The video below is from the monthly High-Speed Rail board meeting Thursday in the Sacramento City Council chambers where hundreds of Californians came to vent their frustrations. So many signed up to speak that Board Chairman Thomas Umberg gave them only 90-seconds each, which was then reduced to 60-seconds.
Watch the video below. As you can see, two policemen were approaching the speaker Frank Olivera at the request of the Chairman to remove him from the microphones. What has this country come to when the Occupy Wall Street protesters are allowed to take over communities and trash them without consequence, but in this case, the citizens in Central California are threatened with police actions when trying to express their point of view in a public forum about High Speed Rail and its devastating effect on their lives? After watching the video please read the excellent article by Katy Grimes.
With Assembly budget officials predicting that California will face a deficit as high as $8 billion next fiscal year, it is truly a wonder that the California High-Speed Rail Authority continues to trudge forward with plans to begin building a $98.5 billion rail system.
At the monthly High-Speed Rail board meeting Thursday in the Sacramento City Council chambers, hundreds of California residents attended to air their grievances.
Board Chairman Thomas Umberg announced at the beginning of the meeting that there were so many who had signed up to give public comments, there would only be 90 seconds allowed for each person to speak. Before the public comments were finished, Umberg reduced the time allotted for comments to just 60 seconds.
And speak they did. People traveled from Bakersfield, Fresno, Hanford and towns throughout Kings County. They came from San Francisco, the East Bay and the Peninsula, well-prepared with facts, figures and research, to tell the HSR board why the “boondoggle” rail plan should be shelved.
There were only two of the usual city government brown-nosers in attendance, asking to partner with the Rail Authority to make sure that rail came through their cities.
A large number of folks came from the San Francisco Bay Area to plead with the HSR board to route the train up through the East Bay instead of through the towns on the peninsula. “It’s our tax base,” one woman said. “It will ruin downtown revitalization plans in towns. It will cut out trees, and ruin small towns. It’s too close to schools, and too close to local traffic. We will feel the devastating impact.”
“The rail plan is fiscally irresponsible, when we have so many needs,” a man from Burlingame told the board. “The Gordon/Simitian proposal — we aren’t comfortable with that, contrary to press reports. The ridership report is in question. It hasn’t been well flushed out. And an EIR report was not done,” meaning an Environmental Impact Report.
Asked Ted Crocker, co-founder of HighSpeedBoondoggle.com, “In what universe is cost allowed to outstrip funding? We should be returning the federal money. We were told that a rail project wouldn’t be a pay-as-you go project, but that’s what it has become. You act as if this is a mandate from God to build HSR no matter what. This Board and the Legislature have lost touch with reality. And apparently Jerry Brown still earns his nickname.”
Before he could finish saying “Gov. Moonbeam,” Crocker was cut off and told that his time was up. “Gov. Moonbeam” was Gov. Jerry Brown’s nickname during his first terms as governor, 1975 to 1983. The nickname stemmed from Brown’s eccentric passions, such as his proposal for a California space academy and his campaign slogan, “Protect the Earth, serve the people, and explore the universe.” People in the rest of the country described it as weirdness.
The Moonbeam nickname was coined by legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who said in 1976 that Brown appeared to be attracting “the moonbeam vote.” Royko called California “the world’s largest outdoor mental asylum.”
Voter Sentiment Waning
“What a difference two years makes in a plan,” said Jerry Carlson, city councilman from Atherton. “Voter sentiment has turned around since Prop. 1A was passed,” authorizing the High-Speed Rail project. “Recent polls show that only 50 percent support it. Without a true source of funding, most would not support it. And because of the bond costs, there will be fewer funds for other things — education, social services, regional transit.”
A councilwoman from Burlingame, who said she was also a former mayor, told the board that her town will be split in two, no matter what system is adopted. “Caltrain was begun in Burlingame. High-Speed Rail will ruin the Caltrain system. This is un-American. I share the same concerns for the Central Valley as in Burlingame. Is this what the voters expected — an open checkbook no matter what? By the time it gets to our section, there won’t be the funds to do it correctly.”
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea complimented the HSR board members for their “excellent vision.” Perea received boos from the audience. “Fresno County stands in support of High-Speed Rail. I believe that California stands in support of HSR.” Perea analogized the building of High-Speed Rail with the Golden Gate Bridge, and how people in the state didn’t support it. “You are visionaries and a majority of California stands behind you.”
Jobs and Homes Will Be Lost
One man representing a coalition on High-Speed Rail from the Bay Area told board members, “The plan misses and doesn’t include decreases in value of homes and farms, and jobs lost because of cost and environmental costs. Alternate transportation costs are mentioned but not analyzed.”
Many Tea Party Patriots were in the audience. They opposed the rail plan.
One man with the Tea Party Patriots reminded the board that Tea Party groups stand for fiscal responsibility. “I studied the plan thoroughly,” he said. “It is difficult to accept the plan as laid out. But you claim that it is a new day, new time, new beginning. Do you get a mulligan to start over again? The plan originally in place is gone, and we now have a new beginning. You scratched everything originally. This is a reckoning. The credibility of this board is gonewith the numbers that came out. You changed the entire game plan.”
