Tuesday, December 20, 2011

High-Speed Rail: Palo Alto, Congratulations on a job well done. Telling Truth to Power!

John Maynard Keynes famously said: "When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?"

Palo Alto supported the Proposition 1A bond issue before the 2008 elections.  The City Council voted for it unanimously.  In retrospect, we could argue that they were naive, misled, lacked the famous "crap detector," or whatever.  

At last they have come to their senses, after faithfully pursuing various negotiation tools such as 'Context Sensitive Solutions' and creating bureaucratic agendas through the 'Peninsula Coalition of Cities' and other such "stakeholder" vehicles in an attempt to collaborate with the CHSRA.  As it happens, the rail authority was perfectly happy to play that game, along with their deployment of such marketing tools as Open-House, seminars, comment periods and many other such amiable distractions. These were all charades.

The rail authority never had any intention of paying any attention to any of these gestures.  

Finally, Palo Alto learned those harsh lessons. They have now passed a resolution rejecting the rail authority's project and opposing high-speed rail in California, seeking its termination. A few of us wished for this to happen three, four years ago.  Well, better late than never.

Please permit me one minor quibble. Elizabeth Alexis has made a name for herself with substantive research on ridership numbers, thereby exposing the invalidity of the rail authority's endless pumped up but false numbers. These were hyped for marketing reasons, of course.

Whether for tactical reasons, or because she really believes this, Alexis claims, "Do we need high-speed rail in our state? Absolutely." 

How does she know this? She certainly rejects the tiresome and untrue advertising language of the rail authority and their audaciously phantasmagorical claims. Where is the reliable, independent research that makes a compelling case for building HSR, any HSR, in California?  Is she talking about short-haul, commuter-based rail between San Diego and Los Angeles?  Then, I agree with her. It's the second most active transit route in the US.  However, if she means the urgency of connecting the Bay Area with the Los Angeles Basin by inter-city HSR, then I must respectfully but completely disagree.

See two articles,below.
Palo Alto adopts language formally opposing high-speed rail project
By Jason Green
Daily News Staff Writer
Posted: 12/20/2011 05:58:15 AM PST
Updated: 12/20/2011 05:58:20 AM PST

When it comes to putting Palo Alto's formal opposition to the California high-speed rail project in writing, longer is better.

That's what the city council decided Monday in adopting language that calls on the state Legislature to abandon the $100-billion undertaking.

The council's Rail Committee was tasked with drafting a position, as well as more than a dozen guiding principles for the project if it isn't nixed. The panel, however, was split, with Larry Klein and Gail Price favoring brevity and Pat Burt and Nancy Shepherd preferring depth.

Presented with two competing proposals, the full council opted for the more detailed statement.

"It's important ... they understand our reasoning behind it," said Council Member Greg Scharff, adding that he typically falls in the "shorter is better" camp. "It's not just Palo Alto making a declarative statement."

The position drafted by Burt and Shepherd reads in part: "The city of Palo Alto believes that the high-speed rail project should be terminated for the following reasons: 1. The current project fundamentally contradicts the measure presented to voters under Prop. 1A in 2008. 2. The business plan is fatally flawed and not credible."

It is backed by a list of discrepancies between the current project and the one approved by voters three years ago.

"Since the revised (high-speed rail) business and funding plans do not meet the projected ridership, fare, job creation and other significant requirements, the city believes that the voters were not given accurate information during the 2008 election to make an informed decision on a (high-speed rail) project for the state of California," the statement concludes.

By contrast, Klein and Price produced a one-sentence explanation: "The city believes that the state should terminate the (high-speed rail) project since it's too expensive, has no credible funding plan, is based on deeply flawed and unreliable data, and the (high-speed rail) project was put before voters under Prop. 1A on the basis of serious, material representations."

Mayor Sidney Espinosa said the lack of depth was problematic. "It seemed so short it would leave people with questions."

Price ultimately voted with the majority to adopt the longer statement, noting that it was more important to formally register her opposition to the bullet train project. Klein was absent Monday.

"I still think briefer is better," Price said.

Palo Alto resident Bill Nugteren, however, criticized both statements as elitist. Instead, he urged the council to adopt a position that establishes its objections but also recognizes the value of high-speed rail.

"We are, in my assessment, 50 years late in building high-speed rail," Nugteren told the council.

Palo Alto calls for 'termination' of high-speed rail
City Council votes 8-0 to take its strongest position yet against $98.5 billion project
by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly Staff
Uploaded: Monday, December 19, 2011, 11:54 PM   
In a dramatic reversal from its position three years ago, the Palo Alto City Council on Monday night (Dec. 19) adopted as the city's official position a call for termination of California's beleaguered high-speed-rail project.

