Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The High-Speed Rail Picture of Dorian Gray

If you looked at all the search engines every day that I do, you will be amazed at an astounding turn around. There is far more high-speed rail opposition than ever.  And, much of it has appeared in the last few months. Below is an example by Jill Stewart in the LA Weekly blog. This is great.

We re-printed Tracy Wood's excellent piece in this blog a day or two ago.  It is getting well-deserved mileage here in Jill's article.   

More and more people are saying what has to be said; time to shut this project down. Among the hundreds of daily articles about high-speed rail in publications in California, the rest of the United States, as well as overseas English language papers such as from China and the UK(!), the dissatisfaction with high-speed rail is growing broadly and rapidly.  

Those supporters who persist in pointing to foreign success are having less success doing so.  Spain has grossly overspent itself. China is running into serious HSR troubles. The UK is confronting major public hostility. Financial difficulties are chasing many other high-speed rail projects around the planet.

In California the project has already wasted a good billion taxpayer dollars with nothing to show for it.  It has already sent real estate prices tanking along and near it's projected routes.  It has disrupted communities north and south, wasted the time of thousands of people devoting their time to trying to understand what this is all about, how they were snookered into voting for this snake oil, and how to stop it.

As we observe this process of the exposition of a bad project, the Oscar Wilde story "The Picture of Dorian Gray" comes to mind.   The moral of the story is a perfect match for the arrogance and vanity of the CHSRA.  While our hero remains his beautiful and pristine but immoral self, his portrait gradually deteriorates into an image of corruption and degeneration. 

Likewise, the high-speed rail video of an elegant blue and yellow train silently whizzing across the countryside conceals the reckless, feckless and incompetent behaviors of the rail authority itself. That elegant train picture now appears, figuratively, to crumble before our eyes. 

The rail authority in California can take an enormous amount of credit for nurturing the contempt for this project nation wide as its own embarrassing reputation has spread far and wide.

There has been ample documentation about this deterioration from a variety of sources, not the least coming from the State Government itself, beginning with the State Senate, the Legislative Analyst's Office, the Inspector General, the State Auditor and most recently the CHSRA peer review committee. They all cited in chapter and verse the sins of omission and commission perpetrated by the rail authority.  

And now, they have a gun-slinger from Germany/France who is doing their 'plundering' for them, Roelof Van Ark.  Welcome to the Wild West, Mr. Van Ark. To put it bluntly, you are too little and too late.  You were hired as a "turn-around" manager, but there's nothing left to turn around.  This project is now on Democratic Party life-support and it's time to pull the plug.

$9 Billion California High Speed Rail Route: The Planning is So Inept That it's Souring Residents from North to South

By Jill Stewart, Tue., Mar. 15 2011 @ 12:57PM

California bullet train: little rooting for the route

Investigative reporter Tracy Wood writes today about the inept, cloaked, and somewhat creepy PR strategy followed by the California High Speed Rail engineers and Parsons Brinckerhoff, who have not followed basic transparency and outreach rules in haughtily pushing for the route -- and the massive land -- the rail will gobble up.

People are furious in Agua Dulce, Alhambra, Buena Park, Palo Alto and Kern County, because the High Speed Rail Authority failed to deal with the problems mucking up its engineers' favored routes. Little problems like schools, historical sites, environmentally sensitive areas, rich farmland and tight communities. How stupid is the rail authority, now awash in taxpayer-approved bond cash? 

According to award-winning journo Wood's report, Parsons Brinckerhoff -- a global engineering firm -- was being allowed to act, ineptly and incompetently, as the PR agent for the project.
Huge mistake. Parsons Brinckerhoff's engineers kept sensitive route issues under the radar, failing to reach out to key landowners and communities along the engineers' favored, but highly controversial, routes.

Woods writes, for the non-profit investigative news agency Voice of OC:

Engineers are accused of failing to work with local officials and organizations while routing noisy trains right alongside schools in Agua Dulce and planning a 75-foot-high track smack through the city of Alhambra. In the Central Valley, farmers worry the project wants to needlessly commandeer valuable farmland near Shafter.

Wow, that is so pointlessly leading with one's chin.

To fix the secrecy/arrogance/incompetence mess it created, about 18 months ago the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) took the PR contract away from the engineers at Parsons Brinckerhoff.

They handed the statewide PR and outreach job to Ogilvy PR. But it's far too late and too little.
Ogilvy has no involvement in regional outreach, only statewide stuff.

In Los Angeles and Orange County, a bunch of engineers with less than peaked interest in community impacts are in charge of community outreach.

So the mess continues, with engineers still in control of information and "outreach" who think that slashing neighborhoods in half and putting a high-decibel train next to a rural school is a math problem.

They've spawned many opponents, like High Speed TrainTalk, and Against California High Speed Rail, and Alhambra123, and Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, which notes that the High Speed Rail Authority can't even get a good review from its industry peers.

Has this California High Speech Rail Authority, with its executives earning huge compensation packages, done anything right yet?

They've got all kinds of federal officials in Washington DC pissed off at California for choosing -- as its first leg of high speed rail -- a desolate section of the Central Valley where there aren't enough tumbleweeds or residents to oppose their route.

California high speed rail officials admit they approved the first leg on a bleak stretch of the Central Valley because engineers face very little local opposition in the area. Unemployment is Detroit-high there, and folks would probably welcome a prison or a slaughter house.

The CHSRA did not, it was made clear, choose to build the first leg there because it was the best place to have a pricey bullet train.

Also quoted by Wood is USC public relations expert Jennifer Floto, a prof who for years worked on major freeway projects with CalTrans. Floto says:

"I hate to use a cliché, but it sounds like they're trying to railroad it (high-speed rail) through."
Next time, maybe California voters will actually read the fine print in bond measures like Proposition 1A.

Proposition 1A created a poorly controlled rail "authority," and then voters handed the authority $9.95 billion of their childrens' taxes. It's all on about Page 30-gazillion, in the fine print of the bond measure that went before voters in 2008.