A woman with the River Valley Patriots told the board that the first part of the federal rail funding for Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida was given back in order to not burden taxpayers in those states. “Florida [giving up its federal money] is how we got our first federal rail funding. Please do not burden taxpayers,” she said.
“A majority of California wanted this project, but things have changed,” said a man with the Tea Party Patriots.” Take it back to voters for another vote. People need to be held to account. We cannot pay the debt.” He presented board members with a position paper, and received applause.
Business Owners Don’t Buy It
“I am a business man,” said Dennis Areias of Los Banos. “And I am a Democrat. I am on the School Board. We are currently spending less money on education, and more money on High-Speed Rail. If people in government had a little better education, maybe you could balance your checkbook.”
Areias said that the rail plan cuts through his property and “takes my dairy of 300 cows completely off the map.” He explained that, because access to his property will be cut off, he will now have to truck in feed for his cows at a additional cost of 40 cents per ton for feed. “Because the rail will split my property, I will be forced to pay $6,000 extra every month. I won’t be able to survive.”
“This plan is heading for failure,” said Gary Patton. “It’s a fiscal and environmental disaster. And the route ed is political. Go back and do it right. I hope I am speaking through the authority but the final authority is with the Legislature and Governor. I hope both pay attention.”
Bob Snoddy, a regional planner with Kern County government, invited new California High-Speed Rail Authority members to California State University Bakersfield, which is offering a 10-week course during the winter break on High-Speed Rail.
Many criticized the board on how it presented the business plan, dribbling out information and making people search for details online.
A businessman from Madison Wisconsin said the rail plan was far-reaching. His company does agriculture research in the Central Valley. But with the rail plan, he will not be able to because many of the farms he uses will be closed.
Paint the Train Pink
One woman told the board that the blue-and-gold High-Speed Rail train should be painted pink to represent the thousands of pink slips people in the state will be getting because HSR will force the closures of so many businesses.
Several people addressed the high amounts of energy that High Speed Rail will use.
David Ortiz, with California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, said using the HSR data, the train will use 1 percent of all energy in California. “Some say it will be as high as 4 to 6 percent of all California electricity. And we are not making any new sources for generating electricity. Who is going to pay for it?” he asked.
“The revised bus plan has not made me a believer,” said Rosemary Malbish from Atherton. “A state that cannot adequately educate its citizens should not be spending excessive money on moving them around the state. Repeal Prop. 1A and spend the money educating our citizens.”
“The High-Speed boondoggle has become a jobs bill,” said Mary-Helen McMahon. “The estimate of job increases is grossly inflated. This has been sold to many in the country and state as the answer to the jobs situation.”
“This board doesn’t have the authority to pull the plug,” said Cynthia Ward from Anaheim, who flew up that morning for the board meeting as a representative for her region. “I hope Gov. Brown is listening. The entire state is standing unified. This is no longer representative of what we passed. Now we see it will cost us $98 billion. Kids see no future for themselves here. When our productive future leaves the state, a fast train won’t matter if there’s no one to ride it.”
‘Train to Nowhere’
“If money is not available, this project will be a train to nowhere,” said a Central Valley man. “You are rolling the dice with project funds, and betting on the outcome. This is not responsible public policy. This new plan is not what voters approved, and will be biggest bait-and-switch in California history.”
“I’ve seen the plan and it’s a different shade of lipstick on white elephant,” Don Barnaby said. “It is 200 Solyndras. This disaster is laid at feet of Caifornia Democrats. We need desperately to spend on jobs, education, construction of schools and the decaying infrastructure. The promised benefits of HSR are fiction. High speeds will take excessive energy. Ask the Chinese.”
A representative from the Palmdale Public Works department said his department believes in the project and wants to be a partner. “The project will reduce greenhouse gas, and help reach energy standards and meet transportation needs,” he said.
Said Bill Thatcher, who identified himself as a taxpayer, voter and longtime businessman, “I have prepared and reviewed many business plans. Your plan will never get you through the front door of a bank. Revenue projections are speculative. There is no overall cash flow, and you need to discuss operating profit. Debt service is not treated seriously, and is speculative. You need an independent, outside review — not a peer review. And you need cash flow analysis.”
Many of the people from Kings County complained that the HSR staff and consultants have been unwilling to answer questions. The Kings County representatives did their own research and found the plans “inadequate and incomplete,” with many unmitigated costs not factored in the rail plan. “The costs will be greater,” said a man from Kings County. “California is still recovering from the subprime fallout. We cannot afford a subprime High-Speed Rail project not developed in an accountable manner. We expect HSR to look into those details and act responsibly.”
“The entire process been appalling. We’ve been sold a pig in a poke,” said Karen Chapel. “It’s a bait-and-switch. A $33 billion project turned into $100 billion. It will devastate the peninsula, and will destroy the farming community. This is stupid. Just stupid. It’s time to turn it off.”