Tuesday, April 10, 2012

California High-Speed Rail: When is enough, enough?

If you haven't heard about this yet, it is good news.  The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is going to take a hard look at the California high-speed rail project.

The Chairman of this committee is Congressman Darrell Issa from California.  He's been fully briefed already about what this project is really all about.  

He wrote a letter to CHSRA Board Chairman Dan Richard, asking him to get ready for these hearings, the first step being to cease and desist from harming any documentation under any circumstances.  No shredding of the truth, in other words.  See: http://images.politico.com/global/2012/04/calihsr.html

So, let's review all the agencies, both state and federal, that have and are going to conduct a review of this project.  Those that have already done so have found this project severely deficient and, in several cases, call for its termination. All this has been amply documented with reports and news articles on those reports.  We have covered most everything on this blog.

1. The Senate Committee and Sub-Committee on Transportation and Housing. Chairman is Alan Lowenthal who has been an extremely articulate critic of this project since before th 2008 elections, which put the project on the California map. Senator Joe Simitian also serves on the Committee and Chairs the Sub-Committee. He also has been highly critical.  Well before the '08 elections, Lowenthal issued a report demanding answers to fifteen questions that were seriously doubtful.

2. The State Legislative Analysts' Office

3. The State Inspector General.  Governor Brown closed down that office soon after taking assuming power. But not before the IG had the opportunity to examine and condemn the HSR project. 

4. The State Auditor, who has reviewed the rail authority twice and found them severely wanting and conducting very sloppy book-keeping with millions falling through the cracks.

5. The California High-Speed Rail Authority's Peer Review Group.  It is their job to analyze the rail authority's agenda and financial plans for efficacy.  They are among the more critical and recommend that project go no further without a major overhaul.

6. The Federal Government Accountability Office

7. The Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

While it is appropriate to wait until these last two federal agencies on this list produce their analysis and findings, we have already accumulated so much information and informed judgements about the lack of worthiness of this project, that continuing it flies in the face of all the evidence.

Under these circumstances, a major analysis and review should be promptly convened and conducted by the State Legislature before any funding is provided, even if already solicited by Governor Brown for the amount of $2.3 billion.  This all goes well beyond merely a budgetary review.  

We need to have the Legislature look at the project in its entirety and examine its merits and lack thereof.  Far too many accusations have been levelled at the rail authority and its contractors by official bodies to permit this project to continue without a comprehensive investigation down to the smallest level of detail.

The people of California have the duty and right to ask for nothing less.

Below, please find an article from the Los Angeles Times about this new Congressional investigation.  

Please find the letter that Chairman Darrell Issa sent to CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard on this web-site:


Congressional panel launches probe of California's high-speed rail project
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wants to look into possible conflicts of interest and how backers plan to spend billions in federal funds.

By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
April 10, 2012

A congressional committee has launched a wide-ranging examination of the California high-speed rail project, including possible conflicts of interest and how the agency overseeing it plans to spend billions of dollars in federal assistance.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), notified the California High-Speed Authority about the review Monday and ordered the agency to preserve its documents and records of past communications.

Committee members say they want to ensure that tax dollars are being spent appropriately and check for possible conflicts of interest involving rail officials and contractors. They also plan to determine whether a large government commitment to the bullet train would siphon federal tax dollars away from other important transportation projects.

"California high-speed rail was sold to voters as a grand vision for tomorrow but in practice appears to be no different than countless other pork-barrel projects — driven more by political interests and consultant spending than valid cost-benefit analysis," Issa said. "Before more taxpayer money is sent to the rail authority, questions must be answered about mismanagement, conflicts of interest, route selection, ridership and other risks."

As much as $4 billion in federal funds have either been provided or set aside so far for the 500-mile project, the estimated cost of which has fluctuated between $33 billion and $98.5 billion. The current estimate is $68 billion.

High-speed rail officials plan to pay for half the project's costs with federal funds. Republicans in Congress, however, have repeatedly opposed giving additional money to the bullet train.

The committee's notification letter says there are additional concerns about the project's compliance with Proposition 1A, the California ballot measure passed in 2008 that authorized more than $9 billion in state bonds for the project. The panel further notes that since 2010, allegations of conflict of interest have surfaced regarding authority board members at a time when the authority received and spent federal funds.

"I understand that these conflicts may have contributed to a pattern of weak oversight and mismanagement of the project," Issa wrote. "The ability of the California High-Speed Authority to evaluate properly these contractors is incredibly important for the protection of taxpayer money."

High-speed rail officials declined to comment, except to say they will cooperate with the committee and are confident that no problems will be found.

Also Monday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), who has strongly backed the Obama administration's high-speed rail agenda, said she was "quite disappointed" by the rail authority's plan to drop the Anaheim-to-Los Angeles route out of the current $68-billion plan.

"Failure to link the high-speed rail system to Orange County negatively impacts the county's residents and our local economy, and is a disappointment for the state of California," Sanchez said. "To develop our state for the 21st century, we must embrace a transportation system that allows our commerce to run."

The decision by the rail authority, first reported by The Times on Friday, reflects the lukewarm support the project has received among Republican lawmakers in the county and local transportation officials, including board members of the Orange County Transportation Authority.


Los Angeles Times staff writer Ralph Vartabedian contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
See also: http://images.politico.com/global/2012/04/calihsr.html

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