Assembly passes bill to fund high-speed rail

Proposal to pay for controversial system up for Senate vote Friday

A proposal to fund California's controversial high-speed-rail system rolled through the state Assembly late Thursday afternoon and now heads to the state Senate for possible approval Friday.

The bill, which was the subject of intense criticism and negotiations in the weeks leading up to this week's vote, was unveiled late Tuesday and includes the necessary funding to begin construction on the opening segment of the line in Central Valley as well as improve both ends of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system. The vote was 51-27 and fell largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting the project and Republicans opposing it.

Among the proponents were Peninsula lawmakers Rich Gordon, Jerry Hill and Paul Fong, all Democrats. Though Gordon and Hill had both criticized the project in the past, they ultimately sided with the majority and voted in favor of the budget-trailer bill.

The bill includes $5.8 billion for the "initial operating segment" in the Central Valley and another $1.1 billion for the "bookend" segments, which include the Peninsula.

Gordon lauded the changes that the California High-Speed Rail Authority made to the project in recent months, including the adoption in its April plan of the "blended" approach that Gordon championed along with state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. The approach calls for high-speed rail to share two tracks with Caltrain and would involve electrifying the Caltrain tracks -- a project that the cash-strapped commuter-rail agency has been pursuing for more than a decade.

"The bookends and investments in the Los Angeles and Northern California regions, I think, are very appropriate," Gordon said at the Assembly hearing. "There's also connectivity funds that will help the existing train system.

"I rise in support for this bill and encourage you to vote 'Aye.'"

Other legislators echoed similar sentiments and praised the project for bringing much-needed jobs to California, particularly to the Central Valley region that has been hit particularly hard by unemployment. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, a leading proponent of high-speed rail, alluded to the "tens of thousands of workers who are sitting at home collecting unemployment."

"I say we put California on a fast-track to recovery and pass this measure," Galgiani said.

Galgiani also said that without high-speed rail, California would have to build 12 new highway lanes to meet the state's traffic demand.

Assembly Republicans rejected this view and characterized the project as a badly botched endeavor that the state can ill afford. Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, argued that the 130-mile opening stretch of the line would replace farms, businesses and homes with tracks that wouldn't even be electrified. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, said the legislators "lied to the voters," who approved a $9.95 billion bond for high-speed rail in 2008. At that time, the project's estimated price tag was less than $40 billion. Today, it stands at about $68 billion.

"You lied, and the voters know it," Grove said. "I hope you'll give the voters an opportunity to re-approve this disastrous project when they were lied to in the beginning."

The Assembly's vote is a small victory for Gov. Jerry Brown, a major supporter of the high-speed rail project. The larger obstacle, however, is the Senate, where several Democratic members have expressed reservations about the project. Though the project is unlikely to get any Republican support in the Senate, supporters of high-speed rail have been working hard behind the scenes to secure all the Democratic votes, Palo Alto's high-speed-rail lobbyist John Garamendi, Jr., told the city's Rail Committee Thursday morning.

Palo Alto, which supported the concept of high-speed rail in 2008, has turned against the project in recent years because of an escalating price tag and uncertainty over ridership projections. The city adopted in December as its official stance a call for the project's termination.

Related story:

Bill to fund high-speed rail hangs in the balance (July 5)


Like this comment
Posted by HSR doesn't make sense
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm

What's the assembly's angle here? There's virtually no shred of information anywhere which indicates that this project will be successful. Is the assembly strictly loyal to labor? Or are they of the delusional belief that this project will work?

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Rich Gordon decided to vote with the special interests, and against the wishes of the majority of his district.

Please vote for the Yang in November, and send a message to Rich Gordon.

Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm

It is pretty clear that this project will result in many home seizures and a massive demolition of large part of the community. How could any locally elected official support this?

Is Gordon up for re-election?

I know that Eschoo, Simitian and others attempted to strike a bargain on this "blended" approach which would theoretically prevent seizures. However, who trusts the HRSA? How do we know they'll keep their word?

I'd hate to be Gordon, Simitian or others who support this now only to watch their neighbors perfectly reasonable homes be bulldozed for a train that will never pay for itself.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm

California (the State government) has a long history of not being able to manage large, expensive, projects. The following link is to a list of projects that have crashed and burned under State control--

CA Large/Capital Project Failures:
Web Link

In addition to the failed projects identified in this file, the Courts spent about 500M before their boondoggle project was canned:

Plug Pulled On Pricey State Court Computer System:
Web Link

There is simply no skill set, and no discipline in the State to handle a project of this size. There is simply no way that this, or any future, legislature will be able to provide oversight. Just like the Stem Cell Research project--if these bonds are sold, we can kiss off the money. It will simply disappear into the same black hole of all of the other State-run capital projects.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Can we vote out the entire assembly?

