Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The story of the HSR food fight in Fresno, and who is going to lose

As you know by now, there was a meeting in Fresno, in the Central Valley of California, this morning.  Several Congressional Representatives held a hearing on HSR and other transportation issues pertaining to national as well as California's HSR situation. 

As we said in prior blog entries, the CEO of the CHSRA, Roelof Van Ark, set out to pack the room with his supporters and had Parsons and other contractors work to keep the riff-raff, like us opposers, away.  They even orchestrated a rally outside with people carrying signs.  Both sides shouted at each other.  

The attached article from the Fresno Bee sums it up, except my sources told us that when people stood up at end, as a kind of straw vote pro and con about HSR, it was roughly half and half, not 90% in favor.

Frankly, none of this is that interesting. As John Mica put it rather succinctly, "I'm not getting into the local food fight outside on the high-speed rail project,"  That sums it up pretty well.  What's been going on in Sacramento and elsewhere at the state and local levels have been not much more than food fights. 

Here are the California state basics.  The California High-Speed Rail Authority, attached to the Governor's office, was created to promote the concept of a high-speed train for California, from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  The group doing this have been back-room politicians famous for deal making and self-enhancement.  They reek of conflict of interest and other behaviors that have invited Legislative wrist slapping repeatedly. 

Now, what's really important about all this is that California is a state about as blue (that's Democratic!) as it can get.  The Dems. dominate the Legislature and the state just elected Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. He, by the way, has been involved in the early stages of the HSR fantasy creation.

And, as I've been saying -- nearly forever -- the Republicans oppose HSR and the Democrats favor it, each for their own, ideological reasons. Neither side can understand a single word the other side is saying.

Fresno appeared on the horizon because the Federal Railroad Administration, a sub-set of the US Department of Transportation, kept shoving ARRA Stimulus funds at California, which is favored by our President who listens to Pelosi, Boxer and Feinstein. 

However, since California doesn't have a clue about how to pay for this unaffordable rail project, now estimated to cost $65 billion, and probably twice that when reality hits the fan, the FRA decided that California should use all the federal funds to start the project in the cheapest, least controversial section, the Central Valley. Do you see how this is starting to come together?

That's why Mica had to hold a hearing in Fresno.  Because even the Central Valley, where Fresno is located, is now challenging the many stupidities of this project.  (Side note: Agriculture is one of California's major cash cows.  HSR promises to harm a lot of valuable farm land as well as precious water rights. See?)  And, there are a number of Republican Congressionals that come from the Central Valley (in a very Democratic state).  And those Congressionals agree with all the other Republicans in Congress that HSR is a dumb idea that the US cannot afford.

So, CEO Van Ark rallied his HSR support (if not illegally, then certainly unethically), consisting of people already working for the rail authority or expecting to work for the rail authority to come to this meeting to shout down the objectors.  And John Mica didn't want to hear any of it.

That's why it's an irrelevant food fight.  Because, despite all this sound and fury, no decisions will be made in California.  The real decisions will be made in Washington. It's beginning to look like those decisions will not be favorable to the HSR project in California, and that's why these rail authority guys are now so panicked.  How would you feel if you were about to lose control over $100 billion dollars?
Fresno rail debate derailed at hearing
Posted at 03:00 PM on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee

Outside the University of California at Merced's Fresno Center on Shaw Avenue, competing rallies Tuesday alternately touted the economic benefits of the state's proposed high-speed rail project and derided it as a boondoggle.

But when four congressional representatives started a meeting inside, the chairman made clear he wasn't interested in hearing about the project or debating its future in California.

"I'm not getting into the local food fight outside on the high-speed rail project," said Florida Republican John Mica.

Instead, Mica -- who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- said he came to Fresno to hear about a wide array of surface transportation-related needs as his committee works on a long-term reauthorization of the nation's surface transportation programs.

After close to two hours of hearing about streamlining regulations and improving the ability to export San Joaquin Valley agricultural products through the Port of Oakland, Mica turned the meeting over to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, who is another member of the committee.

Denham called on two Valley agriculture activists to speak.

Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, and Madera County farmer Kole Upton blasted the state's High Speed Rail Authority for poor communication with farmers and ranchers and said the project would depress rural land values, damage agricultural infrastructure and destroy 40,000 acres of prime farm land.

Then, as the meeting was drawn to a close, Fresno County Supervisor Susan Anderson rose to speak, and addressed the need for high-speed rail.

"We want to encourage you to really think big about the next generation," she said. "We want to make sure you are hearing us on this issue."

She then asked everybody in the audience who supports high speed rail to stand up. Around 90% of those present stood.