With its 8-0 vote, the council took its most extreme stance to date against the project, which has been gradually galvanizing the community and disillusioning city officials since 2009. The new position, which the council voted to add to its guiding principles for high-speed rail, was prompted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority's recently released business plan, which showed the project's price tag more than doubling from what was presented to the voters three years ago. The project's completion date was also extended from 2020 to 2033.

The vote, while significant, is hardly surprising. The council had urged voters in 2008 to support high-speed rail but has gradually turned against the project as questions began to emerge about the rail line's design, ridership projections and funding plan. Last year, the council took a position of "no confidence" against the rail authority. It has also decided to join Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of nonprofit groups in a lawsuit that challenges the rail authority's environmental analysis.

The council's rail committee unanimously recommended earlier this month that the council go a step further and call for the project's termination, though members split over the exact wording the city should adopt to support this position. Committee Chair Larry Klein, who was absent Monday night, and Councilwoman Gail Price advocated for a short paragraph saying that the state should terminate the high-speed-rail project "since it's too expensive, has no credible funding plan, is based on deeply flawed and unreliable data." The paragraph also asserts that the project was brought before the voters in 2008 "on the basis of serious, material misrepresentations."

But the council on Monday chose a longer statement penned by Councilman Pat Burt and Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd. Though their statement, like Klein and Price's, called for the project's termination, it provides a fuller explanation for the city's opposition.

Shepherd said Monday that she still believes America needs high-speed rail. But she maintained that the project the council and city voters supported three years ago is no longer the one on the table.

In 2008, the rail authority had estimated that the cost for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line would be less than $40 billion. The business plan that the rail authority released last month showed the price tag climb to $98.5 billion.

"This particular project as it's going right now is not what I voted for in 2008," Shepherd said. "At this point in time, it's important that our community understand that it's not the same project."

The position adopted by the council states that the city "believes that the High Speed Rail project should be terminated" and that the project in its current form "fundamentally contradicts the measure presented to the voters under Proposition 1A in 2008." 

That vote, the council's statement asserts, relied on "grossly understated construction costs," "understated fares and overstated ridership" and a requirement that the new system would be operating without a government subsidy.

"Since the revised HSR Business Plan and Funding Plans do not meet the projected ridership, fare, job creation, and other significant requirements, the City believes that the voters were not given accurate information during the 2008 election to make an informed decision on an HSR project for the state of California," the new guiding principle states.

Price argued, as she has at rail committee meetings, that when it comes to guiding principles, shorter is better.

"There will be ample opportunities now and in the future to provide supporting detail in letters, statements and reports to the High-Speed Rail Authority and state and federal legislators," Price said, adding that a shorter statement would give the city more flexibility.

But her colleagues all agreed that the city's position is dramatic enough to justify a fuller explanation. Mayor Sid Espinosa said he expected the statement to be even longer and called the Burt/Shepherd statement a good compromise that has "more gravitas" than the shorter version championed by Klein and Price. Councilman Greg Scharff agreed.

"Typically, simpler and shorter may have a lot of value to it, but in this case we are making a bold statement," Scharff said. "It is important that as soon as other people read this, they understand our reasoning behind it.

"It's really important to set forth what the reason is so that people understand it and not just say that it's Palo Alto making a declarative statement that we don't support it."

Price ultimately joined her colleagues in adopting the longer version.

The Monday vote illustrates the dramatic shift in the council's position toward the high-speed-rail project and underscores Palo Alto's status as the project's leading opponent. It came at a time when the project is facing a storm of scrutiny at both the state and federal levels.

Last week, several members of the U.S. Congress vehemently criticized the rail authority's funding plan, which relies largely on federal grants and on $11 billion in private investment. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, predicted that the project will be a disaster and said it is "imploding every day." He blasted the project for its cost overruns and questioned the rail authority's choice of a Central Valley segment as the line's starting point.

The Dec. 16 committee hearing also featured testimony from Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of the Palo Alto group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design. The group was among the first to flag problems with the rail authority's ridership methodology and had over the past two years criticized the authority for faulty cost estimates and a lack of transparency. In her testimony at the hearing, Alexis described California's project as "fool's gold" and slammed the rail authority for relying too much on consultants and for low-balling previous cost estimates.

"Do we need high-speed rail in our state? Absolutely," Alexis told the committee. "But the train we're on is on the wrong track, it costs too much and it delivers too little."

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