2008 and Will again be in 2012 when the construction will start...so keep harping nonsense!! As there far more people that cant wait for this system to open for service!!!


Posted by listen to their words..., a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Kishimoto takes credit for the HSRA deciding not to use the berms, and for the use of the Context Sensitive Solutions and advocated the involvment of the community. Who is she kidding? Does she think that she can just say it and we will believe it? Some of us were paying attention then.
She strongly recommended that we vote this monstrosity in. She may have co-founded the community consortium but she did not lead it well. I went to several meetings and she was totally deferring to the HSRA.
She led us down the wrong path, and her hold on reality is very loose. I would never vote for her. I hope others will see through her as well!
I am trying to decide between Josh Becker and Rich Gordon.


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