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:47 pm

"Let's spend the money from taxpayers that we don't have on a project that we cannot afford for a project that few people need."

Assembly: "Hip hip hooray! More money to spend today!"


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Mitt Romney wants to take federal programs and give them to the states because he thinks they can manage them better. Wayne Martin says that California has "a long history of not being able to manage large, expensive, projects." On other topics we hear allegations that the city of Palo Alto is unable to bring a project in on budget. Is this perception of governmental incompetence correct, or is it the result of selective vision, short memory and political bias? Is our future better if it is left in the hands of bankrupt and incompetent states rather than a bankrupt and incompetent federal government?

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm

You can vote out all incumbents, but in doing so you must vote in new ones. We have done this before and it has not helped. You are barking up the wrong tree.

Like this comment
Posted by Lyle
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Rich Gordon has made his view regarding the priorities very clear: an ill conceived fraud called high speed rail is far more important than the dilapidated state of California's school system. Funding the HSR boondoggle will strip billions off the top of the CA state budget every year for decades to come, and must be paid first, before anything else because it's borrowed money. Funds that are left over, get parsed out to every other truly worthwhile endeavors, like educating our kids.

Gordon was eager to take the bribe of 'fixing' Caltrain, something to show his constituents what a skilled politician he is. By the way Rich, the plan for HSR on the Peninsula is put two tracks above the 'blended' caltrain system. HSR has never removed the 4 track alignment from their master plan, and when asked, refused to do so saying, 'trust us'. I guess you really are clueless about how HSR will directly impact your constituents.

To the HSR crowd, a few billion of our money thrown around the state in the form of so-called related transportation projects to get a few votes in Sacramento is chump change compared to the hundreds of billions HSR will ultimately swindle from the citizens of this state. Politicians in San Francisco are quivering with delight over the billions they will get to finish the really unnecessary subway that they have started digging even though they never had any funding to finish it, until now. Lets not forget the new transbay terminal in San Francisco too, started years ago explicitly for high speed rail. To say that the fix was not in for HSR years ago would be naive.

Shame on our elected officials. It has always been about the money. The train was the tiny fig leaf covering something too hideous to look at. Simitian has the opportunity tomorrow to do the right thing and vote no. Joe, this is NOT high speed rail done right.

To Rich, and the other democrats in Sacramento, good luck with the teachers unions and very angry parents all over the state in the fall. It's kind of difficult to vote for a pork train, and then go to the tax payers and ask for more money to pay for schools. Thanks for voting to push California schools to the bottom of the national heap. What are you thinking?! Maybe with so many poorly educated people, the HSR authority will be able to hire lots of unskilled workers to keep the train clean, and claim that they are creating lots of jobs. Well done Rich.

Thanks to you I won't be voting democratic for quite some time. How can I with monumentally stupid votes like this?

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2012 at 2:56 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

People should not be angry at, or even disappointed in, Rich Gordon. During the 2010 primary and general election for his seat, he made it very clear that his loyalties were with the San Jose and Central Valley labor unions, over the interests of the district. At campaign events, when HSR came up, he was very open in his belief that the taxpayers owned construction workers jobs, without any qualification about the projects having any merit.

This was well covered in the press during those elections. People who voted for him should not claim to be surprised -- He is only doing what he promised you he would do. And people who voted against him need to accept the will of the majority.

Like this comment
Posted by Booyah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 6, 2012 at 7:36 am

The Democrats know they have this area in the bag. It frees them to ignore this area and focus on the special interest groups that give them money (i.e. unions).

If this area weren't so knee-jerk Democrat, things would be different. How does Palo Alto like being taken for granted? Feels great, doesn't it?

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 6, 2012 at 8:06 am

> Is our future better if it is left in the hands of bankrupt
> and incompetent states rather than a bankrupt and incompetent
> federal government?

The history I have presented in the links above tend to be in hi-tech projects. I suspect that if we were to look at Caltrans, there would be a different conclusion about State management. During the ‘50s, there were projects that built dams and waterways, which would probably be seen as successfully managed.

As to extrapolating the California experience to other states—I am not claiming that failures here in California necessarily imply failures in other states. However, we can look around to see if such failures exist—such as the “Big Dig” project in the Boston area, or cost-overruns in most government-managed projects. My posting really only documents failures here in California.

This begs the question—why are there so many failures. The obvious answer is a lack of project management, and the willingness to detect, and prosecute, fraud—no matter where it exists. There is also consequence to failure for most government employees—including management. Oh, there might be the occasional dismissal, from time-to-time, but there is simply no adequate internal auditing in place at any level of government to catch these problems before they turn toxic.

