Friday, July 15, 2011

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is fighting its war with the public on many fronts.

The "High-Speed Rail Wars" used to be fought only on the Bay Area Peninsula.  But, we now know that the California high-speed rail project will begin construction in the state's Central Valley.  And that's where the HSR War has opened a new front.  Those who have studied history will recognize the colonialist and imperial ambitions of the rail authority as it imposes itself on the length of California.  This rail authority had a monthly meeting of the CHSRA Board and staff on Wednesday in Bakersfield in the Central Valley, and here are two articles that give you a good idea about what this war is about.

People who live in the Central Valley are really, really upset with the rail authority.  The residents, business people and farmers are being treated with contempt, not listened to, ignored, and the rail authority is moving rough-shod over them as if they weren't even there.  The impending harm that will be caused, as more and more information becomes available, will be horrendous and very costly.  Those costs to the citizens there are a matter of indifference to the rail authority which has its own agenda.

Here are only two of dozens of articles by reporters from different news media who attended the meeting.  These capture the anger almost to a point of farce.

Valley people are now going through their stages of learning. They are moving past the negotiating stage and are approaching the confrontation and lawsuit stage.  Just as on the Bay Area Peninsula, what is still missing in the Central Valley is the mass public uprising that rejects the imposition of this project on anyone in California. There is still no single rallying cry. As a grass roots movement, the Valley has no single purpose. There is still not the recognition of the inevitable and as yet undeclared costs that will be imposed as the project progresses. As on the Peninsula, the final position of all the residents of these regions must become absolute, unconditional rejection of the project. 

The rail authority is well aware of the lack of funding it faces; that what it has now may be the end of the funding stream from Washington.  That means, given their determination to proceed regardless of common sense and reasonableness, that as much of the costs of construction as possible will be put upon local communities.  Train stations for example.  Also parking structures at train stations.  Possibly grade crossings where roadways now pass over what will be the rail corridor.

The cost burden will surely come for all of us through inevitable tax increases, as much as Republicans oppose them.  The project will continue to exist, with or without federal funding, and will impose a permanent cost burden on the state.  There should be no mistake about that.

CA High-Speed Rail Board meeting almost turns into the Jerry Springer show

frank maccioli, Bakersfield Environmental News Examiner
July 15, 2011 -
The California High-Speed Rail Authority came to Bakersfield and when the day was done it almost looked like the Jerry Springer show.

Kern County's Board of Supervisors chambers was used for the CaHSRA Board meeting yesterday to conduct its regular business, but, most of the day was spent listening to criticism from an unending lineup of disgruntled citizens in a packed, standing room only venue.

The hearing began with Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and Kern County Supervisor Karen Goh welcoming the board and voicing their wholehearted support for the HSR project. They were joined by Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea, Madera County Supervisor Max Rodriquez, and Merced's Mayor Bill Spriggs, who each lauded the project's benefits for the San Joaquin Valley.

The mood turned quickly however when a busload of angry Palmdale residents, including Mayor James Ledford, began complaining that the previously agreed upon route through their community may not be built. Their anger began a couple of months ago when the board decided to revisit a proposed route over the Grapevine to connect Bakersfield with Los Angeles.  Such a route would bypass Palmdale and could lead to lower costs and shorter travel times. That decision left many in Palmdale feeling that an economic rug had been pulled out from under them.

Mayor Ledford reiterated the city's position that the CaHSRA was breaking the law by revisiting the previously dismissed Grapevine route and reminded the Board that Palmdale has filed a lawsuit to stop it. (See previous articles, here and here.)

Referring to the Proposition 1A ballot, the voter initiative that approved HSR and which listed Palmdale as one of the routes, Ledford complained that the Board may be accused of "..bait and switch..." tactics if Palmdale is excluded. He added that the Palmdale project had the support of politicians in other states, including Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. Failure to build the Palmdale link will throw a huge monkey wrench into Palmdale's plans to link up with separate rail projects that will connect Palmdale to Las Vegas, including the private High Desert Express.

He was joined in his criticism by Palmdale Councilman Tom Lackey, City Manager Steve Williams, and many, many others. At times, the line of speakers waiting to be heard stretched from the podium and overflowed into the aisles.

In short, all of the Palmdale speakers were ardent supporters of the HSR project but fervent opponents of the Board's Grapevine decision. All of the speakers were met with loud and boisterous applause by members of the audience.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? Well, they showed up next when a similar large group, consisting of farmers and ag industry citizens, began voicing their own opposition to CaHRSA plans to run new track through their farmland and private homes in Kings County.

Referring to the board as "city slickers" who had no concern for the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens, they demanded that the Board put the train elsewhere, with some saying the project shouldn't be built at all. Repeating a demand to " it right ...," many complained that HSR would destroy the ag industry, their families, and even disrupt cemeteries where their loved ones rested. Some felt that only the wealthy would ride the HSR, a luxury that most of them would be unable to afford.

