Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The long shadow of high-speed rail spreads over the Central Valley

That'll teach me to turn my back, go away and be off-line. I missed so much that it looks almost impossible to catch up.  Anyhow, here are a number of recent items pertaining to Kern County in the Central Valley of California.  That's where the high-speed rail authority intends to start construction before September of 2012.

In the face of overwhelming reality that says not to do this -- Do Not Build This Train -- it makes one really angry to see the relentless indifference, arrogance, and underhandedness of the California High-Speed Rail Authority and its chief henchman, Roelof Van Ark. . . . .as they grind ahead despite their casual dismissal of a suddenly announced enormous cost increase.

That cost increase doubles the price of running about 100 miles of corridor in the Central Valley, from over $7.1 billion to $13.9 billion just for laying track from almost Merced to almost Bakersfield.  

The rail authority waves its collective hand and suggests that this was to have been expected. Well, they're right.  Some of us have been expecting it and we are not through expecting.  We anticipate many more such cost leaps as they get closer to actual construction.  Then, just wait for the bids to come in.

AND, once construction begins, we will be in for monthly surprises as one unexpected expense after another surfaces.  Many of us in California remain in total denial about this.

If you having been tracking this "TRANSFORMER" as it lumbers and smashes its way into California, you will have seen the predictable cost increases, which started, before you even heard of this project, at around $25 billion, rose to $33, then $43, now $66, and we are far from finished.  Professor Emeritus of Economics, Alain Enthoven, projects well over $200 billion, which includes all the bells and whistles, delivery charges, insurance and interest.  Is this not the Great Train Robbery?

The fact is, the rail authority has just started the bid process with a $40 million contract offer to mark off the rail corridor, or right of way (ROW).  They are on very shaky legal grounds here, since they have no certified EIS/EIR and only the most sketchy engineering designs in hand.

What they are doing -- please pay attention here -- is to "mark" their territory as quickly as they can, well before they can dig the first shovel of dirt.  They are staking their claim, as if this were the 1848 gold rush all over again. They intend to do this on the Caltrain corridor as well with the help of many of our elected officials. 

Call the high-speed rail project the "Rape of the Central Valley." And, everyone in the Central Valley, regardless of how much they oppose this hugely destructive project, will be paying for this project through the nose for generations.  So will everyone else in California.

It is not yet clear to most Californians, especially those not close to the project rail route, how much this project will impact them.  The money drain to the state will be immense and permanent.  It will be felt by ALL OF US!  That means, dollars spent on the train will not be available for other things, like, for example, the state and local court systems that are undergoing radical transformation due to extreme budget slashing. This is slowing down the Justice System, a fundamental foundation of American Democracy, profoundly.  It's starting already. 

No justice for you? Tough! The train comes first.  No decent classrooms or enough teachers for your kids?  Tough. The rail people need the money to condemn farm land and compensate the farmers at low market values, whether they want to give up their multi-generational farms or not.

First, please watch a good video on YouTube made by Kern County locals. It's not slick and flashy as it would be if it was made by the high-speed rail authority with our tax dollars, if you see what I mean.  

These are not cranky NIMBY complainers who are being inconvenienced.  These are people whose very lives, and the lives of their children, are going to be permanently upended and whose livelihood is going to be severely disrupted. 

The story is reminiscent of the vast construction projects in China where hundreds of thousands of people are cast out of their villages and re-settled elsewhere, totally arbitrarily.  In the Central Valley, in California, in the United States, there are far fewer people affected, just as there will be far fewer train riders. But then, this is the United States, is it not? This is not China!  We don't do such things in this country, do we?

Do I need to add that this is taking place at a time of great unemployment in the Central Valley? Furthermore, is it not yet clear that most of the jobs that HSR will be creating will come from outside of California?  Have you ever seen what automatic track laying machines look like and how few people it takes to operate them?

Let's say that they actually go ahead and build this train through the Valley. What will be the consequences?  Urban sprawl following the rail corridor.  Shopping malls and low cost housing developments. Severely increased vehicular traffic and a spreading web of roads.  In short, HSR will change the face as well as the substance of California, and not in a good way.

And, to tell this story in other words, here's an article from AmericanStewards. To remind you, California is in deep financial doo-doo and one of the great cash cows this state has is its enormous agricultural output.  That's something no smart person would tamper with. But, we are talking about the California High-Speed Rail Authority and most Democratic state politicians.

High Speed Rail in California

News and Updates | 
August 10, 2011 | 
Margaret Byfield --

With the promise of Obama Stimulus money, the California High Speed Rail Authority (Authority) has been working quickly to finalize plans for a Bullet train that would eventually connect San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.  Their expedited plans bring the new corridor right through the heart of California’s Central Valley, also known as the bread basket of the world.

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 1A for $9.95 billion that required any new construction for a high speed rail to follow existing transportation corridors like major highways and/or rail lines.  Instead of selecting one of the routes within or near existing transportation corridors, the Authority is pursuing a route right through the heartland of one of America’s most productive agriculture valleys.

Ironically, Saveur Magazine, a high end cooking periodical, just featured the California Central Valley in its August/September edition, calling it the “Valley of Abundance.”  They write, “California’s Central Valley is the most productive agricultural region on Earth; it’s also just a great place to eat.”

With the rail will come growth, and given time, the Central Valley will be overrun by homes and pavement instead of almond tree groves, dairy herds, cattle ranches and feedlots, and hundreds of varieties of fruit and vegetable crops.

Kings County has taken the lead and required the Authority to coordinate their environmental study.

The “Preserve Our Heritage” organization is helping the areas School Districts and Conservations Districts insist the Authority coordinate their plan with them.  Last week, Kings County Supervisors mailed a scathing petition to the Federal Railroad Administration requiring approval for the study to be withheld until proper coordination with the local government has been fulfilled.

In addition to Kings County, Chowchilla Union High School Board of Trustees decided to jump into the fight by sending their first coordination demand letter to the Authority.  Soon, three more school districts will follow Chowchilla’s lead in demanding coordination, reminding us of the fight we [American Stewards] led between the folks in five small towns and their respective school districts with the Texas Department of Transportation over the Trans-Texas Corridor.  And, we all know how that turned out.

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