Friday, February 18, 2011

Lowenthal wants to replace the CHSRA with professionals

Be careful what you ask for. Here's a discussion about the intention to move the high-speed rail project in California from management by the CHSRA to a different agency and mangaged by more professional officials. This is from the LA Times blog.

If State Senator Alan Lowenthal was successful in this quest for off-loading the current California High-Speed Rail Authority Board which is attached to the Governor's office, and the project placed in the hands of the Department of Business, Transportation and Housing, then what?  Would we then say, wow, this is so much better and now we'll get the high-speed rail system we really want?

That raises a critical question. How many of us want the train, and how many don't? When I say, "want the train," it could mean "want the train" with your specific conditions.  If the train's route met all your conditions, would you want this train in California?  If it didn't come up the Bay Area Peninsula, would you want the train?  If it went across the Bay and Altamont Pass, would you want the train?  If it came on the Caltrain Corridor, but in a trench, would you want the train? No? How about a tunnel? Then would you want it?

This blog is dedicated to the proposition that high-speed rail is bad for California UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.  There can be no "right" way to build it. If for no other reason than it costs far too much. Money spent on this project should -- no, must -- go instead to education. It is that simple.

There is enough data, and more coming in each day, that makes the undesirability of this train ever more clear.  So, we need to do some serious soul searching.  Even if Senator Lowenthal is successful in re-locating responsibility for the construction and operation of HSR, will that satisfy our needs?

Once relocated and expressions of our gratitude subside, will HSR be satisfactory?  Will we have other reasons to complain?

That will be much more difficult, because the assumption will be that our conditions have been met by this re-location of management.  Further complaining by our colleagues will be fruitless and we will be dismissed as cranky perpetual complainers.

So, to that question about this relocation meeting our needs,  I say an emphatic NO. I believe that it is the Republicans in Congress who are on the right track to terminate this project at the financial source. Anything less will produce misery and stunningly high costs to each and every one of us.  We will regret our accommodations with high-speed rail forever. 

State lawmaker calls for replacing bullet-train board with members having more 'specific expertise'

February 18, 2011 |  1:05 pm

The leadership structure of the agency charged with building California’s 800-mile high-speed rail system would be completely overhauled under legislation introduced Friday by a key state senator. 

Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) wants to replace all current board members at the quasi-independent California High-Speed Rail Authority and move the operation directly under the business branch of state government.

Lowenthal, a former chairman of the Transportation Committee, has criticized what he sees as a lack of accountability at the agency, which has been the subject of several critical audits in recent years. The authority is slated to receive billions in state and federal money and begin work next year on a $43-billion section of the project that would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains traveling up to 220 miles per hour.

Among other things, the legislation would require a new crop of board members to have a range of experience in areas such as construction law, financing, engineering, environmental policy and local government. The rail agency also would be brought under the umbrella of the governor’s secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing.

Prospects for passage were not immediately clear.

“The high-speed rail project is the most complex transportation project ever undertaken by the state,” Lowenthal said. “As a supporter, I believe the project would be better served if the board members had specific expertise.”
Authority board members and a spokesman were not immediately available for comment.

In the past, the agency has defended its efforts, saying its tradition of operating with a lean staff and reliance on outside contractors has made it effective and agile.

Current board members include an array of influential former state and federal officials, including former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, former U.S. Rep. Lynn Schenk, former Assemblyman Tom Umberg and David Crane, a top financial advisor to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Lowenthal’s bill also would set new ethics guidelines. Board appointees and new agency employees would be banned from serving if they received substantial income from a project contractor in the previous two years. Board members also would not be allowed to take a job with a contractor for at least two years after leaving office.

“It’s common sense that members or employees of the authority do not have financial ties to companies doing business with the Authority,” Lowenthal said.