Add to that the fact that special interest groups can so easily buy state legislators, like Simitian, Gordon and Hill—before long the whole idea of “accountability” in government is simply removed from the equation of self-governance. And that brings us back to this long string of well-documented failures of big-ticket projects here in California. Given that Caltrans will not likely be running this project—it’s difficult to see anything but bush-league management, cost overruns, delays, and massive fraud—with no significant internal auditing to keep these people honest.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

Paul Losch is a registered user.

HSR is the evil twin of 1978's Prop 13.

A flawed taxing law has slowly eroded over 30+ years important local services, most especially education. A flawed transportation proposal will now suck dry the State's ability to invest appropriately in things that benefit the greatest number of people who reside in this state.

Whatever is in the water on the Sacramento River is leading to a horrible expenditure of taxpayers' money. HSR reminds me of the cathedral in Barcelona, Spain that took decades to finally get done. Some things just should not get done.

My take, after attending the public forum in MV a couple months back, and where things are now, is that the HSR management now in place has done a very clever shell game. They tell the Bay Area and SOCAL legislators about electrification of local transit, which I do believe is indicated.

Don't need HSR to electrify local transit.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 6, 2012 at 9:49 am

> A flawed taxing law has slowly eroded over 30+ years
> important local services, most especially education.

California education spending is a far more complicated story that comments like this indicate. Education spending is driven by the Serrano-Priest decision of the early 1970s. The State is responsible for most school district spending, and parcel taxes can be passed to increase local spending if the voters so choose. If the argument is that education spending should not be subject to voter approval—it should be the domain of elected/bought public officials, then perhaps those people who believe in more public spending on public education can make a case for themselves.

Nationally, we spend about 8% of the GDP (perhaps a little more now since the 2008 meltdown) on public education. We get horrible results in most cases—because there is no accountability in the public education process. The same arguments that I made about the lack of accountability in the State’s management of large capital projects can be made in spades where the management of the education system is concerned.

Prop.13 simply turned off one spigot for government revenues. For the most part, the revenues available to the State have grown almost every year since the passage of Prop.13. Unfortunately, there just is no accountability in these government programs, where money management, and results, are concerned.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2012 at 10:41 am

If you build it they will come.

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Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

Palo Alto--- Get on the Train.... The Train is Leaving. :-))

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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

@ Paul Losch,

"Don't need HSR to electrify local transit."

How much would it cost to electrify CalTrain as a standalone project, and how would it be paid for?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From the Economist:

This week the Committee of Public Accounts published its report on the completion and sale of high speed one (HS1), Britain’s only super-speedy rail link, which runs between London and Folkestone to the channel tunnel.

The report concluded that the line will cost taxpayers £4.8 billion; it predicted that the final bill could be double that sum by 2070. The members of the committee concluded that forecasting models and assumptions about the number of passengers who would use the line-and the sums they would be willing to pay-were partly responsible.

Web Link|

Like this comment
Posted by HSR Advocate
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:12 am

It's time we stop thinking about our individual needs and think of what we need for the community and environment. Rich Gordon is right..we need HSR!

My house may be seized as you are so worried about, but you know what...I care more about the future of our planet and want to see HSR and more electric vehicles rather than self centered idiots who care only about their personal needs and expenses. Get a grip...we need to do something NOW to save our environment and planet. Check the weather patterns if you don't believe in global warming. WAKE UP PALO ALTO...

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:18 am

If the Oregon Expressway was up for a vote today - would you vote for it? It seized homes. If Hetch Hetchy was up for a vote today - would you vote for it? It seized homes, land and arguably did the most environmental damage of any state project.

Yet these are two simple example of state projects that have made out current lives significantly nicer.

I support HSR - not blindly but I think this project will make our lives here better.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:19 am

The shills are back.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

@ John:

I can think of quite a few FAILED projects that initially embraced that "build it and they will come" philosophy. Unfortunately, it takes more than "guesses" or, more correctly, "wishful thinking" to make something succeed.

There just isn't enough pressing need for this uber-expensive a time when the state is still Billions of $$$ in the hole.

When our family is in a financial hole, we stop spending as much. We curb our spending until we have the extra money. California legislators, however, always seem to think that the solution is to squeeze more money out of taxpayers to pay for the legislators' "good ideas."

If you have ever been on a farm, you will understand the concept of "over-milking." You can only squeeze so much from a cow until it hurts enough for the cow to kick.

