Monday, June 27, 2011

The Well-Oiled Public Misinformation Bureau of the California High-Speed Rail Authority

The CHSRA has been in a bunker-defensive mode from the beginning.  They have been attacked repeatedly for many reasons, not telling the truth being only one of them.  And, as a former president famously said, "Here they go again."  

Van Ark refutes the non-partisan Legislative Analysts' Office report.  He, or the CHSRA Board, in fact refute everything said by anyone that calls the rail authority's failings and mismanagement to our attention.  

Not only the LAO, but the Inspector General was wrong.  The State Auditor was wrong. The Legislature -- Simitian and Lowenthal -- are wrong.  They even managed to take their own critical peer review committee, which was also wrong of course, and fold it into their own efforts to manage public information sterilized of any admissions of impropriety. Oh, and the Berkeley University analysis of their ridership study disaster was also wrong.  

Wait, there's more.  And wrong are over 70, count them, 70 leading financial and economic experts, under the guidance of William Grindley, who documented the financial chaos that would result if this project continues.  Van Ark says, though not in so many words, "Who are you going to believe; me, or your own lying eyes?"

One of the 20th century "inventors" of propaganda devised the concept of telling the same lie so persistently that it begins to sound like the truth.  And another technique is to smear the critics in the effort to discredit them.  The rail authority is not so much an authority on rail as it is an authority on the management of mis-and dis-information. They function mostly as a public relations job-shop that puts out false advertisements to sell its train to a gullible public. 

Even as they improvise and wing it from one day to the next, making up their strategy and plans as they go along, the message to us is that they know what they are doing.  We should trust them to "do it right."

A lot of the blame for this goes not only to the CHSRA, but to the California voters who have been obligingly deprived of a solid education that teaches us how to analyze and think critically.  We suffer from over-developed tummies and under-developed "crap detectors." 

Van Ark: Implementing recommendations would end project
Rail CEO responds to critical report
By Seth Nidever and Kevin Kennedy Sentinel Reporters |
Posted: Monday, June 27, 2011 11:30 am

Response of the California High-Speed Rail Authority to LAO report

The CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority has responded to a critical report issued by the state Legislative Analyst's Office last month, calling the study flawed and saying legislative action on its recommendations would end the rail project and jeopardize almost $4 billion in federal funding.

In a letter sent last week to state Senate and Assembly leaders, Authority CEO Roelof van Ark called the LAO's recommendations "drastic" and said they would "effectively end the largest infrastructure project in our state's history."

"The LAO has made several observations and drastic recommendations which would result in irreparable harm to this project," said van Ark. "We are also concerned that the LAO in this instance neither consulted with the High-Speed Rail Authority, nor apparently with high-speed rail experts. Clearly this untimely report threatens the continuation of this important project."

Eric Thronson, the policy analyst who wrote the LAO report, said his agency did meet with the authority.

"That [what Van Ark said] is 100 percent untrue," Thronson said.

Thronson also took particular issue with an assertion by van Ark that newspaper editorials called the report "just politics."
"That is one of the things we have a very serious problem with," Thronson said. "That [claim] is ridiculous and unreasonable. Our office is well-known to be fair and balanced and not political. For anyone to imply that we are politically motivated is very insulting."

The 28-page LAO report, issued May 10 and titled "High Speed Rail is at a Critical Juncture," harshly criticized the authority and made a number of sweeping recommendations to the state Legislature, including:

-Rejecting the authority's $185 million budget request and restricting funding to $7 million to cover administrative tasks.

-Renegotiating the terms of federal rail funding mandates to allow more flexibility.

-Reconsidering the decision to start the project in the Central Valley and instead considering other segments in urban areas with higher ridership.

-Shifting the day-to-day responsibility for the project away from the authority to Caltrans

The report by the LAO, a nonpartisan office that provides fiscal and policy information and advice to the state Legislature, also said the authority lacks proper governance, that future funding for the project is "highly uncertain," and the Legislature lacks enough information to make "critical multi-billion-dollar decisions about the project that it will soon face."

Van Ark responded in detail to the four key recommendations. He noted the Legislature has already approved the rail authority's funding request, making the recommendation to strip funding moot. He did say that if funding cuts are implemented, it would cause the loss of talented consultants because they would be shifted to high-speed rail projects in other states.

He said officials with the Federal Rail Administration have issued a "resounding no" to a request for more flexibility. He said altering the authority's role and giving project responsibility to Caltrans would threaten the project schedule and give the public less transparency.

Van Ark also disagreed strongly with suggestions that the first leg of the project start outside the Central Valley.
"To suggest beginning the construction of a high-speed rail system in the urban ‘end sections' shows a misunderstanding of what high-speed rail is all about and how high-speed rail is developed," said van Ark.

He said the urban sections are not "real" high-speed rail because the trains travel at a maximum speed of 90-125 mph rather than 220 mph. Starting in the relatively flat Central Valley would also allow the trains to be tested and proven prior to their use in other U.S. high-speed rail projects.

"No other test possibility exists for real high-speed rail in the whole of the USA," van Ark said.

Thronson said that doesn't take into account the financial situation.

"It may come down to the funding question: Do you believe we're going to get significant funding from somewhere or not?" he said. "Our office has concluded that is highly uncertain. If we are only going to spend $6 [billion] to $6.5 billion, there may be a better way to spend that money."

The LAO is not planning to respond to the van Ark letter or issue any additional high-speed rail recommendations, Thronson said, unless asked to do so by the Legislature.

The reporters can be reached at 583-2432 or 583-2423.

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