Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The newest question about HSR is, can they get away with it?

A great historical comparison by Dan Walters.  The current conflict between the CHSRA and all of us in their way, such as those of us on the Peninsula and in the Central Valley, has historical precedents.  As Walters describes it, guns were involved and a number of people got killed.

I'm assuming that things will never have to get that far in the current debacle, but I do believe that at some point, civil disobedience and protests in the streets will need to be mobilized.  This HSR project is not yet merely another infrastructure add-on to a highway, or extension of some railroad track.  This is the single most expensive infrastructure project to be contemplated in the US. Big dollars bring on big greed and big determination.

And by this, I mean only the 800 mile California project, not the national program which will, if ever built, cost several trillion dollars.  The state project, for well over $100 billion, realistically, is intended to serve -- they say, 40 million annual riders.  It will be many, many less than that.  That means, the capital development costs of this HSR project will amortize some time around never.

But, that isn't what Walters column is about.  It's about the fact that a large number of people in the Central Valley are going to have great harm done to them.  Loss of businesses, farms, homes, and income, cutting through a wide swath of the Central Valley.

They are angry now.  They are going to become a lot angrier as next September gets closer.  That's when construction is going to start. Will they take to the streets with torches and pitchforks? Will the rail authority have to call out the State Police to shove its project down our throats?

But, here's the real problem.  They only have about $6 billion at their disposal to start this construction, and when it's gone, it's gone, and there will be no more.  Then what?  All those gratuitous sacrifices made by so many citizens will have been for naught.  

Well, not entirely.  It will make a lot of politicians, like Jim Costa and Cathleen Galgiani, happy. It will keep the HSR bureaucracy busy and on salary.  It will give many lobbyists the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Washington sucking up for more dollars to waste in California. 

Let's be clear.  The state has not yet seen the cumulative anger that's piling up north and south.  This, the second decade of the 21st century, and we can see populations no longer willing to be trampled on by self-serving politicians.  The Arab Spring will translate into the new America with a slogan admonition to the Government; Don't Tread on Me!

Dan Walters: California bullet train feud echoes old conflict

It's doubtful whether members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, who voted this month to pursue an alternative route through Kings County for a north-south bullet train, have ever heard of the Mussel Slough Tragedy, even though it was a seminal event in the state's history.

If they had, they might not have done what they did.

On May 11, 1880, a long-simmering conflict between the Southern Pacific Railroad and local farmers over changes in the railroad's route and its seizure of land from homesteaders escalated into a shootout that left seven men dead.

It became a national cause célèbre, especially after being recounted in Frank Norris' muckraking novel "The Octopus," and fueled a nascent populist movement in California that eventually became a rebellion against the railroad's control of state politics.

The Mussel Slough Tragedy is commemorated with a small historical marker a few miles northwest of Hanford, the Kings County seat that is named after a Southern Pacific official. And by an almost eerie happenstance, that marker is virtually adjacent to the new bullet train alignment.

The agency ginned up the new route west of Hanford because of mounting opposition to a route east of the city, but the shift has not placated the local critics. The county has become ground zero of rural resistance to the bullet train, just as it was the hotbed of opposition to the Southern Pacific's high-handed ways.

"Kings County is first up on this," Kole Upton, a San Joaquin Valley farmer who's active in Preserve Our Heritage, an anti-bullet train group, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week.

Kings County residents and politicians complain that the CHSRA has drawn routes through the county without regard to local impacts. Farmers have been especially critical, saying that construction of the line would take their land, force them to move or make farming virtually impossible.

Greg Gatzka, a Kings County representative, told the committee that local residents had received "deplorable treatment," that "impacts (on farmers) are not addressed," and that CHSRA agents threaten to seize land by eminent domain if owners are not willing to sell.

The agency has denied that it's mistreating Kings County, but Kings has sued, citing the legal issues raised by the Legislature's budget analyst, Mac Taylor. The suit alleges that as designed, the system would violate Proposition 1A, the ballot measure that authorized its construction and approved $9.95 billion in state bonds to finance it.

The parallels between the events leading to the Mussel Slough Tragedy and today's wrangling over the bullet train are uncanny. They settled the former with guns, while the latter will be fought out in Congress, the Legislature and the courts.

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Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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