Unfortunately for California residents, our legislators kept taxing us until such high taxes became unpopular. Then, they taxes businesses until it hurt business/jobs. Then, they found other creative sources of "revenue" (aka money from taxpayers). In short periods of time, they raised tuition, fees, tolls and CRVs. They play on the mathematically-challenged via lotteries. They shut down some services while making perpetual concessions to unions. They raised the prices of driver's license, license plates, smog tests, business licenses, and other taxes. They overvalued property to compensate for "loss" of future income from Prop 13 limits...which they hate. They increased state sales and income taxes and limited exemptions.

It is expensive to live in California. People are actually leaving because of it...and many businesses have only remained because of "exemptions" to existing tax codes. The cost of living has less to do with the size of the population than the policies that rule the population.

There are other similar "big" states that are doing quite well (such as Texas) which are among the lowest taxed states in the union. Texas grew so much during the last decade -- with much of the growth coming from individuals/businesses leaving other states -- to the point that they gained FOUR seats in Congress. California remained nearly the same size but should probably have lost a seat or two.

Even with our state in tremendous debt, a group still wants to spend the money that the state and taxpayers don't have on a project that few will actually use. Even when this boondoggle is constructed, it will be so limited in scope that the lowest estimates (so far) have the price of a HSR ticket potentially costing twice the price of a plane ticket. Where is the logic in that?

California needs to finally lay this thing to reset. I can think of more $100 Billion projects that would be more beneficial to California. And, of course, technology is advancing rapidly in terms of green systems. In 30 years, I suspect that most vehicles will be powered by something other than gasoline anyway.

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of University South
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:47 am

This news made my day! Looking forward to hearing of the Senate's approval of this important investment in the future of our state.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:51 am

> we need to do something NOW to save our environment and planet.

What about a global adoption of a one child per family limit, with a goal to reduce the population, over time, to less than 1 billion people by mandating zero children per family, based on criteria that will be introduced by the United Nations, at some time in the future?

Would you endorse this approach to save the planet?

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Yeah, HSR Advocate, I believe you when you say you live in Southgate.

As for Frank, make our lives nicer because we have to take funding away from everything else to do this HSR project? Or jack up taxes because it will never break even?

Or maybe you don't care because you'll be long gone before the choo-choo ever gets going?

Like this comment
Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm

To Really,
"I'd hate to be Gordon, Simitian or others who support this now only to watch their neighbors perfectly reasonable homes be bulldozed for a train that will never pay for itself."

Last I heard Rich Gordon lives in Half Moon Bay.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Too bad peninsula NIMBYs, it just passed the State Senate!

Like this comment
Posted by go go go
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm

HSR is a go. No more whining. Stalling is just going to increase the cost for everyone.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm

FRIDAY AFTERNOON AT 4:57 PM: I want to salute Sen. Joe Simitian for having the courage to go against his own party and oppose this HSR fiasco. That was very impressive, Sen. Simitian. I doubted you would oppose the Brown move, but I was wrong, you did. Bravo to you!

Too bad one more Democratic State Senator didn't have your insight and courage, since Brown won by 1 vote.

I will now vote AGAINST Jerry Brown's income tax initiative in November. He apparently is willing to commit California to building an HSR system and let future generations pay the bill. This is a sorry day for the bank account of the State of California.

P.S. The fight is just beginning against HSR.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm

@John, singing his usual mantra, "if you build it they will come." John, tell it to the people behind the Anglo-French Concorde SST. You really should learn to think beyond mantras.

Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Jerry Brown wants a legacy--the Jerry Brown HSR system.

To put this project before health and education is disgusting. And undemocratic--most voters don't want HSR now. The rules of the game have been changed by people in power.

Like this comment
Posted by Happy
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Thrilled to know that HSR is going forward. I am not a shill as I have no ties to that industry. I am just happy this state is finally moving forward on this and I will get to travel through California on HSR. Great news.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Liberals
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Hey all you Palo Alto liberals. Governor Brown just rubbed your nose in brown.

Like this comment
Posted by galen
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 7, 2012 at 10:13 am

This is so disgusting! Every single person who voted for this fiasco belongs in jail, starting with the criminal Governor Brown! This thing will never be completed. Billions of our dollars are being spent on a project that violates the letter and the intent of the Ballot Initiative that got us into this mess in the first place. This whole thing is based on egregious fraud. They lied to us! Why aren't we sending these miscreants to prison?!

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2012 at 10:53 am


Happy: "I support building this California high speed rail project."

Acquaintance: "I hear you, Hap. But WHY do you support doing so?"

Happy: "[because then] I will get to travel through California on HSR."

Acquaintance: "Good Lord!...It's going to cost a fifth of a trillion dollars to build it and it may well run at a substantial deficit each year."

Happy: "But I want to travel through California on HSR."

Acquaitance: "OK, got it. That's good enough for me."


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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