The mood got uglier when several complained that they were not being given a chance nor enough time to speak. Board Chairman Thomas Umberg, obviously frustrated with the accusations and personal attacks, abruptly adjorned the meeting just as several Kings County residents continued to voice their anger. One of them even approached the Board members as they were getting up to leave, angrily challenging them to respond to their complaints.

Between the angry diatribes of the public the Board did manage to get some business done and heard a status update on the EIR/EIS for the Fresno to Bakersfield route. The HSRA's Jeff Abercrombie summarized the schedule of next steps as follows:

EIR/EIS Notice - by Aug. 12, 2011
Public Comment period - Aug. 15 through Sept. 28, 2011
Recommended Alignment - Nov. 11, 2011
Board Approval - Dec. 1, 2011
Final EIR/EIS - Jan. 2012

The Board was also introduced to the new consulting firm, KPMG, who will be preparing a revised business plan. The new plan, with updated financials and ridership figures, should be ready by Oct. 14, 2011.

Notwithstanding this, the day was most notable for the anger, threats, and animosity displayed toward the Board by the public.  Because this response came from both supporters and opponents of HSR, many who viewed the proceedings were left wondering what the future holds for the success and completion of the entire project.

Continue reading on CA High-Speed Rail Board meeting almost turns into the Jerry Springer show - Bakersfield Environmental News |


In Central Valley, high-speed rail opposition runs deep
July 15, 2011 | Lance Williams

The state’s plan to route the California bullet train through some of the richest agricultural land in the Central Valley has encountered intense and unexpected opposition.

It even roiled last week’s Kings Fair in Hanford, where the lavender “people’s choice” ribbon in the photo contest went to a picture of a bullet train running through a ranch-style home.

Winning photographer Reanna Bergman said she created the image on her computer, combining a publicity photo of the bullet train with a shot of the house in Hanford she shares with her husband and three kids.

As often happens, art was inspired by life: The Bergmans learned recently that the state High-Speed Rail Authority’s right of way goes through their living room. The image sums up her feelings about the situation, she said.

When she entered the photo in the fair, “I didn’t even know if (the judges) would accept it – it’s a collage, or whatever you want to call it,” she said in a phone interview.

“But when I got down there, they were really excited about it, because the King’s Fair people are anti-high-speed rail.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The rail authority presumed that its $45 billion construction project would face environmental and political opposition in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles basin. Rail authority officials chose to build the first segment next year in the valley because they were confident the project would be welcome.

But as a panel of rail experts, called the peer review group, noted recently, when it comes to the bullet train, “local opposition emerges when any route approaches finalization.”

In the valley south of Fresno, the issue is the right of way. Farmers presumed the bullet train would run along the Highway 99 corridor to Bakersfield.

Instead, the route heads due south from the highway, through pastures, orchards and residential portions of Hanford. Also in the bullet train’s path: a series of high-tech dairies that are valued at $100 million, says dairyman Joe Machado, 50, owner of a 1,000-cow dairy that is among those targeted.

Some opponents in Kings County have taken to protest. They turn out at rail authority meetings – yesterday’s was in Bakersfield – and they have a Facebook page, Californians Against High Speed Rail-Kings County.

One anti-rail activist is Frank Oliveira, who with his siblings owns four farms that lie in the bullet train’s path. His protest is inspired by literature – Frank Norris' “The Octopus,” the famed novel of conflict over property rights between 19th-century California farmers and a heartless and rapacious railroad.

As Oliveira notes in “The Octopus Revisited,” a series of essays posted on the Facebook page, Norris’ novel is based on the true story of a land dispute between Hanford-area farmers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. It resulted in the 1880 Mussel Slough incident, a gunfight between farmers and reputed railroad men in which seven died. As Oliveira wrote recently:

It is weird how after 130 or so years, here we are doing battle with the railroad all over again.
What is at stake again are farms that are still the economic engine of this area.
For those of you that know me, you know that I am clearly critical of and opposed to what the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is about to do to the citizens and businesses of Kings County.
The CHSRA's current plan will seize chunks of 311 private farm properties and bring few if any benefits to our community. …
Some of you also know that I am a history buff and I muse sometimes at how history seems to repeat itself.
I am not suggesting that anyone take arms against the CHSRA as the farmers did in 1880.
Please do not call the sheriff yet.
I do believe that now is the time for us to directly battle the CHSRA administratively, legally and politically to protect what is ours, our way of life and our children’s futures.

More protests could be in the offing today in Merced, where state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, is hosting a hearing on the bullet train’s impact on California agriculture.

Cannella "believes high-speed rail has great potential but is concerned that legitimate issues that have been raised were not addressed," said spokeswoman Jessica Hsiang.

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